With parliamentary and presidential elections less than a month away, the International Federation of Journalists has called on Tunisian journalists to confront governmental and political threats to press freedom.
The General Secretary of the IFJ Aidan White told the 400 journalists attending the 22nd Congress of the Association of Tunisian Journalists in Tunis on Sunday that the continuing pressure from the government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali threatened free expression and human rights and “seriously damages the image of Tunisian journalism.”
“We must send a clear message to those in power,” he said, “that journalism must be freed of all forms of political control.”
The IFJ has sent a high-profile mission of senior journalists’ leaders to Tunisia to meet with Tunisian journalists and to press for changes within the AJT. The organisation was suspended by IFJ leaders last year following the association’s decision to give a press freedom award to President Ben Ali.
Other members of the mission are IFJ Executive Committee members Paolo Serventi Longhi, Secretary General of the Federazione Nazionale Della Stampa Italiana; Khady Cisse, the international officer of the journalists’ union SYNPICS in Senegal; and Ulrich Remmel, vice-president of the German Journalists’ Association, the DJV.
In his intervention White accused political leaders in Tunisia and elsewhere of creating a world of information filled with “dishonesty, deceit and lies.” Tunisia goes to the polls on Sunday October 24th.
“We must separate media from governments and political groups and we must oppose all editorial interference wherever and whenever it occurs,” he said.
He said governments, even the most democratic, put undue pressure on media citing the example of the “ferocious” British government campaign last year against the BBC over it’s coverage of the Iraq war and the political climate in the US that led to extensive self-censorship and forced newspapers like the New York Times and the writers for the Washington Post to apologise to readers for their failure to ask searching questions of the Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
“There are terrible consequences when we submit to self-censorship and this is a problem all too evident here in Tunisia,” said White.
The IFJ mission is meeting with human rights groups, media leaders and the leaders of a recently-formed trade union of journalists. A report on the results of the visit will be made to next month’s international Executive Committee meeting of the IFJ in Brussels.
For further information: +32 2 235 22 05
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries