The local media coverage of the recent job protests in Tunisia has come under criticism.
The protests demanding jobs and development for impoverished regions started on 17 January in Kasserine, central western part of the country, before spreading to several other provinces. On Monday, protests continued in several inland regions, including Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid, where the uprising that toppled the rule of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali began in late 2010.
Though peaceful most of the times, there were acts of looting and vandalism, which prompted the government to impose a night curfew as of January 22. Despite the protesters distancing themselves from these acts, the media has been focusing on them alone, instead of providing enough coverage of the protesters’ demands, note critics.
Journalist Wajd Bouabdallah, who tweets as Tounsia Hourra (Free Tunisian), remarks to her 113K followers on Twitter:
وسائل الإعلام التونسية ما عادت تنقل مطالب المحتجين بل أرقام عمليات خرق الحظر وعمليات النهب والسلب وهذا بالضبط ما يريده كثيرون.
— tounsiahourra (@tounsiahourra) January 24, 2016
Tunisian mainstream media is no longer covering the demands of the protesters but just the numbers of people who break the curfew and the vandalism and looting. This is exactly what some want.
She further explains, linking to a post on her Facebook page saying:
— tounsiahourra (@tounsiahourra) January 24, 2016
Two days ago, Tunisian media stopped covering the demands of the protesters and started covering news about the number of people who break the curfew, and the vandalism and looting and this is exactly what many want.
It is mind boggling how masses fall into the trap.
Yes, there is looting and vandalism, but the social protests have no relation to to the gangs which are well know to the Ministry of Interior. The looting happened on the night Ben Ali escaped: We all saw the different samples of Tunisians: the honest and the revolutionary, and the cunning and the thief, who hurried after the security forces disappeared to loot the malls and shops. We even saw housewives doing that. We saw the worse of the Tunisians. The unemployed are seeking an honest living, not a screw driver to unhinge the door of a shop.
There are people who are unemployed and hungry in Tunisia, not only in the interior areas but also in the capital. To the editors-in-chief of newspapers: News about the deviant people should be in the court news pages. News about the unemployed and their protests should be on the front pages.
Meanwhile, Raja adds:
— Freemind ~~رجاء (@Freemindrose) January 23, 2016
To our Arab brothers: Don't believe the exaggeration in the media. Yes, there is a curfew in Tunisia but our situation is not as dangerous as you are imagining
Moez Benja, an activist from Redeyef an impoverished town despite its rich mining resources, tweeted on 22 January:
Les médias TN ignorent complètement les revendications des jeunes, et se concentrent sur les dégâts et les locaux vandalisés. Bien joué !
— Moez Benja™ (@moezrdf) January 22, 2016
Tunisian media are completely ignoring the demands of the youth, and focusing on damages and vandalized premises. Well played.
In another tweet, he shared the following cartoon by Italian cartoonist and illustrator Marco Marilungo. The cartoon shows media crews covering a vandal while ignoring a large crowd of peaceful protesters.
— Moez Benja™ (@moezrdf) January 23, 2016
The national television's newscast which airs everyday at 8pm local time was also criticized.
Tunisia-based French journalist Benoit Delmas notes:
#Tunisie A regarder le JT de la TV étatique, pas de chômage, pas de pauvretés. Que des casseurs. Triste retour en arrière.
— Benoît Delmas (@westernculturel) January 23, 2016
watching the newscast of the public television, there is no employment and no poverty. Only vandals. A sad setback.
Writing for Nawaat.org, journalist Thameur Mekki analysed the coverage of the protests in Kasserine in the national TV's newscast edition of 19 January. He concludes:
Durant les 13 minutes consacrées aux contestations à Kasserine, les pouvoirs législatif et exécutif se sont exprimés alors que les principaux acteurs, les diplômés chômeurs, sont restés en sourdine. De quoi rappeler que les médias du service public, la Watania 1 en l’occurrence, ne se sont toujours pas débarrassés des séquelles de la mainmise du pouvoir politique sur les rédactions tout au long des décennies de la dictature. Du moins, ils n’ont toujours pas coupé le cordon ombilical qui les lie au Palais de la Kasbah et à la bâtisse grise de l’avenue Bourguiba.
During the 13 minutes dedicated to the protests in Kasserine, the legislative and executive powers expressed themselves, while the main actors, the unemployed graduates, remained muted. Enough to remember that public media, National TV 1 in this case, have not gotten rid of the after-effects of the domination of the political power over the newsrooms throughout decades of dictatorship. Or at least, they have not cut the umbilical cord that links them to the Kasbah Palace [the Prime Minister's office] and the gray building on Bourguiba avenue [Interior Ministry]
The criticism comes as President Beji Caid Essebsi accused Tunisian and foreign media of “inflaming the situation” by giving voice to those who “make matters worse”. Though he did not explicitly mention it, he was referring to the appearance of political opponent and former interim President Moncef Marzouki on the Paris based international news television France24. In that interview, Marzouki called for early legislative elections and the formation of a national unity government.
Rana Jawad adds:
#tunisia president televised address tonight:says media &some political parties ‘adding fuel to the fire’ called on ppl to respect situation
— Rana Jawad (@Rana_J01) January 22, 2016
And some local media responded to Essebsi's call. The 24 January edition of the daily newspaper La Presse, had news about the ruling Nidaa Tounes party and a meeting of the governing coalition parties to support the government, and calls for the media to “preserve the country's stability”.
— Hamilcar (@HamilcarB) January 24, 2016
La Presse is in purple, to the glory of the party, the son [son of Essebsi], and the government. (Purple is the color of Ben Ali party’s flag and is often used to describe pro-government media).