The press enjoyed new freedom after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January amid widespread protests, although a photographer was killed covering the unrest. The release of veteran journalist Fahem Boukadous after several months in prison was welcome news for a press corps accustomed to continued harassment and detention during Ben Ali's 23-year reign. News media were able to report freely during parliamentary elections in October; no major press freedom violations were reported during the voting. But throughout the year, journalists were still vulnerable to assault. In May, plainclothes police attacked several local and international journalists who were covering anti-government demonstrations. Licenses were issued to more than 100 new publications during the year, but some vestiges of censorship lingered. Hannibal TV, a station owned by a Ben Ali relative, was forced off the air for more than three hours in January.
French photographer Lucas Mebrouk Dolega became the first journalist killed in Tunisia since 1992, when CPJ began compiling detailed records on journalist fatalities. He died from head injuries suffered while covering the January 14 protests that led to Ben Ali's ouster. As popular unrest spread, numerous journalist fatalities were reported throughout the region.
Since the release of prominent journalist Boukadous on January 19, the new government turned away from the use of detention to intimidate journalists. Under the Ben Ali regime, the government imprisoned journalists as a tool of repression, CPJ research shows.
Facebook played a pivotal role in galvanizing the public outrage that culminated in the ouster of Ben Ali. Authorities in the former regime were so concerned about the social media site that they stole the user names and passwords of independent journalists using Facebook to post news and images, CPJ research shows. With about 2.7 million users, Tunisia has the highest Facebook penetration in North Africa, based on the social media site's data and population statistics from the U.N. Population Fund.
1: Tunisia: 2.7 million users, 26 percent of the population
2: Morocco: 3.9 million users, 12 percent of the population
3: Egypt: 8.9 million users, 11 percent of the population
4: Algeria: 2.7 million users, 7 percent of the population
5: Libya: 167,820 users, 2.5 percent of the population
Since January, the Ministry of Interior granted licenses to more than 100 publications, according to the German-funded Tunisia Votes, which aims to support professional journalism in Tunisia. The project was launched in collaboration with the Tunisian Center for the Freedom of Journalists.
Breakdown by type:
7: Political party newspapers
On May 9, plainclothes police assaulted 15 local and international journalists and destroyed their cameras. The journalists were covering the largest anti-government demonstration since Ben Ali's ouster. The episode represented a major step backward for the new government.
Those targeted included:
3: Al-Jazeera journalists
1: Radio Kalima journalist
1: La Presse journalist
1: Associated Press journalist
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.