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Media issues, ULT shutdown vex Tunisian bloggers

By Mona Yahia for Magharebia in Tunis – 03/02/10

Bloggers in Tunisia had plenty to discuss this week following a fact-finding visit from the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the fight against terrorism. The closure of a university and discussions about alleged sweetheart deals for the press also earned scathing posts.

Coeos blogs about the disparity between the reports of the Tunisian Press Agency (TAP) and other international news outlets following the visit of UN Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin, who reported on the country's anti-terrorism measures. "Between the state-owned agency and the rest, whom should we believe?" Coeos asks his readers.

TAP coverage focused exclusively on the positive points of Scheinin's report, according to the blogger, while other agencies highlighted the vast differences between the anti-terrorism laws as written, versus how they are actually put into force.

Patriot Tunisian responds to Scheinin's claim that Tunisian laws lack a clear definition of terrorism. "Fellow blogger Coeos is wondering about the contradiction among news reports on the seminar that the UN special rapporteur called for. This is not a question of obscuring facts, Coeos, because terrorism is a loose concept that is exploited by major states in order to pass their policies."

On another security topic, blogger Manchou criticises the Mufti of Tunisia for his comments on new full-body scanners making their way to international airports, which the religious leader called haram and degrading to human dignity.

"Usually the Mufti of Tunisia is only fit for announcing the advent of the Eid, the amount of zakat or the start of the month of Ramadan," Manchou notes. "The role he plays is mostly symbolic and with limited competencies. Since when has the mufti started issuing fatwas that are related to the life of the Tunisian citizen? Does he want us to be a backward nation akin to some of the Gulf states, where the mufti gets to control people's lives?"

Revolution Tunisie points to the surprise shutdown of the Free University of Tunis (ULT), after the institution's president and financier Mohamed Bouebdelli published a book criticising President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. For Bouebdelli, this was a "political decision, dictated by hatred and vengeance".

The blogger writes: "Four months after having published a book critical of President Ben Ali on the internet, the founder and president of the ULT has been sanctioned. His creation, his pride – the oldest of the private universities in Tunisia – was notified by the minister for higher education that it should suspend its activities."

"Officially, the ULT showed 'a number of deficiencies and irregularities in its administrative and pedagogical sectors'." But the blogger quotes Boebdelli as calling these reproaches nothing but "staging for the punishment".

Discontent is also brewing from within the field of journalism. Ziad El Heni takes journalists to task for agreeing to state discounts on airfares, as well as on phone and internet services. Quoting journalist Mohamed Bu-Oud, El Heni writes: "In the last meeting between the minister of communications and the members of the House of Representatives and Councils, members of the August 15th conference executive office at the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) came out happy, having reaped substantial benefits which they metaphorically called 'the first batch'."

According to the blogger, journalists have forsaken their primary duty to report the news and hold the government accountable.

"The office members forgot or pretended to forget that they are media professionals and that they are addressing media professionals, too, who will never buy such rigid language and free promotion, which are very much similar to rural development programmes or local reports that typically start with the same old opening sentence, 'We have met and decided to grant you…'," writes El Heni.

"Well, gentlemen, the first batch of the historic decisions you made is a batch that does not conform to specifications, a batch that does not show the 'Quality Assurance' badge."

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