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Government wages smear campaign against Al Jazeera

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns a smear campaign against Al Jazeera in which the Tunisian government is using both state-run and pro-government media to accuse the Qatar-based satellite TV station of acting as a mouthpiece President Ben Ali's opponents.

The campaign is focusing above all on Al Jazeera's coverage of a congress organised by Tunisian exiles in Geneva on 20-21 June 2009 in which they urged the president to allow his exiled opponents to return to Tunisia even though many of them face jail sentences because of their political views.

"The aim of this government-orchestrated campaign is to discredit Al Jazeera," Reporters Without Borders said. "Anyone who criticises the authorities is suppressed or shouted down in this country, where little freedom of expression is left. With less than three months to go to presidential and legislative elections, such behaviour is really disturbing."

Pro-government media of all kinds have been participating in this campaign against Al Jazeera for several weeks. Many newspapers and magazines have run articles directly insulting the station, its staff and the Qatari government. The daily "Al Hadath" printed such an article in its 7 August issue, following the example of such government-run newspapers as "La Presse" and "Al Hurriya".

The pro-government television station Hannibal TV broadcast a talk show on 29 July in which several Tunisian journalists shouted abuse about Al Jazeera's journalists.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera's Tunisia correspondent, Lotfi Hajji, reports that the restrictions on his activity are growing. The cable Internet connection in his home has been cut for more than a month. The police prevented him from meeting with a human rights activist in Tunis on 24 and 26 June. At the same time, the authorities have refused to give him press accreditation for the past five years.

The chief goal of the smear campaign seems to be to limit Al Jazeera's ability to broadcast critical information about Tunisia nationally and internationally.

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