On Wednesday, the National Authority for the Reform of Media and Communications (INRIC) – an independent commission charged with reforming Tunisia’s media sector – decided to suspend its activities, accusing the government of attempting to censor and exert control over the media.
“The committee refuses to be just a decoration. The government is trying to control the media sector,” said Hichem Senoussi, a member of INRIC.
INRIC was created following the ouster of former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and has spent the past year drafting a new press code to regulate the media sector.
“Since this government came to power, we have noticed the absence of concrete measures to reform the [media] sector. In fact, the government is interfering in media through the appointment of new officials,” he added.
Senoussi stated that, from the perspective of INRIC, the role of public media is to critically monitor and report on the activities of the government. Consequently, state control over the appointment of media officials undermines the independence that public media requires to perform this function effectively.
Since the government’s election in October, it has continued the old regime’s practice of appointing media heads, most recently replacing the head of the national television station Al Wataniya. The practice has been criticized all along by INRIC.
“We call for the independence of the media, and this cannot be done with the government’s continued interference,” stated Senoussi.
According to Senoussi, it is the prerogative of the High Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) to appoint media figures, not the government.
Senoussi also cited the failure of the government to implement decrees 115 and 116, which are designed to ensure the protection of journalists and to implement the new press code regulating new audio-visual media.
“In order to ensure the independence of media institutions, the executive branch should not control media. This separation guarantees a discontinuation of former practices that rendered the media a tool of propaganda and manipulation,” Senoussi concluded.