A Tunisian Journalist’s View from the Ground
| The duty of a journalist is to inform, to report, and to analyze situations linked to current interests. However, to perform such a duty has become almost a luxury for Tunisian journalists such as myself.
In fact, how can I describe this feeling of frustration which consumes me every time I witness an event or an act which is newsworthy, knowing that I cannot draft anything about it? No Tunisian newspaper editor would publish a story about such an event, fearing that it will be viewed as “disturbing public order” or will arouse the wrath of top government officials.
How can I describe the feeling of anger and rage which takes my breath every time I discover that the article or the piece I have written yesterday was altered or butchered by my boss? Any piece which carries an opinion which is not strictly identical to the one to which the regime adheres is automatically censured, even if this opinion has been voiced by someone who is close to the government.
How can I react every time my editor takes the liberty to freely delete paragraphs which may hint at minor criticism of government action or the existence of a minor problem in any aspect of life?
The editor in chief even takes the liberty to replace the passages which he deleted with words flattering the government, even if it completely alters the information or news or makes it incomprehensible or ignores the standards of journalistic impartiality and ethics.
To whom can I address my complaint and ask for justice? And who will defend my right to freely perform my duties as a journalist when there is no independent body to defend journalists and journalism?
Protesting the way my articles are altered provokes an immediate punishment: depriving me of my bonuses and of training opportunities and making it difficult even to take annual leave. To carry on protesting would brand me as an “undisciplined” reporter and would automatically place me on the sidelines as a working journalist.
To continue protesting and to try to publish articles abroad about my plight or any other subject is to take the risk of being fired from my job. Once I am fired from my job, no news organization would agree to hire me or to publish my articles. Things could turn worse and lead to interrogation at the Ministry of the Interior or the confiscation of my passport. This is not purely fiction because some of my colleagues experienced this already.
In addition, how can I get rid of the stifling and suffocating feeling which I experience during the long hours I spend working at my job? Where I am constantly watched and my so-called colleagues lie in wait to know even what I am saying on the phone.
This feeling is with me even during news conferences and seminars which I am asked to cover. Plainclothes policemen are there and feel free to ask journalists specific questions about what took place and even ask for documents which were distributed.
This is what it is to be a Tunisian journalist. It is to carry the title without really practicing journalism. By the way, I forgot to mention that journalism died a long time ago in this country.
*The author’s name has been withheld upon request
Included are materials on Tunisia’s ongoing repression of the press: