Three employees of the Tunisian national television station Al Wataniya – Walid Hamraoui, Kais Ben Mefteh, and Fathi Khiari – required urgent medical attention after being wounded in violent clashes that erupted this afternoon between employees of the station and demonstrators calling for “cleansing the media of shame.”
Moufida Abbessi, a journalist at Al Wataniya, stated that the protesters nearly broke into the headquarters of the national television before police intervened and managed to disperse them.
The protests, which have been ongoing since March 2, were organized by the Campaign of Free Tunisians to Cleanse the Media of Shame, a group claiming to be independent and unaffiliated with any political party.
Karim Ben Ali, one of the organizers of the group, denied having any affiliation with the people who used violence against journalists.
“There is a group of people who succeeded in infiltrating us and spoiling our reputation. They want to prevent us from achieving our mission,” he stated.
“We are here because we want to protect the Tunisian Revolution, not assault other people,” he added.
Political parties have condemned the recent wave of verbal and physical assaults against the journalists of Al Wataniya. In a communiqué issued yesterday, Ettakatol, one of the parties comprising the ruling tripartite coalition, called upon the authorities to take the necessary measures to protect the employees of Al Wataniya.
Constituent Assembly members Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, Maya Jribi, Ahmed Brahim, and others have paid visits to the headquarters of the station to convey their support for the employees and express their sympathy for their predicament.
Demonstrations outside of the station’s headquarters escalated following recent declarations made by Ameur Arayadh, a member of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) and a representative of Ennahdha’s political board. Arayadh stated that national television is not independent and that it must be privatized.
The National Committee of Information and Communication Reform (INRIC), an independent commission founded shortly after the revolution to reform Tunisia’s media apparatus and draft a new press code, released a statement last Saturday condemning the announcement of Ameur Arayadh.
“INRIC affirms its total rejection of these statements whether made deliberately or aimed to put additional pressure on journalists,” the statement declared.
Abessi also stated that the declarations made by Arayadh imply that Tunisia is back to the practices of the old regime, under which there was no clear separation between the ruling party and the government.
“Neither Ghannouchi [the leader of Ennahdha] nor Arayadh has the power to decide on the future of the national television,” she said.
Hichem Snoussi, a member of INRIC and a media expert, said that the campaign led against the national television is purely political.
“The government is trying to control national television. They are not satisfied with its performance because it is independent. As the elections are approaching the government wants to use the national television to promote its activities,” he stated.
“The national television is not supposed to be doing any public relations job for the president or for the government. Otherwise we will find ourselves with the same media we had under the Ben Ali regime, when they used to simply broadcast reports published by the presidency,” added Snoussi.
In reaction to today’s incident, the employees of the station quickly organized a counter-protest to call upon the Ministry of the Interior to end the demonstrations outside of their headquarters.
“We are negotiating with the Ministry of the Interior. They told us that the protest will come to an end by tomorrow at 2:00pm. However, the discussions are still ongoing, and we don’t know what is going to happen. We won’t be silent anymore,” Abessi stated.
The employees are currently blocking the road and preventing cars from passing.