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Politics and Media

Before the revolution, the regime used media mainly as a propaganda tool. Until the 2000s, the state had a monopoly on broadcast media and controlled the information provided by the TAP news agency. The few private TV and radio stations that were authorized since 2003 belonged to members of the Ben Ali clan or businessmen close to the government. The print sector was relatively diversified, with some titles belonging to opposition parties or published by family businesses.

The Ministry of Information and the Tunisian External Communication Agency (ATCE) decided on who could enter in and survive on the media market: they issued the licenses, while backing the political interests of the regime and kept media organizations in a financial dependency through distribution networks or public funding in form of advertising and subscriptions. More subtle, they exerted pressure on journalists and censored online media that was too critical of the government in power.  At that time, journalists were also imprisoned, tortured or intimidated.

Positive changes since the revolution

Since the end of the Ben Ali regime, the media landscape has diversified and freedom of expression got a boost. The Ministry of Information and ATCE were quickly dissolved and the Tunisian Internet Agency has stopped censoring the media.

The interim government and the bodies established to lead the democratic transition (such as INRIC) rapidly developed three legal texts concerning media pluralism and freedom of press, regulation of audio-visual media and access to information (decree Laws 115 and 116 issued November 2, 2011 and Decree-law 41/2011 on access to documents held by public bodies). In January 2014, the new Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly, which consolidated these principles. Further commitment was shown when HAICA was established as a regulatory body as well as when the law on access to information was recently passed by Parliament. 

Public authorities and the media

The HAICA is a regulatory body independent of the government, even if its chairman is appointed by the head of state and two of its members by the President of the Parliament (Decree Law 116/2011). The agency is responsible for regulation of the audio-visual media sector by granting licenses for television and radio station and punishing those who violate the regulations.

The state is the owner of the Tunisian Television, the Tunisian Radio, the publishing house SNIPE and the news agency TAP. The Presidency of the Government appoints the CEOs of these institutions, in the case of the public television and radio stations in consultation with the HAICA. The state also holds shares in several confiscated media as they belonged to relatives of Ben Ali. The state is thus, the majority shareholder of media like Zitouna FM, Dar Assabah and Shems FM, appoints their CEOs and manages them. 

Partisan appointments of managing directors of these media outlets had been a problem -  especially during the Troika, which was the first government led by the Ennahda party after the 2011 elections. A crisis erupted at Dar Assabah after Hamadi Jebali, back then head of government, appointed Lotfi Touati as the head of the publishing house. Touati was accused of supporting the Islamist party. He was sacked at the end of this crisis. He is currently editor-in-chief of Zitouna TV, which is supposedly linked to Ennahda and founded by a party official. Troika supporters conducted several smear campaigns against the public media, deemed to hostile to the new power. The possibility of privatizing the national television was raised in the discussion.

Still existing pressures

Even though freedom of speech got a boost since the fall of the old regime, journalists and media are not completely free from pressure or intimidation by the government or politicians:

Under the pretext to fight terrorism, legislative and executive powers have attempted to restrict press freedom, for example via bills that banned to criticise or question military or security representatives. Following the attack on the bus of the presidential guard in November 2015, many cases of violence by security forces against journalists were observed. 

While cases of direct censorship from the government are rare, journalists may be victim of the pressure of media owners with political affiliations. 

Strong linkages between media and political parties

As the most popular media sector, TV attracts politicians most. Several television channels close to the Islamists emerged after the revolution, rebalancing in some ways a media landscape they considered hostile. Election coverage showed that media outlets tend to favour certain political parties, indicating a politically oriented editorial policy. (see Political affiliations)

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