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Spectre of censorship scares Tunisian bloggers

By Mona Yahia for Magharebia in Tunis – 24/02/12

Tunisian bloggers weigh in on the controversial Ettounsia affair, where three journalists were arrested for publishing a nude photo.

Last week, director of Tunisian newspaper Ettounsia, as well as an editor and reporter, were detained for publishing a picture of Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira and his partially-nude girlfriend. While charges were dropped against the two editors, fear of a return to censorship continues to linger over Tunisian bloggers.

Blogger Imen wrote, "The path towards freedom is still long and full of obstacles, despite the fact that in Tunisia, when we look at it from the sky, we see roofs covered with antennas so Tunisians can watch satellite TV without paying a subscription. We thus learned how to move on to another channel when we see a snapshot that might provoke our sensibilities, especially when watching TV as a family."

In the same context, Maher Tekaya in his blog "Le jour d'apres" commented, "Those who were quick to censor anything that did not serve the interests of the regime in the past seem to be still working to some extent today, but this time they are defending morality and virtue."

Other bloggers disagreed. Ahmed l'Hmar argued that the Ettounsia affair has nothing to do with censorship but speaks volumes about the state of the media in the country.

"Why did they publish a photo that would cause them problems…in short, do we need a photo of a nude woman to face our time challenges?" the blogger wondered. "The media in Tunisia suffers from its inability to master the tools that would make it neutral."

"We need to change the mind to change the media," l'Hmar wrote. "But the issue is that the mind asks for a media to lead the change, but since the media is not in a good health, the mind cannot carry out this role."

Another topic of concern among Tunisian writers is a recent visit by controversial Egyptian preacher Wajdi Ghonim.

"How can Egyptian preacher Wajdi Ghonim obtain a visa to Tunisia when it is difficult to obtain visas for Egyptian bloggers, for example?" wondered Emma Benji. "The stranger thing is that this person was able to deliver a speech calling for sedition from a public facility."

Meanwhile, blogger El Barraka had a different opinion. "In recent days, manifestations of what some call 'religious extremism' and what I call 'the natural reaction' have increased," the blogger wrote. "In Tunisia, just having a beard is enough to come under suspicion by the media and to become a second-class citizen or lose your value as a citizen. And wearing a T-shirt is enough to become foreign to society and a 'germ'."

"A state of citizenship cannot be built with exclusion and contempt at best and, in other situations, attacks, ridicule, making charges, provoking religious sanctities and the monopoly of a single opinion without being allowed to respond," the blogger added.

Blogger "Parliamentarea" called on Tunisian citizens to start acting and help the government move forward. All citizens now have all the tools available to submit their demands and grievances to the Constituent Assembly, the blogger wrote.

"Some representatives courageously try to get close to voters expectations' through actions meant to ensure citizen' participation in the constitution's drafting," the blogger added. "These actions teach us to live together despite our differences, which should not prevent us from working together for the good of our country."

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