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Media Regulation

Since the 2011 revolution, Tunisia has adopted a new legislation in the media sector. This new legal framework, based on international standards, provides specific rules for concentration control, regulation of property and media transparency.

Regulatory thresholds to prevent concentration

The media specific regulations (Decree Laws 115 and 116 and the specifications developed by the HAICA) establish thresholds to control economic concentration, in terms of number of licenses and in terms of shares in media companies. For example, a person can only own one private TV channel and  one radio station at a time. In the print sector, the law states that the total circulation (of the same type of newspaper) held by the same owner may not exceed 30% of the total circulation of this kind of newspaper published in Tunisia. There are also rules to limit horizontal concentration: for example it is forbidden to own a TV station and an advertising agency or polling institute simultaneously.

The competition law also establishes thresholds. Economic concentration is governed by Article 7 of Law No. 36 of 15 September 2015 on the reorganization of competition and prices. The Minister for Trade must approve any project or merger that creates a dominant position in the domestic market or in a substantial part of it.

Ensuring compliance with laws

The HAICA ensures compliance with the regulations in place in the audio-visual sector. On the other hand, the Minister of Trade and the Competition Council shall ensure compliance with the competition law. They have the right to act on their own initiative on any issue under their respective areas and may impose penalties. The Trade Minister, after consulting the Competition Council may cancel any sale, merger or unauthorized concentration.

Yet, given the lack of case law on this issue, and as there has not been any merger or acquisition since the enactment of the Decree Laws of 2011, the effectiveness and efficiency of sanctions provided for by legislation cannot be assessed.

Independent regulatory bodies

The HAICA and the Competition Council are relatively independent public bodies. The members of the HAICA are appointed by the President of the Republic, the Speaker of Parliament, the most representative bodies of judges, journalists, the bosses of media companies and non-journalistic audio-visual sector professions. The Competition Council is composed of judges, experts and professionals from several economic sectors. Board members are appointed by government decree for a non-renewable term of five years. These bodies are have financial autonomy. However, their budgets and technical and human resources are quite limited. In general, public authorities do not intervene in the decisions of these bodies, despite some excesses and conflicts of powers between the government and the HAICA. Such as, when the government sacked the CEO of the National Television in November 2015 without consulting the HAICA that appealed before the Administrative Tribunal for abuse of power against the government.

Transparency obligations

The legislation in place demands a certain amount of transparency from the media. All changes concerning the financing, the status of the company, the social capital or structure of the company managing the media outlet, need to be communicated to the concerned regulatory authority and must be published in the Official journal and in the commercial register. The information published on these media should be accessible to the public, but in reality not all the information can be accessed. The media owned by SA corporations are required to publish summaries of their annual financial statements in the newspapers, but in reality few do so. 

The regulatory authorities of the media sector and several public administrations continuously collect all information about the media companies. However, the HAICA sometimes encounters difficulties in gathering all information.

Granting of licenses

In the audio-visual sector, the granting of the license lies within the exclusive jurisdiction of the HAICA. The HAICA grants a licence based on an authorization file including requirements about the entity requesting the license, requirements about the human, financial and technical means. The specifications for private and community radio stations and private and community television stations lie out the details of these requirements.

The HAICA has refused the license of radio stations for technical reasons, for non-financial-viability of the project, and for TV channels based on reasons of incompatibility with political affiliations. Thus, Zitouna TV is currently broadcasting without a license and the status of Nessma TV, Hannibal TV, Al Hiwar Ettounsi and Radio Kalima have not yet been clarified. 

In the print sector, creating a media is subject to a simple declaration to the District Court. The declaration file includes several documents laying out the type of media, its editorial policy, the owner or owners, its social capital, its human and technical means. According to  the information available, there has been no opposition to the creation of a print media in Tunisia since the promulgation of Decree No. 115-2011.

The creation of online media, web radio and web TV is not subject to a specific legal regime.

Who can own a media?

Any natural or legal person of Tunisian nationality can obtain a license for a television station or a radio station. The license holder cannot be a leader of a political party. Foreign ownership in media companies cannot exceed 49%. Any transfer of ownership or participation in a media company is subject to reporting formalities, legal publication or prior authorization depending on the type of media.

Horizontal Concentration Control

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