- With parliamentary and presidential elections less than a month away, Tunisian journalists have been urged by international colleagues to "confront governmental and political threats to press freedom." Tunisia's press association is currently barred from international networks due to its support of government censorship.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which organises 500,000 journalists worldwide, today called on Tunisian colleagues to confront the repressive government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The Secretary-General of the IFJ, Aidan White, told 400 journalists attending the congress of the Association of Tunisian Journalists (AJT) in Tunis on Sunday that the continuing pressure from the government of President Ben Ali threatened free expression and human rights and "seriously damages the image of Tunisian journalism."
- We must send a clear message to those in power, said Mr White, "that journalism must be freed of all forms of political control." The global journalist union however cannot count on the automatic support from Tunisia's journalist association.
The IFJ thus sent a high-profile mission of senior union leaders to Tunisia to meet with Tunisian journalists and to press for changes within the AJT. The organisation was suspended by IFJ leaders last year following the association's decision to give a press freedom award to President Ben Ali - a move that caused worldwide outrage.
In his intervention, Mr White accused political leaders in Tunisia and elsewhere of creating a world of information filled with "dishonesty, deceit and lies." Tunisia goes to the polls on 24 October this year. "We must separate media from governments and political groups and we must oppose all editorial interference wherever and whenever it occurs," he said.
The IFJ leader added that governments, even the most democratic, put undue pressure on media, citing the example of the "ferocious" British government campaign last year against the 'BBC' over it's coverage of the Iraq war and the political climate in the US that led to extensive self-censorship and forced newspapers like the 'New York Times' and the writers for the 'Washington Post' to apologise to readers for their failure to ask searching questions of the Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
- There are terrible consequences when we submit to self-censorship and this is a problem all too evident here in Tunisia, Mr White told the Tunisian members of the press. The IFJ mission also is to meet with human rights groups, media leaders and the leaders of a recently formed trade union of journalists.
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