With an average of 29 hours per week, Tunisians spend more time surfing the net than watching television (26h), listening to the radio (15h) or reading the newspaper (3h). Nevertheless, people still turn to TV and radio first as an information source, online news has left print news behind.
Internet usage increased rapidly: 46% of Tunisians are online in 2016, compared to only 13% in 2006. The country can count on a relatively developed infrastructure, with a mobile data penetration rate at 63.7% in February 2016, although only 16.2% have access to a broadband connection at home.
In addition to a constantly increasing internet penetration rate, the rise of social media has enabled online media to increase their reach. On average, 30% of the traffic of the websites studied, comes through Facebook (Alexa estimation), a social network used by 34% of the Tunisian population.
Unlike traditional media outlets, popular online media does not belong to the state. It seems that the state still struggles to adapt to the digital age and to make use of new technologies.
The study also reveals that traditional private media manages best to generate traffic. Three radio websites sites, two websites of newspapers and the website of a television are among the most visited online media.
Online news mushroomed after the revolution as they are not subject to any sort of regulation and they only require a small investment compared to other media. More than half of the fifty most visited online media between 2015 and 2016 (according to consolidated Alexa rankings for this time) were created after the fall of the Ben Ali regime.
Online media during the Ben Ali regime
With the rise of the Internet in the 2000s, the Ben Ali regime developed a broad censorship system of websites, blogs or social media pages considered to be critical of the government. Critical content such as the collective blog "Nawaat" (launched in 2004) was inaccessible in Tunisia. Nawaat's blogger Zouheir Yahyaoui was even imprisoned and died shortly after his detention in jail.
Following the violently suppressed revolt in the mining region in 2008, censorship was expanded to sites like Youtube or Dailymotion, which were used to broadcast videos accusing the regime. Tunisians started to use proxy servers to be able to circumvent this censorship.
The online newspapers authorised where mainly those of already existing traditional media such as Mosaïque FM, Nessma TV or the site of the news agency TAP. Online media managed to avoid censorship when specializing in topics less sensitive than politics. Media focusing on economics (Business News, Kapitalis, Web Manager Center, etc) or on new technologies (Takiano) emerged.
Online media after the revolution
The liberation of expression after the revolution, the inexistence of regulation and the relatively low prices enabled the proliferation of online news sites. Online media are now legally recognised in Decree Law 115 of November 2, 2011.
However no regulation defines clearly what an online media is. Thus, an increasing number of “information” websites provides access to a very large amount of more or less reliable content.
User numbers that are very volatile and difficult to measure
Depending on the speed, quantity and more or less viral content of publications, the audience of online media remains unstable and the statistics provided by the site Alexa are not very reliable. This has an impact on the calculation of prices and sales of online advertising.
Even though online information consumption exceeds that of the printed press, its market share still remains very low (Sigma estimates). The Press Council, an idea promoted by the Federation of Newspaper Editors (FDTJ) and the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), whose prerogatives would include among others providing an opinion on the distribution of public advertising, will also cover online media.
Arab Social Media Report, Facebook Penetration