The Tunisian revolution has left a significant mark on the country’s media landscape, which diversified and played an important role in the transition process. Media diversity, however, does not guarantee the independence of information per se, especially if it remains to be dominated by political or economic interests. The Tunisian Media Ownership Monitor, set up by RSF and Al Khatt from April to June 2016, shows that even if there is no strong media concentration in the hands of a few like in the days of Ben Ali, disturbing trends can nonetheless be observed:
- 6 out of the 10 TV stations analysed have a history of political affiliation. As the form of media with the highest audience rates in Tunisia, TV stations naturally attract interests from the political sphere. Despite the requirements to obtain a license of the authority for the regulation of the audio-visual sector (HAICA) and the fact that some founders or owners of TV channels sold their shares or officially resigned from office, certain media outlets remain close to the political levels of power. Several television channels are still not legally recognized as they do not meet the criteria of the HAICA (Zitouna TV) or their situation has not been rectified (Nessma TV, Hannibal TV, El Hiwar Ettounsi).
- No reliable audience data exists, no matter for which type of media. Viable audience data serves as the currency in any healthy media market as it determines advertising investment, and therefore financial sustainability. In addition, the impossibility of calculating audience shares hinders concentration control. If – like in Tunisia –audience data is missing, unavailable or even corrupted, the media market suffers as a whole.
- Financial data difficult to obtain. Although basic corporate data on most media owners is available through the commercial register or was communicated by the media themselves, there is a real lack of financial data. Even the state institutions have difficulties to access all data, especially the most recent, and many media do not meet all legal transparency obligations.
- Lack of transparency about funding means. The Tunisian External Communication Agency (ATCE) centralized distribution of public advertising under Ben Ali. This is no longer the case since the dissolution of the agency that served the propaganda of the old regime. However, public spending on media continues to exist. Today, no public body holds the figures on public advertising or public subscriptions, on which the print sector depends during the current crisis. On the other hand, some media with a small or almost non-existent share of the advertising market, survive surprisingly well with their own funding – from unknown sources.
The state confiscated an important number of shares in several media outlets who were held solely or in part by people close to the power before the revolution. These include one publishing house (Dar Assabah), three radio stations (FM Zitouna, Shems FM, Mosaique FM), a TV station (Hannibal TV) and a production company close to a TV channel (Cactus Prod). The sale of these media outlets should be undertaken respecting transparency and diversity concerns.
Yet, a basic awareness for the importance of media diversity exists in Tunisia. The legal framework, especially Decree Law No. 2011-115 and the specifications of the HAICA, has established clear rules with respect to concentration.
Tunisia is ranked 96th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.