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Government behind campaign to destabilise media union

The Tunisian government is trying to undermine the journalists' union, just one tactic in its ongoing campaign to silence independent media, say the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) and other IFEX members.

On 4 May, the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), published a report criticising the lack of press freedom in Tunisia. Subsequently, IFJ reports that pro-government journalists launched a campaign to remove the leadership of the union and issue a new report that downplays the violations.

Union president Néji Bghouri was prevented from speaking during the report's launch in Tunis. TMG reports that he continues to face threats and insults.

According to IFJ and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), three members of the SNJT board who are close to the government resigned last week, hoping to trigger new elections for the union leadership. Among the membership they circulated a petition, backed by the Ministry of Communications, calling for the removal of the SNJT leadership and for new elections. The board rejected their resignations, reports TMG.

SNJT further reports that journalists are being threatened with dismissal if they fail to sign the petition. "Either you sign the petition or take the risk of losing your job," Bghouri told CPJ.

"Privately owned media are pressuring their journalists to sign the petition for fear of being deprived of public support and advertising revenue," he added. In Tunisia, the Tunisian Agency for External Communication selectively grants advertising to newspapers aligned with the government.

"We are seriously concerned that the government is attempting to undermine the solidarity of journalists and to engineer the political compliance of SNJT as part of its campaign to undermine freedom of expression in Tunisia," TMG said in a letter to President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The coalition is calling on the government to stop meddling in the affairs of the independent union.

According to CPJ, SNJT emerged last year out of the now-defunct Tunisian Association of Journalist (AJT). AJT used to be one of the most critical journalists' groups in the region before Ben Ali seized power in 1987. Bghouri angered top officials last year when he told local opposition papers that SNJT would not back any presidential candidate in October elections. AJT, on the other hand, voiced its support for Ben Ali's candidacy in the presidential elections held in 1994, 1999 and 2004.

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