New York, October 27, 2021 – Tunisian authorities should allow Nessma TV and al-Quran al-Kareem radio station to resume broadcasting immediately and stop using the country’s licensing procedures as a means of censorship, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 11, the High Independent Authority of Audiovisual Communication (HAICA), Tunisia’s media regulatory body, issued a ruling ordering privately owned television channel Nessma TV and the privately owned radio station al-Quran al-Kareem to shut down, stating that the stations did not have the proper license, according to a HAICA statement and news reports.
Today, HAICA took Nessma TV and al-Quran al-Kareem off the air after state security forces raided the studios of both stations in Tunis, the capital, and confiscated their broadcasting equipment, according to those reports and freelance reporter Maher Sghaier, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, adding that both stations are currently off the air.
Nessma TV and al-Quran al-Kareem have been operating without a license for many years and have been critical of President Kais Saied, who on July 25 fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and froze the parliament’s activities in an executive power seizure move, according to news reports. Nessma TV is owned by Heart of Tunisia party leader Nabil Karoui, those reports said.
In Tunisia, many television channels have been broadcasting for several years without a license, as CPJ has documented.
“Tunisian authorities are using bureaucratic broadcasting licensing procedures as a means to control what gets said on television and radio,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator. “Authorities must immediately allow the Nessma TV channel and al-Quran al-Kareem radio station to resume broadcasting and should stop restricting media outlets in the country by enforcing vague licensing regulations.”
HAICA said it had previously sent many warnings to Nessma TV and al-Quran al-Kareem to fix their licensing issues and the channels did not comply, according to HAICA’s statement.
This was not the first time Nessma TV was raided by police. Most recently, on April 25, 2019, police confiscated Nessma TV broadcasting equipment at HAICA’s request, stating the channel did not have a proper legal status, as CPJ documented at the time. Nessma TV continued broadcasting and was not taken off air.
On July 26, 2021, Tunisian security forces raided the Tunis office of Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera, and confiscated its equipment, as CPJ documented at the time. As of today, Al-Jazeera is still on the air, but its office is closed, its equipment is still confiscated, and its journalists are working remotely, Yosra Chikhaoui, a reporter for the independent news website Hakaek Online, told CPJ via messaging app.
On October 6, 2021, state security forces raided the Tunis office of privately owned television channel Zaytouna and confiscated its equipment for not obtaining a broadcasting license, as CPJ reported at the time. As of today, Zaytouna is still on the air, according to Sghaier.
When CPJ emailed Nouri Lajmi, the president of HAICA, for comment, Lajmi directed CPJ to HAICA’s statement. CPJ also emailed Nessma TV and al-Quran al-Kareem for comment but did not receive any response.