In December 2017, ARTICLE 19 analysed the Draft Law on the Audio-Visual Commission of Tunisia (Draft Law) for its compliance with international freedom of expression standards. The analysis focuses on the key provisions of the Draft Law.
The Draft Law is part of an ongoing process of harmonisation of Tunisian legislation with the 2014 Constitution. It aims to replace the existing legislation in this area, namely Legislative Decree No. 116-2011, which established the previous broadcasting regulator, the Independent Audio-Visual Communication Authority (HAICA). It is envisaged that HAICA will be replaced by the new Audio-Visual Communication Commission (the Commission).
The Draft Law and the reforms of the broadcasting legislation have already been subject to criticism by civil society. Civil society organisations, including ARTICLE 19, have expressed concerns that the broadcasting regulatory reforms do not offer any comprehensive vision for the reform of the current regulatory system, and are dispersed in several laws, rather than in one comprehensive piece of legislation. Concerns have also been raised that the Draft Law is being introduced without meaningful prior consultations with all stakeholders in the media sector and civil society.
ARTICLE 19 has extensive experience on the subject. Previously, in 2011, we analysed several drafts of the previous legislation on broadcasting regulation, including the Decree on the Freedom of Audio-Visual Communication and the Creation of an Independent Higher Authority for Audio-Visual Communication of Tunisia. ARTICLE 19 Tunisia has been also working extensively with HAICA over the last several years on many relevant issues in the media sector.
We believe that when replacing the current legislation on the broadcasting regulator, the Tunisian Government must comprehensively evaluate the benefits and the shortcomings of the current system, and its compliance with international freedom of expression standards. Crucially, the government must ensure that any new proposal for a broadcast regulator strengthens, rather than weakens, compliance with these standards. As such, we regret that the current version of the Draft Law lacks sufficient safeguards for the protection of freedom of expression and lacks sufficient guarantees for the independence, including financial, of the Commission.
The legislation establishing a broadcasting regulator is crucial for ensuring freedom of media and its important role in securing public information and in facilitating a forum for public debate and fair elections. ARTICLE 19 hopes that the Tunisian Government seriously consider the recommendations in this analysis and ensure that the final draft of the Law fully complies with international freedom of expression standards. We stand ready to provide further assistance in this process.