Tunisia: Government must immediately withdraw draft broadcasting bill that threatens freedom of expression

ARTICLE 19, along with 23 national and international human rights organisations, urge the Tunisian government to withdraw the Draft Law on the establishment of the Audio Visual Communication Authority establishing Tunisia’s new Audio-Visual Authority [HAICA in its French acronym], as it fails to meet international standards on freedom of expression and specifically broadcasting freedoms. The lack of transparency in the law’s drafting, the lack of cohesiveness with a broader regulatory framework, and the failures in guaranteeing the new Authority’s independence mean the draft law is not fit for purpose and must be reconsidered. We join 23 organisations in calling on the government to work with civil society, parliament and independent media experts to draw up a new broadcasting law, which is in line with international standards of freedom of expression and Tunisia’s 2014 Constitution, and protects media freedom. We further urge the Tunisian government to ensure any future draft forms part of a cohesive framework on broadcasting regulation that protects free expression.

ARTICLE 19’s legal analysis of the draft law released in December 2017 confirmed that the draft law risks restricting broadcast freedoms, due to the lack of clear definitions of key terms, and worrying deficiencies in the independence of the HAICA.

The draft law was submitted to the Assembly of People’s Representatives to replace existing legislation on broadcasting regulations, and is currently being discussed by the Parliamentary Commission of Rights and Freedoms.

ARTICLE 19, along with a number of national and international human rights organisations, have held meetings and consultations to discuss the draft law and raised these issues directly with the government. At a Parliamentary Committee hearing on 25 January 2018, ARTICLE 19 acknowledged the Commission of Rights and Freedoms’ ongoing commitment to safeguarding freedom of expression, but called on the government to immediately withdraw the draft law for the following reasons:

1-The absence of transparency and a participatory approach in the preparation of the draft law:

The preparation of the draft law by the Ministry of Relations with Constitutional Instances, Civil Society and Human Rights lacked comprehensive dialogue with relevant stakeholders and professionals. These organisations and actors have expressed their concern at this in two open letters addressed to the three presidencies on 20 June 2017, and 18 December 2017, highlighting that the consultations conducted by the ministry were nominal and not transparent, and that they excluded key stakeholders in the media sector.

Such consultations are crucial for a comprehensive vision of any audio-visual reform needed and will allow all those involved in the media sector to participate in the preparation of the legislative framework, which concerns them.

2- Failure to establish the draft law as part of a clear vision and broader legal framework for reforming audiovisual communications regulation:

In contrast to the approach followed in 2011, where complimentary decrees 115 (on freedom of the press, printing and publishing) and 116 (on the freedom of audiovisual communication, including provisions on the establishment of the Audiovisual Communication Authority) were adopted, the new draft law on the audiovisual Commission demonstrates a worryingly piecemeal approach through:

  • The adoption of a draft law on common provisions among the independent constitutional bodies
  • Separating the establishment of the Audio-Visual Commission from other provisions governing the audiovisual sector;
  • The absence of a broader regulatory framework for freedom of expression, press and publication accompanying the draft law;
  • The absence of framework for self-regulation as guaranteed by international standards.

A general vision to reform audiovisual communications regulation and to embed safeguards for freedom of information as part of this, as provided for in the new constitution, is missing in the new draft law.

The draft law will result in a fractured legal framework governing the media  sector, the weakening of independent bodies, and relinquishment of the achievements recognized by the legislation issued in 2011 (Decree 116-2011) and reinforced by the 2014 Constitution.

The draft law’s fragmentation of legal texts risks ambiguity, contradiction and limitation of freedom of expression and threatens the independence of the Audiovisual Communication Authority. This fragmentation contradicts principles of good governance and international standards.

The signatory organisations consider that the adoption of a comprehensive legal framework on broadcast freedoms, as is the case in democratic systems, represents one of the most important elements to regulation of the media landscape and the safeguarding of pluralistic media freedom. This type of framework is also essential to avoid political or financial influence or interference in the media.

3- The draft law contains legal gaps and real threats to the independence of the audiovisual body:

Legal analyses conducted by free expression organisations, media experts and professionals confirm that the draft law contains numerous legal gaps and lacks guarantees on the financial and functional independence of the Audio-Visual Authority. The lack of proportionality between the necessary requirements of independence and the mechanisms of accountability, as well as the failure to grant the new Authority actual punitive powers and to explain its role in monitoring media ownership and during elections, mean it cannot function as a sufficiently independent regulatory body under the current draft provisions.

Signatories:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • Access Now
  • Alternative Media
  • Al Khatt
  • National Union of Tunisian Journalists
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Yaqadha (Vigilance) Association for Democracy and the Civic State
  • Al Bawsala
  • Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia
  • Community Media Solutions
  • Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Media Support
  • Tunisian Association to Defend Academic Values
  • Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES)
  • Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights
  • Tunisia Press Freedom Centre
  • Tunisian Union of Community Media
  • Tunisian Women Research and Development Association
  • Nawat
  • Organisation against Torture
  • West Africa PANOS Institute Institut
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