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Strong media and civil society needed post-revolution, says IFEX-TMG

Elisabeth Eide

If Tunisians are to play an informed part in the country's democratic transition, they need a free and independent media and a strong, democratic and open civil society, says the first report to be published by the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG) since the fall of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year-old regime.

"The Scars of Oppression Run Deep: Assessing the Critical Requirements for Freedom of Expression in Tunisia's Democratic Transition" documents the key concerns and immediate challenges regarding censorship and free expression in Tunisia - as perceived by more than 80 media professionals, civil society advocates and authorities interviewed during an IFEX-TMG mission to Tunisia on 9-16 April.

The report found that remnants of Ben Ali's regime can be readily found in the media industry, such as an outdated legislative framework and even some of his cronies.

Recognising that some advances have been made since 14 January, the IFEX-TMG report also addresses what is needed to maintain the momentum of change ahead of the Constituent Assembly elections on 23 October 2011.

"The Tunisian government must - in consultation with stakeholders - put in place a conducive framework that will ensure pluralism and diversity in the media. The new media landscape should take in to account the democratic aspirations of Tunisians and address swiftly the monopoly of the sector by the close allies of the former regime," said Fatou Jagne Senghore of ARTICLE 19 at the report's launch in Tunis last week.

Plus, "participation is the key," said Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship, chair of IFEX-TMG. "Democracy needs the widest possible engagement and the broadest range of opinion, and while citizen journalists and web activists still have a job to do as guarantors of the Tunisian revolution, Tunisia's interim government and much of the mainstream media still have to prove themselves to the people."

The mission was led by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), as part of an ongoing IFEX-TMG project which this year is focusing on a campaign to end censorship.

Scars of Oppression Run Deep: Assessing the Critical Requirements for Freedom of Expression in Tunisia's Democratic Transition

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