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Security forces are seen closing down the private Nessma TV broadcaster on April 25, 2019, in Rades, Tunisia. (AFP/Fethi Belaid)

Tunisian media regulator shuts down Nessma TV, citing regulatory violation

May 14, 2019 4:40 PM ET

On April 25, 2019, Tunisian police raided the studios of privately owned television broadcaster Nessma TV and confiscated its broadcasting equipment following a ruling by the High Independent Authority of Audiovisual Communication, the country's media regulator, stating that the broadcaster did not have proper legal status, according to Reuters and local news reports.

In a press conference held the day the station was raided, Nouri Lajmi, the regulator's president, said that the decision was not politically motivated, and that the regulator "had to apply the law," according to news reports.

According to a statement from the regulator, Nessma TV was operating under a broadcasting agreement with the government from 2009, which the regulator determined to be void. A 2011 Tunisian law mandated that all broadcasting institutions in the country must be run as joint-stock companies, owned by a group of shareholders, rather than as private limited corporations. Nessma Broadcasting, a private limited company, was repeatedly notified by the regulator that it was not in compliance with this requirement, according to the regulator's statement and news reports.

According to the statement, Nessma TV must restructure as a joint-stock company before it can resume live broadcasts.

On April 26, Nabil Karoui, owner of Nessma TV's parent company Nessma Broadcast and a founding member of the ruling Nidaa Tounes political party, said in a press conference that the government "is using state apparatuses to silence the voices of the Tunisian people," and accused the regulator of politically targeting the station, according to a video of the conference uploaded to YouTube by Tunisian broadcaster Mosaique FM.

The station was previously fined by the regulator and forced to suspend one of its programs for one month in 2017 for spreading "propaganda, misinformation, and serving the political goals of the channel's owner," according to a statement from the regulator at the time.

On April 29, Karoui met with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, a Nidaa Tounes party member, to appeal the decision, according to news reports. Essebsi stood by the regulator's decision and told Karoui to restructure the company so Nessma TV can resume broadcasting during Ramadan, when TV viewership increases, according to those reports.

On May 1, the regulator allowed Nessma TV to resume broadcasting Turkish soap operas but not original live shows, according to news reports.

Lajmi and Nessma TV did not respond to CPJ's emailed requests for comment. CPJ's calls to the High Independent Authority of Audiovisual Communication and Nessma TV went unanswered.

Nessma TV was most recently notified that it was in noncompliance with the 2011 media law on October 5, 2018, according to the regulator's statement. At the time, the station was served with a 50,000 dinar ($16,748) fine and was warned that the regulator would shut down the broadcaster and confiscate its equipment if it did not comply with the regulations, according to news website Tunisie Telegraph.

The channel ignored the fine and continued broadcasting, which led the regulator to revoke Nessma TV's broadcasting license on July 13, 2018, according to a statement from the regulator at the time; the channel continued broadcasting without a license until it was shut down on April 25.

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