Government accused of curtailing press freedom

Tunisian journalists protest against editor's appointment

GMT 14:37 2012 Thursday ,23 August

Arab Today, arab today Tunisian journalists protest against editor's appointment

Tunisian journalists protest
Tunisia - Nabil Zaghdoud

Tunisian journalists protest Dozens of journalists protested in Tunis on Wednesday, accusing Tunisia's Islamist-led government of seeking to take control of a press group, after the appointment of a controversial new director.Journalists from Tunisian dailies Essabah and Le Temps had called for the demonstration outside the government headquarters, where the protesters gathered, chanting slogans calling for a free press and criticising the ruling Islamist party.
"Ennahda wants to put the media under its wing," and "Don't touch the public media!" read some of the placards held at the protest.
The two newspapers belong to the Dar Assabah press group, which the Tunisian state took control of after the revolution last year that toppled former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Editorial staff at the press group are angry at the recent appointment of its new director Lotfi Touati, former editor in chief of a rival publication they consider too close to Ennahda.
Critics have also described Touati as a former propagandist of Ben Ali.
Dar Assabah journalist Asiya El Atous said: "The government relies on dropped labels that proves its desire to control the media."
In a statement to Arabstoday, the President of the Tunisian Association for young journalists Abdel Raouf Bali called for the formation of a "national committee to investigate the journalists dealing with the Ministry of Interior and dissolved Constitutional Rally, and hold them accountable to the judiciary", while rejecting "the logic of defamation, which aims to control the sector”.
The Tunisian national journalists' union (SNJT) have expressed their support for the protesters, complaining that the government has replaced the directors of numerous public media without consulting their journalists and staff.
The SNJT is planning a general assembly meeting on Friday and is expected to call for a national strike for journalists.
Union member Najiba El Hamrouni said a general strike in the media sector was possible, especially in light of the government's refusal to retract its recent appointments.
The Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights condemned "the continued restrictions on freedom of expression and of the press".
League member Masoud Ramadani released a statement "expressing  surprise with the continuation of the policy of appointing media officials without referring to professional and trade union organisations".
The opposition Workers Party of Tunisian accused the Ennahda-led government of "scheming to trasnform the public media into a propaganda machine so that they can win the upcoming elections, especially since popular resentment of the government's policies is on the rise".
Television presenter Elyes Gharbi, who was sacked by the authorities as the head of radio station Shems FM in February, believes Ennahda is trying to bring the media under its control.
"We really are facing a strategy aimed at curtailing freedom, and the freedom of expression in particular," he told AFP.
The Tunisian government has been criticised in recent months for attacking the freedom of the press.

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