Fears of Media Repression Grow
By: Monia Ben Hamadi Translated from Business News (Tunisia).
Without any restraints, pretense, or political correctness, Lotfi Zitoun has shown his claws like a wounded animal and no one — not even his superior Hamadi Jebali — seems to be able to stop him. He blacklists journalists at will. Members of the Ben Ali family are being appointed as heads of public and state-seized media outlets on a daily basis. Zitoun said he wants to establish his own “media empire,” of which Azzaytoona TV is the first building block. But first everything must be destroyed in order to build on more solid foundations.
About This Article
Lotfi Zitoun, a key adviser to Tunisia's interim prime minister, says he wants to build his own media empire. But Monia Ben Hamadi reports that Zitoun and other officials of the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, are stifling freedom of expression and abusing their power to appoint managers of state-owned media.Publisher: Business News (Tunisia)
Tunisia: Toward the Destruction of the Media to Make Way for Emperor Zitoun
Author: Monia Ben Hamadi
First Published: September 3, 2012
Posted on: September 5 2012
Translated by: Rani Geha
Categories : Tunisia
Journalist Walid Mejri dropped a bombshell on [Sept. 2]. Using a credible source close to the government, he revealed the details of a meeting between Zitoun, [Ennahda President] Rached Ghannouchi, Hamadi Jebali, and other senior Ennahda representatives. According to Mejri, the head of the government did not want to appoint Lotfi Touati to Assabah’s management in order to cool things down and put an end to the war between the journalists and the government. But Zitoun reportedly shouted in the presence of Hamadi Jebali, “Over my dead body ... These are a handful of kids who will eventually get bored and brought into line! But if necessary, we will fabricate against them legal files with the political police, as did their master Ben Ali, and we will make a blacklist every day!”
Ghannouchi renewed his support for Zitoun and gave him “carte blanche” on the condition that he finds a solution for Dar Assabah and not jeopardize its future plans, first among them Shams FM.
Also overheard from the Kasbah and Montplaisir by sources close to Ennahda, is that there is a tussle between Zitoun and the head of government. Ennahda’s so-called pragmatic wing — which includes Hamadi Jebali and Laarayedh Ali — confronted the movement’s “enfant terrible,” who is protected by the movement’s uncontested leader Ghannouchi. Zitoun will go along with the interior minister up to encouraging and participating in unauthorized demonstrations organized by the youth movement, and he will continue his all-out war against those who dare challenge, criticize, or stand up to him.
A car plunges into a crowd of protesters at Sfax. [Zitoun] launches into a diatribe against journalists and the culprit is quickly found: It is the media of shame that is afraid to be blacklisted. Our colleague Khaoula Kaabi asked Zitoun about that. He took the opportunity to attack her and accused the radio [station] for which she works, Express FM, of participating in the conspiracy against him by broadcasting the citizens’ complaints about him.
Ennahda’s abuses against the media are being reported in the foreign media. “In Tunisia, Ennahda pressures the media” writes the French daily Libération. “Since Ennahda came to power, Islamists and journalists have been at war. Deaf to criticism, Ennahda has replaced all the directors of public media, without consultation,” writes our colleague Elodie Auffray. Does that sound like a “media of shame that fears to be blacklisted”?
A few days ago, Reporters Without Borders expressed their deep concern about the many appointments in [state-owned] media. For the nine months in which Ennahda has been in power, the management of national television has changed several times. There is also a high turnover at national and regional radio stations. The government is legally entitled to make these appointments as it does for the governorates, administrations, and other institutions. But the question is one of legitimacy. The government is provisional and has not yet put in place the rules and regulations that govern these appointments. The constant changes at the head of the public media discredit Ennahda’s claim that it wants to clean up the sector, but they rather point to the party’s wish to control the so-called “fourth power.”
Thus, after the sudden stop of Ettounsia’s broadcast, Sami Fehri was quickly arrested to prevent the release of Abdelwahab Abdallah, according to senior Ettakatol [The Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties party] leaders. The cases of Dar Assabah and Zitouna TV have raised the tension between the government and the media. The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) raises the bar, Zitoun threatens, and Touati calls the police for help.
In Youssef Seddik’s most recent Le Temps column — where one paragraph was censored by Touati himself — the appointment was reported as such: “Why not suspend this bad decision, call for applicants, and appoint a committee of professionals who would choose the best, most imaginative, and most deserving person to improve circulation, distribution, and sales; a person who looks to the future in a Tunisia that has grown tired of lies and one-way thinking? Why is Lotfi Touati, who was promoted by the Institute of the Press and Information Sciences, not allowed to participate and compete like any other citizen?”
Beyond these considerations, the scramble for the three top positions and the risky appointments raise a few questions. The [Constitutional Democratic Rally (CPR)] is conspicuous by its absence and silence. Ettakatol has taken an ambiguous position. Ettakatol is part of the troika. Its president, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, had praised the qualities of his allies at their conventions. But Ettakatol’s officials are trying to show their support — especially during events organized by the Dar Assabah journalists — for both the SNJT and the journalists in questions by condemning the government appointments. Ettakatol’s officials complain that they are often wrongly criticized by the media that they are defending. The Constituent Assembly is back from vacation and is worried about the journalists’ claims. And Zitoun is preparing to build his empire on the ruins of what he is destroying today.
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