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Tunisia president criticised for systematic news blackout

A screen grab captured from a video on July 26, 2021, shows Tunisian President Kais Saied meets union leaders in Tunis, Tunisia [Tunisian Presidential Image/Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, Tunisia on July 26, 2021 [Tunisian Presidential Image/Anadolu Agency]

The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) and other organisations criticised the country' presidency for what they considered a systematic news blackout and continued ambiguity since President Kais Saied announced his exceptional measures and suspended parliament's work last 25 July.

The SNJT said in a statement on Sunday that the blackout caused the spread of propaganda and the criminalisation of opinions that oppose the president, in addition to violations in the media sector.

The 25 July events set the stage for the spread of rumours and violent debates between President Saied's supporters and opposition activists on social media platforms.

Since his rise to power in 2019, President Saied has rarely appeared in the local media, as the presidency has issued its statements on its website and official Facebook page.

The videos covering the activities of the president only highlight the speeches he delivers before his guests or show him giving orders while the interlocutors are listening passively and without reacting.

Critics of the President's communications approach liken his conduct to the attitude of the constitutional law professor that Saied has been accustomed to as a lecturer at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences.

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The SNJT explained in its statement that the presidency ignores the citizen's right to receive accurate and timely information and shuts its doors in the face of journalists, leaving space for the spread of fake news and ambiguity during these delicate exceptional circumstances, especially in the absence of other official sources of information.

The SNJT also warned that this policy would present a setback for the freedom of expression gained after the 2011 revolution, stating that the right to ask questions, whether through dialogues, conferences, or press interviews should be respected.

The presidency does not have an official spokesperson and journalists complain about the absence of official prompt information from the presidential palace, as many of them have to wait until late at night to obtain statements issued by the presidency, and verify false news and rumours leaked on a large scale.

President Saied decided about a week ago to extend the exceptional measures indefinitely and said that he would address the people in a statement, without specifying a date.

The Tunisian President has not appointed a new prime minister or set forth a road map to manage the current phase. However, prevailing expectations indicate Saied's desire to introduce political reforms that might include the political system and the electoral law, as well as the intention to hold early legislative elections.

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On Saturday, more than 20 civil society organisations issued a statement calling for determining a specific date to end the exceptional measures, and a path to cooperate with political parties, organisations, and political and national personalities on the designated reform plans.

The joint statement said that "taking over all powers by the President of the Republic today, in the absence of a clear vision regarding the next steps, poses a real danger to the future of democracy in our country."

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