A left-leaning Tunisian TV station facing financial troubles launched an unusual fundraising campaign today: selling bundles of parsley outside its Tunis headquarters.
The initiative emerged out of something of a symbolic rivalry between the channel, Elhiwar Ettounsi, and Tunisia’s first Islamist television channel Zitouna TV. Launched after the revolution by the son of Minister of Education Moncef Ben Salem, Zitouna TV had to address questions about how it attained its financing. Ben Salem and his supporters dismissed any suspicions about funding, saying that the station was created using money he earned selling parsley since he was prevented from being a university professor during the previous regime due to his political activism.
When Elhiwar Ettounsi launched a social media fundraising campaign in recent weeks, it was met by sarcastic comments from Islamists and Ennahdha supporters, who suggested the station should just “go sell parsley” if its situation was that dire.
So Elhiwar Ettounsi did just that.
The channel, which is often critical of Ennahdha and Islamists, announced it would raise money by selling parsley for at least 20 dinars per bundle.
Tunisians, including some prominent figures from politics, media, and the arts, showed up at the headquarters today to buy parsley and express their support. Many said they considered the issue to be one of media freedom and accused Islamists of trying to suppress opposition voices.
“Elhiwar Ettounsi represents Tunisians, who are against extremism and violence in the name of religion,” said Amine Cherif, a history professor at the fundraising event. “Ennahdha politicians and followers keep calling Elhiwar the media of shame, but they reflect the voice of the free Tunisians.”
Opposition politician and Al Joumhouri representative Iyad Dahmani was present as well.
“Before I became a politician, I started as a journalist at Elhiwar in 2006,” he said. “That’s why I’m here to defend them.”
Izzedine Ben Mahmoud, a TV show host at Elhiwar Ettounsi, told Tunisia Live that the turnout surprised those who work at the channel.
“Money is not as important as the moral support that Tunisians are showing us,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to spread a media culture where we can be different and express our minds.”