Tunisian journalists will go on strike on April 2 to protest the president’s “attempts to control public media,” union officials announced on Wednesday, amid concerns about the right to free expression secured in the 2011 revolution.
The primary journalists’ organization has criticized attempts to put state television under President Kais Saied’s direct authority, as well as the incarceration of a journalist last week for failing to reveal his sources in a piece about Islamist extremists.
Saied has imposed one-man rule since suspending parliament and taking most powers last summer in what his opponents term a coup, though he has sworn to protect the rights and freedoms acquired during the democratic revolution.
However, detractors argue that his actions, which include replacing the body that ensured judicial independence and threatening to halt foreign funding for civil society organizations, demonstrate that he has little tolerance for dissent.
The impending walkout adds to the growing opposition to Saied’s measures from across Tunisia’s political spectrum, while he still continues to retain some popularity in the midst of frustration with coalition governments that have been hobbled by fighting for years.
Freedom of expression and the press were important victories for Tunisians in 2011, as the country adopted a new democratic system, and much of the country’s media has continued to air items critical of Saied, including reports on anti-Saied protests.
The Journalists Syndicate, on the other hand, claims that such freedom is under threat, citing increased limitations on journalists reporting in public and what it deems a ban on state television sponsoring opposition figures in political debates.
The head of state television insists there is no such prohibition, but Reuters reports that no opposition politicians have appeared on the station since Saied took office last summer.
“State TV has become the president’s propaganda trumpet,” Amira Mohamed, a top official in the journalists’ syndicate, told Reuters.
She also said that Saied had refused to follow a deal reached between the union and a previous administration managing the structural and economic circumstances of the media sector.
According to Human Rights Watch regional deputy director Eric Goldstein, Saied has “set about destroying institutional constraints on his authority since his July power grab, and state television is an obvious target.”