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Public radio journalists in Tunisia go on strike to protest political interference

ARTICLE 19 fully supports the strike observed by Tunisian public radio journalists on Tuesday, 3 September 2013, to protest against the unilateral appointments of the head of public radio, and denounce the interference of management in editorial positions.

The strike was launched at the initiative of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists following the appointment by the government on 17 August of five new directors to head five public radio stations (National Radio, Radio Cultural, Youth Radio, Radio Gafsa, Radio Tataouine).

These appointments were made unilaterally without informing the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA). These appointments are also contrary to international standards on freedom of expression, by which the independence of public service media should be protected in order to ensure the credibility and legitimacy as well as promote pluralism of information.

In addition, according to international standards, the rules of regulatory authorities in the audiovisual sector, in particular their composition, are a key element of their independence. It is important, in particular, to protect against any instances of interference, especially from political power or economic interests. Similarly, the rules for the appointment of members of these bodies should be democratic and transparent.

It should be recalled that the President of the Republic of Tunisia decided on 3 May 2013, after procrastination and blocking, to implement Legislative Decree 116-2011 on freedom of audiovisual communication and on creating an Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication, as well as announcing the composition of that body.

The same decree provides in Article 15 that "the HAICA oversees the organisation and regulation of audiovisual communication , in accordance with the following principles:

  • The strengthening of democracy and human rights
  • Establishing the rule of law
  • The guarantee and protection of freedom of expression
  • Strengthening the private and voluntary national public audiovisual sector
  • Establishing the public's right to information and knowledge through the guarantee of pluralism and diversity in programs related to public life

Journalists and employees of public radio stations concerned have expressed repeatedly over the past two weekstheir opposition to the unilateral appointments. The HAICA also called on the government to freeze these appointments, pending the appointment of a new CEO at the head of the establishment of the Tunisian radio.

The HAICA said in an open letter on 3 September 2013 to the president of the government and the public, that the meetings of the joint committee composed of members of the HAICA and members of the government "did not achieved the expected results, due to the insistence of the government officials to consider as perfectly legal appointments at the head of public broadcasters."

The commission was created following the recent appointments to establish criteria that will be applied for the appointment of heads of public media institutions. The HAICA announced in its open letter its rejection of the government's request to conduct a "unified reading" of Decree Law 116, assuming that most of the provisions of this statute do not fall within the competence of government.

ARTICLE 19 believes that recent government decisions cast doubt on the willingness of public authorities to advance the reform process of the information sector in Tunisia. It is important to recall that Article 6 of the Decree Law 116 provides that "HAICA exercises its powers independently, without interference by any party whatsoever , that may affect its members or activities".

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Tunisian authorities to respect Decree 116-2011 and respect the role of the regulator HAICA and its independence. We also call on the government to provide the HAICA all logistical, human and financial resources to enable it to exercise its prerogatives and solve all the problems plaguing the audiovisual sector in Tunisia.

ARTICLE 19 calls on all parties concerned to work towards creating conditions to promote the independence and freedom of information sector to enable it to play its rightful role in the success of the democratic transition in Tunisia.

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