By Afef Abrougui | Jan 16 2014Amendment , article , Constitution , HAICA , INRIC ,
Tunisia’s broadcast media regulatory authority has criticized provisions in the draft constitution that it feels threaten freedom of the media.
In a letter addressed to the parties taking part in ongoing political talks, the media regulator, known by the acronym HAICA, said that Articles 122 and 124 in the new constitution “represent a threat to the independence and neutrality” of the body and “reduce its prerogatives”.
To HAICA, these provisions represent a “clear setback” for guarantees on freedom of the media and the regulatory authority’s independence as stipulated in a 2011 law.
Decree 116 of 2011 states that HAICA’s board members shall be appointed in a participatory manner, with the heads of state and parliament and the unions of judges, journalists, and broadcast media professionals taking part in the process.
However, Article 122 of the draft constitution tasks the parliament with electing all nine members of the regulator’s board.
This change has upset HAICA and others involved in broadcast media regulation.
Article 122 “compromises the body’s independence and paves the way for partisan quotas,” Kamel Laabidi, head of the now dissolved INRIC, a body established after the ousting of Ben Ali to reform the legal framework regulating the media sector, told Radio Express FM.
Decree 116 gives HAICA the authority to organize and regulate the broadcast sector. This includes through granting licences to launch radio and television stations, resolving disputes over the operation of broadcast media outlets, and participating in the appointment of heads of state-owned media outlets.
HAICA fears a “marginalization” of its mission under article 124. This article states that HAICA “works on regulating and developing the media sector and seeks to guarantee freedom of expression and the media, access to information and a fair and pluralistic media. It should be consulted over draft laws related to its field.”
The body feels that this article does not clearly give it sufficient authority.
The draft constitution “marginalizes HAICA’s regulatory mission and turns it into a mere consultative body lacking decision-making prerogatives,” the media regulator declared.
“This could open the door for the executive branch to place its hands on the broadcast media sector,” the letter read.
Provisions related to HAICA are incorporated in the chapter on ‘constitutional bodies,’ which also include articles on the election board and entities for human rights and sustainable development.
The chapter is awaiting adoption, but the vote on the constitution has been slowed by disputes over the independence of the judiciary.
Meanwhile, HAICA filed two suggested amendments to article 122 and 124. The amendments, it says, would seek to guarantee the entity’s independence from political interference and give it more regulatory authority.