Reporters Without Borders has called on French President Jacques Chirac to do all he could to get his Tunisian counterpart, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, to allow a free and independent media in the Arab state, which he will visit from December 3 to 4, 2003.
"You cannot any longer pretend, for economic and security reasons, that the regime is a free and democratic one," said Secretary-General Robert Ménard in a letter to Chirac. "We ask you, as a self-styled friend of the president, to win guarantees of press freedom, which presently does not exist, and a genuinely independent broadcast media."
Ben Ali announced on November 7, the 16th anniversary of his coming to power, that the broadcast media would be opened up to private ownership and said the first privately-owned radio station, Mosaïque FM, would open immediately. He stressed he was keen to encourage the media and "establish freedom of opinion and expression."
However, since then, all news has remained tightly controlled by the regime, which does not allow an independent media, even though privately-owned newspapers exist.
Reporters Without Borders said it would watch closely to see whether the president's promises were implemented, especially concerning the setting up of new television stations and greater freedom of Internet access, which is still tightly controlled in Tunisia.
Freedom of expression is continually abused in Tunisia. Lawyer and human rights activist Radhia Nasraoui, who has been on hunger-strike since October 15, accuses the authorities of wanting to silence and isolate her because of her human rights work and campaigning against torture. She symbolizes the resistance to the regime's gagging of free expression, said a press release.
Reporters Without Borders is putting out an ad to coincide with Chirac's visit. It stresses the Tunisian government’s grip on the media by showing an imaginary newspaper called La Dictée (Written to Order), which repeatedly contains the phrase in Arabic " Ben Ali is a great president." It asks Chirac to "mention this situation to your friend Ben Ali." — (menareport.com)
© 2003 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )