Tunisia: Ending Decades of Silence

Photo: Nasser Nouri
In a bid to curb criticism of Tunisia's transitional government, officials increase crackdowns against public opinions as the country prepares for elections in October.

Last year the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Tunisia one of the most repressive country's in the Middle East and North Africa for journalists despite portraying a public image of being a place of liberalism and modernity.

For many Tunisians the success in bringing down the dictatorship of former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali meant that twenty-three years of enforced rule had finally come to an end.

"A succession of many events over several years led to the 'Jasmine revolution'," said 24-year-old Asma in an interview with Her Blueprint. The sharing of information played a pivotal role in the Tunisian revolution because the strongest pillars of the Ben Ali system was censorship of information and it collapsed once he was unable to control it."

Following the country's successful uprising, Asma embarked on journey in pursuit of a career in journalism and dedicated her master's in cultural studies to focus on the Tunisian revolution and the various contribution of social media.

"Of course the international media put a lot of emphasis on social media during the revolt. Almost to the point that it was the hottest topic while other issues like social and economic woes, which were at the heart of the uprising. I mean in the end we were fighting for more freedoms, an end poverty and social injustice," she adds.

"However, one can't ignore the role of social media. It helped in sending messages and raising awareness amongst Tunisian citizens who had no idea of politics or what’s was happening in the country but thanks to social networks like Facebook and Twitter it helped to also spread Tunisia's situation to the rest of the world."

One aspect of the democratic changes is the introduction of a draft press law, which calls for reduced prison sentences for media professionals and scrapping government discretion in refusing to register newspapers.

"The only red lines we have now is our ethics to ensure that as journalists we remain biased, objective and stick to the facts without any extra interpretations," continues Asma.

"Despite these new freedoms there still remains a great level of censorship. The draft press law that is currently under debate continues to allow journalist to be imprisoned for up to five years for dozens of crimes like defamation. Actually all forms of mass communication are still under threat."

Tunisia's 23 October elections are aimed at creating a constituent assembly to reform the constitution, which was amended nine years ago after the Tunisian constitutional referendum of 2002. Many Tunisians remain in the dark over the fact that the country's first free elections are separate from parliamentary elections.

"As aspiring journalists we have a big responsibility because we control the kind of information that's being filtered to the public. In a way we're like educators," concludes Asma.