Decision makers, media professionals, and intellectuals in Tunisia are almost unanimously agreed on the improvement in the margins of media freedoms and the professional level of the media since the January 2011 revolution, despite their contradictory assessments of the economic, social and political outcome of the past decade. With its “gains and achievements… despite some failures”.
In any case, the media scene has turned negative for some time in the eyes of the majority of observers and media professionals… after the crisis of the “public media” and “confiscated media institutions” worsened, for financial and political reasons. Meanwhile, the head of the Syndicate of Journalists, Mahdi Jelassi, criticized what he described as “the deteriorating conditions of journalistic work” and “the decline in the margin of freedoms since the exceptional decisions issued by the Tunisian president seven months ago.” Which, according to some, raises questions about the features and trajectories of today’s media scene. As well as about the future of this sector, which has always been the “main battlefield” between the authorities and their opponents, and between those who advocate professionalism and independence and their opponents.
The headquarters of the “Tunisia Africa News Agency”… and within the framework of its logo
In the language of numbers
Reports by human rights and media organizations in Tunisia stated that the number of journalists doubled repeatedly after the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s rule in January 2011. It rose from about 700 journalists to more than two thousand. The establishment of dozens of newspapers, television and radio channels, and more than a thousand websites contributed to achieving this “rapid development” thanks to the initiatives of some media professionals and businessmen at one time… and at other times, parties, embassies and Western institutions.
Also, it was possible to quickly move towards “media and political pluralism” and keep pace with the decisions to lift the ban on political parties, currents and financial “lobbies” that had been excluded before 2011. Mohamed Hamdan, former dean of the Higher Institute of Press and Information Sciences in Tunisia, explained the speed of achieving this “transition.” Democracy within the media sector” by the fact that 3,500 students have graduated from the institute since its establishment 50 years ago, including more than two hundred Arab journalists from outside Tunisia, most of them from Palestine. Hamdan also clarified that there are private universities established twenty years ago, including the Arab University of Science, which in turn contributed to the graduation of hundreds of media professionals, including journalists, technicians, and specialists in communication and social media production.
For his part, media professor Hani Mubarak revealed that the Public Press Institute in Tunisia was founded in 1967. It was affiliated with the nucleus of the modern Tunisian University. Since 1973, it has developed into an independent institution affiliated to the Ministry of Education, and then to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research since its creation in 1978. At the same time, hundreds of specialists in modern electronic media, social sites, photography, directing and broadcasting graduated from the education and training institutions of the capital Tunis and other cities. Therefore, the number of online news websites exceeded a thousand, according to media and academic Lotfi Al-Haidori, while the number of television and radio channels and newspapers jumped after the “2011 revolution” from less than ten to a few hundred, most of which had a noticeable impact on the political and party scene and on the results of the 2011, 2014 and 2019 elections.
change of scenery
Today, however, the situation has completely changed. Reports of the Journalists Syndicate, branch bodies of international human rights organizations in Tunisia, and new university studies revealed that the media landscape has changed a lot, especially after the 2019 elections, especially since the July 25 decisions that were described as “exceptional” and led to the “freezing” of Parliament and the constitution. And a number of elected institutions, including the Supreme Judicial Council and the Supreme Anti-Corruption Authority.
Indeed, the past seven months witnessed the closure of some radio and television channels, websites and newspapers, either for financial reasons, or as a result of decisions and financial penalties issued by the “High Authority for Audiovisual Media”, to which Parliament assigned powers ten years ago similar to the powers of the Ministry of Information, which was dissolved in early 2011.
Also, financial errors and “temporary” sanctions imposed on some media outlets caused them to stop producing a large number of television and radio news and investigative programs that were attracting the majority of the Tunisian audience. Hence, the outcome was “the public’s return to following up on some foreign media,” in the words of Salah El-Din El-Deridi, a professor of media at the Tunisian University and a number of Arab universities. Al-Daridi criticized what he described as the “deterioration of the professional level” of the majority of new journalists, despite the millions of dollars and euros that institutions affiliated with the European Union, the United States and foreign capitals spent on “sham training programs that provided large sums of money to luxury tourist hotels and some lobbies.”
In this context, some media professionals and academics, such as Salah al-Din al-Daridi, stopped at some manifestations of the deterioration of the professional level of the Tunisian media in the past period due to what they described as “the imbalance between rights and duties”, “the spread of ideological discourse” and “the confusion between professionalism and political and partisan struggle.” ».
Moreover, union studies and reports estimated the number of employees in public television and radio media institutions alone at about 2,600, half of them in the public television channel and the other half distributed among 9 national and regional unions… Opinion polling institutions reduce their popularity and radiance, compared to some private channels and websites.
It is also estimated that the only official news agency, Tunisia Africa News Agency, has more than 300 employees, media workers and workers, despite its weak influence. The number of workers in “governmental” and “confiscated” written press institutions, such as “La Presse” and “Al-Sabah”, exceeds the number of their counterparts in the news agency. All sources confirm that only one-tenth of the employees in the public and semi-public media work, while the rest receive wages from the state “from a distance” through “bank transfers” and have no participation in journalistic production. This phenomenon has exacerbated in the past two years, especially after there was “the justification for absenteeism from the workplace due to the “Covid-19” pandemic.
Agendas and a job role
On the other hand, while the media unions escalated their protest and demand movements, Awatef Al-Dali, head of the Public Television Corporation, accused a sector of media professionals of “negligence, refusing to work, laziness, hiring unions and blackmailing officials, in order to provide employment plans and material benefits only.”
Awatef Al-Dali, a former journalist and medical and social TV presenter, stated that “some of those affiliated with union work play a functional role… and do not believe in the balance between rights and duties.” She accused them of refusing to produce and present programs and not wanting to work. And then she pointed out that “there is a waste of public money in the media sector because some unionists and journalists do not work and do not innovate… and some of them are accused of sabotaging the equipment of the media institution.”
A number of intellectuals and media professionals have already acknowledged the validity of some of the criticism directed at the media, but they supported the statements of the head of the Journalists Syndicate, Yassin Al-Jelassi, in which he criticized what he described as “the deterioration of the margin of media freedoms”, the absence of political dialogues on Tunisian state television since July 25, and the banning of all Representatives of the parties were not allowed to participate in television programs, and “therefore, the opposition was completely absent and the public was deprived of opinion and the other opinion.”
Independence and Employment
Meanwhile, Tunisian President Kais Saied repeatedly became involved in the controversy through statements published on the official page of the Presidency of the Republic, in which he said that “there is no retreat from freedoms in Tunisia” and “there is no room for undermining media freedom and human rights.” Saied strongly refuted reports that question the independence of the media in Tunisia after last July 25. Naturally, reactions to Said’s words varied, as many media and political circles criticized the performance of those charged with information and communication in the Presidency of the Republic and government institutions, and reducing their communication with public opinion to blogs and videos broadcast on the official page of the Carthage Palace. Which reports indicate that the number of its followers has swelled and exceeded two million and 300 thousand, which gives an idea of the size of the change that has taken place in the country in the field of media and communication between the authority and the people.