Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Since President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali seized power in 1987, the Tunisian media have been subject to repressive press laws, physical threats and arbitrary arrests, onerous licensing and publishing regulations, pervasive government control, and police surveillance. Despite a professed commitment to democracy, the government does not tolerate opposition and successfully stifles dissent through a system of direct and indirect financial, legal, and psychological controls. In response to continued harassment, fines, imprisonment, and suspension, media self-censorship is common. Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the courts are highly politicized and influenced by the government. Moreover, the press code, with its broad, vague provisions prohibiting subversion and defamation, is frequently invoked to prosecute opposition voices. The government also restricts independent print media through its central censorship office and by controlling access to information, licensing and hiring of journalists, and the distribution of subsidies and advertising. In 2003 the government passed a law requiring all newspapers to increase the percentage of government-trained journalists on staff from 30 to 50 percent. A new election code was also passed prohibiting anyone from publicly discussing national politics on broadcast media during the two-week election campaign in early 2004. While Al Jazeera and some other foreign media outlets cannot operate in Tunisia, those that do are often subject to censorship. However, November 7 marked the establishment of the first private, albeit tame, radio station. The government did release award-winning Internet journalist Zouhair Yahyaoui from jail in November but maintained tight control over Internet accounts and Web site access. Although the government encourages journalist and student use of the Internet through 25-percent discounts, it also closed 80 public Internet cafes in 2003, reducing the number from 340 to 260. This year also included a significant campaign by press freedom organizations worldwide against the seemingly farcical decision to hold the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.