Parsley, or spicing up Tunisia's freedom of the press

 
 
Although the symbol of the Tunisian revolution was jasmine, a far more common plant — parsley — took over the streets of Tunis on Thursday, when an opposition TV station organized a massive sale of parsley bundles to raise funds and fight back against perceived suppression by partisans of Ennahda, the ruling Islamic party.
 
It started when the Tunisian channel El-Hiwar Attounsi launched a fundraising appeal on its Facebook page on Monday. The appeal set off a wave of nasty user comments, which told the station’s journalists to “go sell parsley” instead of begging for funds.
 
The station suspected that Ennahda might be behind the campaign to discredit them. So its journalists decided to take their “advice” literally. On Thursday, they organized a parsley sale in front of the station’s headquarters in Tunis’ city center.
 
“Parsley for citizens’ media”
 
Under Ben Ali’s regime, Al-Hiwar was known as an opposition channel. It is now headed by Tahar Ben Hassine, a member of the Nida Tounes (“Tunisian Call”) party, one of the main political parties opposing the current ruling troika.
Contributors

“Citizens are aware of the need for a diverse media landscape”

Aymen Rezgui is the editor-in-chief of the El-Hiwar TV station.
 
We were not expecting such a dramatic turnout. The 1,000 parsley bundles that we brought out were all sold by the end of the morning, so we had to get more. We were all sold out by the end of the afternoon. Both regular citizens and public figures came out to support us. This swelling of solidarity is very touching. It shows that citizens are aware of the need for a diverse media landscape.
 
We are facing financial difficulties due to a decrease in ad revenue. Since last November, several companies that regularly advertised on our station told us they were under pressure by the Ennahda party to stop advertising with us — which they did.
 
 
This pressure is also visible on Facebook. We have been the subject of several negative online campaigns, and saw many insults and calls for boycotts against us by Internet users who support Ennahda.
 
The government [which is led by Ennahda ] hasn’t been holding back, either. Last Tuesday, one of our journalists was prevented, along with several others, from attending the press conference held by the Interior Ministry regarding the arrest of the alleged murderers of ChokriBelaïd [the opposition member murdered last February 6]. His camera was taken and the contents of his film erased because he had filmed the policemen that had threatened journalists [the union of Tunisian journalists denounced this “attack on freedom of expression”. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry has stated in a press release that there were no more seats in the room for additional journalists. The Ministry declined to answer FRANCE 24’s questions regarding the seizure of the cameras].
 
Customers buying parsley bundles with 20 dinar bills.
 
This is a sign of the deterioration of media freedom in Tunisia [the country lost 4 points in 2013 in Reporters without Borders’ annual press freedom index]. And it’s not just in television. Many radio stations are also at risk of closing because they are unable to pay the exorbitant sums now required to broadcast in Tunisia. If it continues, we will end up with a monochromatic media landscape.

“Fundraising campaign for the El-Hiwar station - free expression is the foundation of good citizenship”
 
Fayçal Ennasser, president of Ennahda’s media department, responds to El Hiwar’s accusations.
 
This station’s accusations are neither realistic nor objective. These stations are failing to reach Tunisians because of the inappropriate content they are broadcasting. But instead of admitting their failures, they accuse Ennahda of being the source of all their troubles. These stations are paid by political parties, just like others were paid by the old regime.
 
As for the content posted on sites that are supposedly pro-Ennahda online — this is the site administrators’ responsibility, not Ennahda’s. The Ennahda party’s only online forum is its official website and that of the movement’s leader, Rached Ghannouchi.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist SarraGrira (@Sarra Grira). Many thanks to Faten Abdel Kafi for the photos published in this article.

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