Tunisia: Open letter to Assembly Members in defense of freedom of expression and information

Summary

Open letter from human rights organizations and labor unions defending freedom of expression and information in Tunisia

Dear Members of the Assembly of Representatives of the People,

As you know, the discussion of the legislative proposition number 34/2020 related to the amendment of Decree-law number 116 of 2011 related to the freedom of audiovisual communication is scheduled for 20 October 2020. The undersigned human rights organizations and labor unions would like to alert you to the dangers that such an initiative presents to freedom of information and audiovisual communication, and to the democratic process as a whole, and to ask you to vote against the amendment to protect freedom of expression and media pluralism in Tunisia.

While most stakeholders of the media sector and observers of the democratic reform process in Tunisia were awaiting Assembly’s ratification of an organic law to substitute for Decree–law number 116 of 2011, in order to get out of the current temporary state and to establish the new constitutional authority for audiovisual communication, the ‘Karama Coalition’ parliamentary bloc submitted a legislative initiative on 4 May 2020 for the amendment of Decree–law number 116 of 2011 signed by 11 members from the mentioned bloc who also added a request for ‘urgent consideration.’ The discussion and vote of the initiative were scheduled by the Assembly’s secretariat to be at the beginning of the new parliamentary year.

Being composed of three articles, the initiative contains amendments to Decree-law 116/2011 related on the one hand to the composition of the current Higher Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA)and to its renewal, and on the other hand to the omission of the Authority’s power to issue licenses for the creation of TV channels and adopting the principle of simple ‘declaration of existence.’   These two amendments are clearly opposed to the spirit of the constitution and to the commitments of the Tunisian State in terms of the protection of freedom of expression and information.

Indeed, most democratic countries in the world have chosen the protection of the freedom of audiovisual communication represented by TV channels and radio stations by creating a public independent authority that could play its fundamental regulatory role through exercising the prerogative to issue licenses to TV channels and radio stations and set the applicable rules for the audiovisual communication that it watches over. Yet, the initiative proposed to you for discussion and vote does not respect such standards.Adopting the principle of simple ‘declaration of existence’ would compromise the authority’s prerogative of issuing licenses and thus would also compromise the Tunisian State’s commitment to consolidate the right to information stipulated in Article 32 of the Constitution, which requires the State to guarantee the right to information to all individuals and to guarantee their representation in the media of their country. In fact, the initiative was conceived out of a limited view of audiovisual communication based on a logic of merchandise and trade that favors commercial competition over fundamental rights and freedoms.

General Comment 34 of the UN Human Rights Committee on Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Tunisia, binds States to reinforce the plurality of media and to take the necessary measures to prevent all unfavorable domination or concentration of media groups owned by the private sector in monopolies that could compromise the diversity of sources and opinions. Yet, a close reading of the presented initiative in its context reveals that behind its deceptive liberal glow there are numerous risks that in practice will lead to serving particular political actors and financial lobbies who are against independent regulation and who seek to dominate audiovisual media and its regulatory authority.

The new Article 7 bis of the initiative stipulates that members of the HAICA are elected by the absolute majority of members of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, which is against the spirit of the Constitution which prescribes a qualified majority for the election of members of authorities charged with monitoring the democratic process in order to avoid domination by any political group. Therefore, even though the current HAICA is not constitutional from a formal point of view, it is considered constitutional based on its functions,as it is fulfilling the same tasks provided by Article 127 of the Constitution for the constitutional authority (The Authority for Audiovisual Communication). Therefore, in order to respect the will of the National Constituent Assembly, the authority’s members should be elected by qualified majority.

The signatories of this letter wish to see progress beyond the current temporary situation and for the establishment of a permanent legislative and institutional framework for media and for the audiovisual sector. However, the current initiative will instead replace the temporary Decree 116 of 2011 with another temporary text, in an attempt to sustain and to extend a temporary framework instead of establishing the permanent constitutional authority by adopting a comprehensive organic law to regulate the sector according to the constitutional provisions.

In light of these concerns, the undersigned human rights organizations and labor unions call on the honorable Representatives of the People to assume their responsibility towards the people who elected them, by voting against this initiative that is in opposition to the Constitution and to the international conventions ratified by Tunisia. We urge Representatives to instead expedite the adoption of an organic law on the freedom of audiovisual communication in accordance with the Constitution’s provisions.

SIGNATURES

  • ARTICLE 19
  • National Union of Tunisian Journalists
  • Tunisian General Labour Union
  • Tunisian Human Rights League
  • VigilanceAssociation for Democracy and Civic State
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Euromed Rights
  • Access Now Organization
  • Democratic Transition and Human Rights Support
  • The Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Freedoms
  • Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
  • Association of Tunisian Judges
  • Tunis Center for Press Freedom
  • Tunisian Union of Associative Media
  • Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
  • Association Beity
  • Lawyers Without Borders
  • I Watch
  • Association of Research on Democratic Transition
  • Irex Europe
  • Organization 10_23 to support the democratic transition
  • Tunisian Association for The Defense of University Values
  • League of Free Tunisian Writers
  • Tunisian Coalition for the Aboliton of the Death Penalty
  • Tunisian Association for Cultural Action
  • Association “We Exist”
  • Tunisian Association Against Violence
  • Tunisian Association for the Children’s Rights
  • Tunisian Women Association for Research on Development
  • Tunisian Association of the Positive Prevention
  • Association for Promoting the Right to Difference
  • Ahmed Al-Tlili Organization for Democratic Culture
  • Citizenship and Freedom Association
  • Tunisian Association for Studies on Gender
  • Perspectives Association for the Tunisian Worker
  • Tunisian organization against torture
  • Association of the Solidarity of Thala
  • 7th Dimension Association
  • Ouachma Association
  • Association for Development and Strategic Studies of Medinin
  • Taqallam Association
  • Venus Association
  • Not 4 Trade Association
  • Mosaic Association
  • Attalaki Association
  • Dancers, Citizens of the South
  • Tunisian Committee for the Respect of Freedoms and Human Rights

 

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