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World Press Freedom Review
1999 World Press Freedom Review
On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, CPJ, for the second consecutive year, named Tunisian President Zine Abdine Ben Ali as one of the world's top 10 Enemies of the Press.
Although private newspapers exist in Morocco, they avoid meaningful social or political commentary for fear of swift reprisal from the authorities. Tunisian journalists who dare to speak out and who report on such sensitive topics as human rights and the activities or viewpoints of the political opposition have been dismissed from their jobs, or denied accreditation.
As a result of these policies, Tunisian authorities have little reason to actively harass or censor journalists; privately owned newspapers refrain from reporting on even the most benign political issues and have become virtual carbon copies of the state-controlled press on policy issues.
Unsurprisingly, the Tunisian press is now defined by its conformity. Public opinion is totally isolated from information. For example, no Tunisian is able to give an estimate of the level of unemployment. Indeed, any information likely to constitute a criticism of the regime is prohibited. Even in areas that appear removed from the central concerns of the regime, such as the environment and the country's cultural heritage, censorship prevails.
At present, the system imposed on the media is kept in place by a combination of fear and corruption. In cementing this system, the regime has been prepared to use straightforward methods to silence the press, including gagging methods such as court orders, seizures of newspapers, withholding advertising, arresting journalists and "rewards" for compliance.
In consequence, the media operates under state influence and prints endless, laudatory articles about the person of the President and the policy of the government. Only the information disseminated by the presidential palace is publishable.
An example of the government's treatment of journalists who speak out is evidenced by the continued harassment and intimidation of Taoufik Ben Brik, a correspondent with the French daily La Croix. These attacks follow his interview at the Ministry of Interior for writing "subversive" material on June 12 of last year.
In the late afternoon of January 28, Brik was in his car when it was vandalised by five men who emerged from a white car parked in his neigbourhood. Later in the evening, Brik received an anonymous telephone call telling him "You haven't seen anything yet"!
According to Brik, these acts of intimidation by the secret police were a "public punishment" given to those who attempted to resist the state. He had recently written an article for the "SYFIA" agency concerning bread subsidies, a strategic commodity in Tunisia. One of a number of articles in which he has strongly criticized the deterioration in the human rights situation and the increasing lack of public liberties and press freedom in Tunisia.
These acts of intimidation continued in April, when Brik had his passport confiscated by Tunisian customs officers, preventing him from attending a conference in Switzerland. In subsequent months, he was the target of various acts of intimidation, including continued telephone threats, having his telephone and fax lines cut, and police surveillance. These pressures have made it impossible for him to continue as a journalist.
On May 24, Brik was arrested and detained for several hours for interrogation. The previous week, on May 20 he was attacked outside his home in Tunis by three individuals armed with chains. In addition, his wife Azza had her car windows smashed as she was shopping with their two young children. RSF vigorously denounced the intimidation campaign against Brik.
Regarding changes in Moroccan legislation, a Bill to amend the Press Code was announced by President Ben Ali on October 11. He explained that his "wish is that this reform allows journalists to definitely liberate themselves from the shackles of self-censorship."
However, the Republic of Tunisia Radio, reporting on the President's address to the nation on his swearing in of November 15, quotes the president as saying: "Freedom of opinion does not mean freedom to insult or making unfounded accusations… In this context, we will launch the appropriate investigations… Those who make false accusations must face the law, and it is up to the law to decide."
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