The professionalism and news-gathering practices of Tunisia’s media outlets have been criticized by the country’s leading journalists' union and HAICA, Tunisia’s new media regulatory authority.
The assassination of Mohamed Brahmi on July 25 and the ensuing political crisis in Tunisia has brought renewed scrutiny to the country's media, which features a raft of new media outlets now operating in a largely unregulated post-revolutionary environment.
The National Union of Journalists issued a press release Wednesday urging its members to cover recent events in accordance with professional standards.
The union advised its colleagues to fulfill their national role in transmitting events sincerely and objectively, and not to go after pictures and news that would violate in any way human dignity, incite individuals or groups, or threaten national security. The union also condemns the broadcasting of pictures of the country's martyrs from the military by the national television revealing an overt violation of human rights and journalistic ethics.
The High Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communication (known by its French acronym HAICA) has also publicly scrutinized the Tunisian media’s recent coverage. [display_posts type=”related” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
The HAICA is an official body tasked with regulating the Tunisian media sector, supervising the media during electoral campaigns, and nominating directors of public radio and television stations. The authority was established in May and has released two statements in the week since Brahmi’s assassination on the media's performance in covering Tunisian affairs.
The board has criticized aspects of the media's recent reporting, including the airing of video that it considers to be improper.
HAICA has recently noticed that some television channels broadcasted pictures from the recent Chaambi events that included scenes of the bodies of Tunisian soldiers stained with blood, naked, and disgraced, which is regarded as a violation of human rights, said a statement released Wednesday.
Hichem Snoussi, a member of the HAICA, noted some positive aspects of the media's recent coverage.
They have really focused on the issues and brought in input from many different people, he told Tunisia Live.
Overall, though, he was very critical of the media's performance.
One television station, Snoussi said, interviewed a young nephew of the assassinated Brahmi, who cried on the air. He asserted that this violated journalistic ethics and did not respect the rights of children.
Snoussi was similarly critical of video taken of Brahmi's body at the morgue. After being broadcast, it was widely distributed on Facebook and social media, he said.
What we are experiencing now is very new to us, said Snoussi. We are not used to assassinations and terrorism. We live in an environment of freedom and think we can do anything.
This, he said, can explain some of the media's behavior during recent days.
According to Snoussi, the HAICA is hoping to end unethical practices done only to increase a station's audience.
Addressing bias, Snoussi said he believes television and radio stations are taking advantage of a legal vacuum to send clear political messages.
He called on public television and radio stations to take the lead and set an example for all Tunisian media by following professional standards and journalistic codes of ethics.
A key aspect of this involves establishing the proper relationship between journalists, administrators, and the government. The relationship between a station's administration and its editorial staff, as well as the relationship between its administration and the government, should be subject to clearly defined limits, Snoussi said. [display_posts type=”same_author” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
The full effects of the HAICA have not taken place yet, according to Snoussi.
Now we are in the situation that proceeded the HAICA. Managers of the stations were named before the HACIA was established by people in government who have agendas,” he said. If HAICA does not take concrete measures to address the situation, it is participating in a masquerade.”
Tunisia Live interviewed Tunisians on the street about where they get their information during a period of breaking news. They showed strong opinions about the biases of television stations, and some felt that Facebook was a better news source than established media outlets.
I don't believe any TV station, 31 year old Fahd Romdhan said. Each has a message to deliver. Some TV stations accuse Ennahdha of assassinations and have no proof. They also don't know how to simplify information.
Rodhman specifically criticized one of the stations, Nessma TV.
Nessma works for certain agendas and sides with the opposition, he said, echoing perceptions that the channel is opposed to the Islamist-led government.
Fifty-four year old Thabti Ghribi shared this dislike of Nessma.
I watch all stations but only like Jannoubia and Hannibal. I hate Nessma. Their coverage is not credible.
For Ghribi, however, television is not the primary source of news.
I don't even watch national television. I always get news from Facebook.
Hanna Ahamemi, a university student, says the radio is the best news source.
I mainly get news from Mosaique FM radio. I don't watch the national television station [Al Wataniya], but I like Nessma and Ettounsiya.
She feels that these two stations offered sincere journalism about Brahmi's assassination, and singled out Nessma for its credibility and transparency in delivering the news.
I believe more in our [Tunisian] media, she said, but in Brahmi's case I first heard about it from France 24. That's really shameful since our media only mentioned this later.”
Eighteen year old Haythem mainly gets his news from the Internet, specifically Facebook, and not from newspapers.
I always watch El-Hiwar Ettounsi, he said. I don't watch the national television station and I don't believe it. I also watch Nessma.
Ultimately, Tunisian stations are not his preferred source of television news.
I'd rather watch foreign TV stations.
Salma Bouzid, Asma Smadhi, and Nissaf Slama contributed reporting.