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RSF Tunisia urges action on press freedom

By Monia Ghanmi for Magharebia in Tunis – 18/10/11

After the opening of the Reporters without Borders (RSF) office in Tunis, Tunisian journalists are pushing for greater freedom of press.

The office was opened on Wednesday (October 12th) to support freedom of expression as Tunisia marches towards democracy.

RSF Secretary General Jean-Francois Julliard said that through its presence in Tunisia the organisation would seek to support the new authorities in their efforts to reform the media sector as a whole.

He added that one goal was to achieve media diversity and allow the sector to act as a counter-balance to the government authorities.

"The duties that this office has set for itself include… reform of the Press Law, regulation of radio stations and television channels, support for pluralism and defending the principle of respect for the most diverse opinions," Julliard said.

RSF announced on October 11th that the team in Tunisia would be charged with notifying the authorities on violations against press freedom and helping them develop a stable, responsible and independent press sector.

The group plans to co-ordinate with several local organisations for the defence of press freedom to achieve its goals.

The presence of any organisation defending freedom of media is welcome, because it will support press creativity, especially in this transitional phase the country is experiencing, according to Najmeddine Akkari, editor-in-chief of Al-Chourouk.

She added that the current media environment foreshadows the emergence of a "dictatorship of the street", based on chaos and insults projected in various types of media.

Akkari expressed her opinion that the RSF needs the support of local media if it is to achieve the goals it set.

"I believe that real change must be in the minds of journalists and media advocating support of the principles of objectivity and professionalism before the defence of their rights and their demands for access to information," she said.

"Freedom of expression is still threatened in Tunisia,” said Radio 6 journalist Samir Jarray. "I thus think that RSF will play a major role in advancing freedom of the press and trying to establish it on the ground and that it will seek in all earnestness to establish a democratic media."

Jarray called on the Tunisian government to facilitate RSF's work, saying that freedom of the press is the responsibility of everyone and must be defended if the country's goal is democracy.

One of the first actions the RSF took after opening its Tunis office was to condemn on Thursday (October 13th) the attack on Nessma TV and the intimidation of its director and staff.

"What reason could justify these attacks? The broadcast of the film 'Persepolis' likely raised some sensitivities, but this does not give the right to threaten the director of a television channel in this way, because freedom of expression also means tolerance of contrary ideas," said Francois Julliard.

RSF holds that the Tunisian authorities alone are empowered to rule on any violation of freedom of the press. RSF called on the government to condemn the acts of vandalism and intimidation committed against Nessma TV and to open an investigation to determine responsibilities and arrest the perpetrators of these acts.

In early October, RSF launched a media campaign under the slogan "Free .... but for how long?" in order to approach Tunisians and make them aware of the importance of freedom of the press.

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