Rocky road ahead for newly freed media in Islamist-led Tunisia

March 22, 2012

(The publisher of Attounissia newspaper Nasreddine Ben Saida looks at a photograph of German-Tunisian footballer Sami Khedira of Real Madrid with his nude girlfriend, at his office March 19, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)

Islamists attacked Nessma television station in October for airing an Iranian animated film that depicted God, accusing it of stirring up trouble on the eve of Tunisia’s first election since the uprising that ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Police detained the protesters, but also put Nessma’s boss on trial. Among the charges: violating “sacred values”.

In February, Nassredine Ben Saida, the publisher of a tabloid newspaper set up after the revolution, was jailed for eight days and fined after he plastered a picture of a German-Tunisian footballer and his naked girlfriend on the front page.

Tunisian journalists and secularists fear these and other incidents are signs the interim government wants to roll back gains in freedom of expression after the uprising.

What concerns many is that legal action has tended to focus on issues of public morality and ignore important issues such as the poor sourcing and libel that plague the profession. With the ban on criticism of the government only recently lifted, Tunisian journalists worry that they are tripping over new red lines.

The standoff between the media, dominated by secularists, and the government, now led by Islamist moderates Ennahda, reflects a broader struggle over identity in what has for decades been among the Arab world’s most secular countries.

Sitting in the whitewashed villa that houses the journalists union, Nejiba Hamrouni said the new government still viewed the media with suspicion.

“What we see daily is not a return to censorship, but efforts to influence journalists and guide them towards a particular editorial line, particular figures, particular issues,” said Hamrouni, elected to lead the union last year.

Read the full story by Lin Noueihed here.
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