Tunisia Journalists Protest After Censorship of Demonstrations

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See about a screenshot detail from the Committee to Protect Journalists' page about the Tunisian "crackdown." (Credit: CPJ, screenshot)

Tunisian journalists went on strike starting Jan. 11, after the government allegedly tried to “censor media coverage of month-long riots over corruption and unemployment which have claimed at least 21 lives so far.”

According to the New York Times, “thousands of protesters” have been demonstrating in Tunisia.  “After weeks of mounting protest and bloodshed in which dozens of people have died, thousands of demonstrators converged on the Interior Ministry on Friday morning to demand that the president step down immediately, according to news reports.”

The Tunisian protests were first set off in December following a young man setting himself on fire, “after police confiscated his fruit cart, cutting off his source of income.”  According to CNN, the protesters have spoken out against “high unemployment, alleged corruption, rising prices and a limitations on rights.”

The journalists protesting belong to IFJ affiliate journalist group, Syndicat national des journalistes tunisiens.  In late December, the Tunisian syndicate reportedly issued a statement speaking out against the “ban on journalists and obstructions to their work as well as attacks against some of its members while they were doing their job.”

According to BBC News, Lebanese news site Al-Akhbar “was blocked in Tunisia” after publishing WikiLeaks cables.  There have been reports of “widespread attacks against bloggers,” and hacking and blocking of personal blogs and webpages since the protests started. CNN noted the protests “are being organized online” and that “YouTube has been banned in Tunisia since 2007.”

Just yesterday, Canadian Press reported that “a protester was fatally shot and a journalist was hit in the leg by police gunfire.” The journalist has not been publicly identified.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) announced Jan. 12 that it was backing the Tunisian journalists’ decision to strike.  The IFJ calls itself “the world’s largest organisation of journalists.” It was created 85 years ago and claims approximately 600,000 members.

The general secretary for the IFJ, Aidan White, agreed with the journalists’ decision to join in protest.  He stated:

“Journalists in Tunisia are right to show solidarity with citizens and to oppose violent repression of the people’s right to express their legitimate concerns.  The Government clampdown on media has failed to silence public protests over corruption and the jobless crisis highlights just how the current regime is out of touch with the realities of its rule.”

“The regime’s image of moderate and progressive government is a sham that has been exposed by the courageous action of journalists.  We support our colleagues in their demand for respect of human rights and we call on the authorities to release of Fahem and all his colleagues in detention.”

According to the IFJ’s announcement, the IFJ thinks that ” the current unrest shows the government’s attempts to intimidate media from reporting on the public resentment of the corruption and greed of the ruling political elite in the country have failed. ”

Foreign Policy reported that Tunisia’s president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has “Systematically controlled Tunisia’s media and silenced his opposition” in the 23 years of his presidency. Foreign Policy further noted that Ben Ali’s “inner circle” runs and owns private media in Tunisia.

The IFJ also noted that it has “launched a campaign” for a Tunisian journalist’s release from jail.  The journalist, Fahem Boukadous, was convicted for his 2008 “reporting on public demonstrations against unemployment and corruption.” According to the BBC, the Committee to Protect Journalists “condemned the court’s decision, saying Boukadous was being punished for ‘reporting the news.'”

iMediaEthics is writing to the IFJ and will update with any response.

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Tunisia Journalists Protest After Censorship of Demonstrations

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