Nejiba Hamrouni, president of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), denounced recent aggressive legal action taken against journalists during an interview with Tunisian radio Mosaique FM Monday.
Acts of intimidation such as the travel ban placed on blogger Olfa Riahi, who leaked potentially damaging information about Foreign Affairs Minister Rafik Abdessalem, and the four-month sentence handed down to Nizar Bahloul, director of the website Business News, for allegedly defaming a former Tunisian ambassador, are attempts “by the government to suppress and terrorize journalists, so that they will impose on themselves self-censorship and will write according to the government’s expectations,” Hamrouni said.
She added that the only way out of this predicament is the implementation of decrees 115 and 116 related to the media sector, which were issued after the revolution in an attempt to guarantee press freedom.
Decree 115 is related to the freedom of the press, printing, and publishing; it prohibits restrictions on the freedom to disseminate information and protects journalists’ sources.
Decree 116 provides for the creation of an independent authority to guarantee the freedom of audiovisual communication and issue radio and television licenses.
Both of these decrees were supposed to be implemented by the current government on November 2012, yet that has not occurred yet.
Hamrouni said she believed if the decrees were enacted, the freedom and independence of the press would be guaranteed.
Hichem Snoussi, a member in National Authority for Reform of Information and Communication, said the government has failed to apply the two decrees because it does not want journalists to become independent actors.
“Such decrees would amend the press and would guarantee its independence from the executive body (the government) in particular,” he said. “They would deprive the executive body of its supervisory authority. Then it would no longer be able to monopolize journalists.”
Hajer Aziz, a member of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) affiliated with the ruling Ennahdha party, said that the implementation of the decrees depends on the prime minister.
“It is the duty of the prime minister, not the NCA, to apply the decrees,” she said. “Yet, they should be applied because they would legalize the situation of journalists and would maintain the fourth estate.”