Audience data is a central factor for a media with a business model based on advertising, as it determines its attractiveness to advertisers and therefore the viability of the media. This dependency explains the importance given to audience measurement and research institutes. The main question is however, whether the published studies and surveys are actually credible and neutral.
In Tunisia, audience measurement is not regulated and can be used to promote economic or political interests. The audience estimates of the audio-visual sector and online media or the reader number of print media are mainly based on sample and more or less reliable methods. This, thus, does not allow evaluating with certainty the importance of one media in contrast to the others, and thus the level of audience concentration and their real impact on public opinion.
There are two research institutes used and consulted by the mainstream media: Sigma Conseil and Mediascan. Sigma Council makes its figures regularly public, while only subscribers have access to the reports of Mediascan. Some research institutes, such as C3 withdrew from audience measurement at the national level.
The integrity of these research institutes remains controversial, especially regarding TV channels, as the sector attracts the biggest share of the advertising market. Recognising this sensitive issue, the HAICA prohibited owners of a TV station to be at the same time owner of a research institute (Article 8 of the specifications), as this could evoke conflicts of interests. These regulations have however not prevented some connections between research institutes and the media. Hassen Zargouni for example is both the owner of Sigma Conseil and columnist for Al Hiwar Ettounsi.
Other indications evoked by people from the profession are questioning the credibility of these studies. The issue of corruption between research institutes and the media was mentioned several times during interviews with several directors and media owners such as Attassia or Al Janoubia. Others, like the director of Nessma TV (often well ranked in the polls), believes, in contrast, that the studies generally reflect reality, despite some shortcomings.
Regarding the print media, newspapers are legally obliged to publish the number of printed issues. No newspaper does so, fearing that this would effect advertisers and therefore their financial situation. Consequently, the number of unsold papers is not communicated either, and no official or independent body controls these figures, when they are made available. Even if they would provide a better idea about the importance of a specific newspaper, these figures are not sufficient to assess their readership, as some newspapers are "rented" or made available in public places and thus read by more people. To overcome this lack of numbers, research institutes estimate audience in terms of readership.
Finally, measuring the number of visitors of online media is also difficult. Google Analytics could allow comparing the audiences of these media (although the number of clicks may be artificially inflated) but their owners rarely make the figures public. The website Alexa which is often used as a reference for a ranking of websites by country, remains however unreliable. In fact, in Tunisia, it can be observed that at the moment a site is "certified" by paying a subscription, its ranking goes up. This can be explained by the low number of users of the Alexa tool in Tunisia.
These shortcomings have led some representatives of the sector to launch a "Tunisian Association of Audiometry" in 2016 to reflect on these issues and provide solutions for a more reliable system of audience measurement.
Taking into account the reasons outlined above and even if audience measurement is essential for assessing whether there is audience concentration in Tunisia, we chose to use the data from these estimates only for the selection of the media analysed without establishing rankings. We did thus not publish the figures provided by research institutes, which are heavily contested even by actors from the sector.