Freedom of the Press 2017 - Tunisia

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
PFS Score: 
Political Environment: 
Economic Environment: 

Key Developments in 2016:

  • At least three journalists were charged in military court for allegedly insulting the army through their work.
  • In March, the parliament passed a new access to information law that civil society groups welcomed as a step toward greater transparency.
  • Journalists continued to face police interference while attempting to report on protests.
  • A journalists’ union reported in December that difficult economic conditions had contributed to the dismissal of some 180 journalists and delayed wages for about 480 others over the past year.

Executive Summary

Tunisia is home to one of the freest media environments in its region. The 2014 constitution includes protections for press freedom, and the pluralistic media collectively convey a variety of views. However, journalists continue to face restrictions under criminal and military laws that predate the country’s 2011 uprising and transition to democracy, and the media landscape suffers from partisanship and polarization, as many outlets have links to political parties or politicians.

In a January 2016 speech, President Beji Caid Essebsi blamed journalists and media outlets for amplifying social turmoil in the country as demonstrators protested persistent unemployment. Such hostile rhetoric from senior officials during the year indirectly encouraged arrests and other mistreatment of reporters. Between September and November, journalists Jamel Arfaoui, Mohamed Naem Haj Mansour, and Rached Khiari were arrested and charged by military prosecutors with insulting the armed forces.

According to the Tunis Center for Press Freedom, a local media monitoring group, acts of aggression against journalists decreased in 2016 compared with 2015, but the last month of 2016 featured an increase in assaults or interference by security forces. Authorities repeatedly blocked reporters attempting to cover newsworthy events during the year, including protests and demonstrations. Separately, in at least one case in April, a news website was hit with cyberattacks after reporting on the Panama Papers, a trove of leaked documents revealing possible money laundering and tax evasion by wealthy individuals around the world.

The parliament finally passed a law on access to information in March 2016, in keeping with Article 32 of the constitution. Civil society activists had campaigned for such a law, and hailed it as a positive step, though some found fault with provisions that could allow the government to withhold information in certain circumstances. It remained to be seen how the new law would be implemented and interpreted by state officials and the judicial branch.

Explanatory Note

This country report has been abridged for Freedom of the Press 2017. For background information on press freedom in Tunisia, see Freedom of the Press 2016.