Tunisia journalists go on strike

2012-10-17 16:56

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Tunis - Tunisian journalists went on strike on Wednesday, after months of rising tensions with the Islamist-led government, which is accused of curbing press freedom and seeking to control public media groups.

The strike was widely observed at those press groups at the heart of the controversy that has gripped Tunisia since the summer, with staff accusing the ruling coalition of manipulating editorial content by appointing loyal directors.

On its website home page, Tunisian public radio posted the station's logo with a black band running though it and the slogan: "General strike by journalists: the freedom of the press and the rights of citizens."

The official TAP news agency sent a message to its subscribers saying it was restricted to offering a "minimum service, covering only very urgent news."

The Dar Essabah press group, the most high-profile case in the rumbling controversy following the government's appointment of a controversial new director there in August, also took part in the industrial action.

Several journalists at Dar Essabah, which owns Arabic-language daily Essabah and French-language newspaper Le Temps, have been on hunger strike since last week, after talks with the authorities broke down.

"The freedom of the press, recently suppressed, risks more than ever finding itself under the government's thumb once again," the daily Le Quotidien warned, in an editorial on Tuesday.

Coalition government

Private radio station Mosaique FM said it planned to broadcast just three short news bulletins during the day, instead of its usual hourly dispatches.

Members of the national journalists' union, which organised the strike, were expected to gather at its Tunis headquarters at 12:00 GMT.

As well as wanting controversial new directors of public media groups replaced, journalists are calling for the creation of an independent body to reform the industry, as promised but never realised since last year's revolution.

The authority charged with carrying out those reforms announced in early July that it had shut down after failing to achieve its objective, accusing the government of censorship.

The coalition government, headed by the Islamist party Ennahda, has denied undermining press freedom, seen as a fundamental achievement of the revolution that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 and touched off the Arab Spring.

It says it is seeking to purge an industry still controlled by members of the deposed regime, and has complained about being subjected to a relentless campaign of media criticism that mainly serves the interests of its political opponents.

Informal youth movement Ekbes, which is considered close to Ennahda, called on Tuesday for a boycott of Tunisian media in response to the strike.

Read more on:    zine el abidine ben ali  |  tunisia  |  north africa

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