Critical journalists in Tunisia are caught between a nail and a hammer and some have resorted to self-censorship as they face a double threat, both from the government and Islamist radicals.
“While Islamist militants threaten the media, the government introduces restrictive legislation and security forces legally harass and even assault journalists,” the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said recently in a special report.
In this climate, which is further restricted by regulatory disputes, some news outlets resort to self-censorship, the report, penned by Safa Ben Said, said, adding that hard-won advances in press freedom have been eroded and are under further threat since two major terrorist attacks believed to have been perpetrated by Islamist radicals.
The attacks killed more than 60 people this year and increased fears over security.
Journalists have accused the government of resorting to a harsher penal code, which allows for imprisonment for crimes related to publishing, including defamation, slander, or libel.
“One of the main sources of concern among Tunisian journalists and freedom of expression advocates stems from the continuous trend to use the very restrictive penal code to drag reporters to courts for doing their job, instead of the rather protective Decree 115/2011 on the Press, Printing and Publishing,” Kamel Labidi, an independent journalist and press freedom advocate and CPJ’s former representative in Middle East and North Africa, told CPJ.
Decree 115 does not allow for imprisonment for these crimes, but instead imposes fines as the penalty.
“Before January 2011, the first enemy of media was tyranny. Today, the media is threatened by all kinds of powers: political, social, financial, cultural, and judicial,” Zied El-Heni, journalist and president of the independent Tunisian Organisation to Protect Journalists, said.
Photo: A journalist holds up a TV frame during a protest in 2012. Tunisian news outlets have come under pressure in 2015. (Reuters/Anis Mili)