Late last week, the Department of Information, a division of the presidency, issued a book under the title “The Propaganda System of Ben Ali’s Rule.” The book has sparked mixed reactions among the Tunisian people, as it contains a list of journalists who collaborated with the former regime as well as a list of activists and dissidents who have been harassed by the current regime.  

Late last week, the Department of Information, a division of the presidency, issued a book under the title “The Propaganda System of Ben Ali’s Rule.” The book has sparked mixed reactions among the Tunisian people, as it contains a list of journalists who collaborated with the former regime as well as a list of activists and dissidents who have been harassed by the current regime.  

The 354-page book provided a number of documents from the Presidential Archive, which proves the involvement of a number of journalists in the former regime’s corruption system. It gave the names of printed as well as audio-visual media institutions and the names of journalists who received financial grants (bribes) from the Ben Ali’s regime in return for preparing and submitting special reports to the presidency of the republic against opposition politicians, trade unionists, activists and journalists.

The book led to the publishing of many articles on the right of the republic’s presidency to issue such lists, especially knowing that the journalists’ union, on several occasions, demanded to receive all documents, which prove the involvement of journalists in the corrupt system, in order to make them accessible to the public opinion.

It also raised the question about why light is being shed on corruption in the journalism sector without touching other sectors- businessmen, judges, politicians and others involved in the corrupt system under former President Ben Ali.  

Using it for of partisan and political reasons

After the outbreak of the revolution, the Tunisian Journalists Syndicate demanded the examination of the profession’s structures by relying on independent, specialized and qualified Tunisian persons who have expertise in the archives and under the supervision of the judiciary in order to inspect the documents and proofs and to make the archive of the former dictatorial regime accessible to the public as well as to expose the corrupt system and the corrupt people in the media sector.

For the purpose, letters were sent to the presidency of the republic, the presidency of the government, the Interior Ministry, and the Fact-Finding Commission by the syndicate.  However, these letters were either ignored or rejected. This has made the Executive Office decide to delete the names of members involved in the Ben Ali’s corruption system and who did harm to the media and journalists, for two parliamentary sessions. 

Najiba Hamrouni, the head of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists, told Correspondents that she fears that the information contained in the book might be used to settle some accounts.  She added that accountability, telling realities and facts to the Tunisian people and revealing the corrupt system is a national issue and it is a very important one in order to reach reform and to build democracy.  “It is not a personal or partisan issue to be monopolized by the presidency of the republic or by the major party so as to make exceptions and turn accountability into a mean for settling of accounts. 

Hamrouni also noted that it is very important not to circulate phantom black lists such as those published on social media sites by suspicious parties that are seeking to create confusion among journalists and impact on their unity by listing the names of freedom fighters in the journalism sector, accusing them of false charges and listing their names in suspicious lists together with some symbols of the former regime.

For his part, Ehab Chaouch, a national TV news reporter in Tunisia, said that he was surprised to see his name listed in the book as one of the journalists who were submitting reports to the former regime.  He told Correspondents that he is so surprised and shocked and denied any responsibility for the published reports.  “At that time, my work was limited to the TV and to corresponding with Arab and foreign media. These reports are completely false.”  

He added that “if the black book contains facts about me, I wouldn’t be angry or shy to admit them.”  However, he confirmed that “the judiciary will take a final decision with regard to these accusations,” and he described the listing of his name as a mean to “settle accounts and this is a policy similar to that which was used by the former regime, which used to use the leakage of information to discredit its opponents.” 

The Ennahda movement is behind the leak 

The book, which was recently posted on the social networking sites, was before that introduced by one of the TV channels which is close to the Ennahda Movement, and thus it opened the door wide for interpretations about the reason for publishing it at this particular time and about those who stand behind it.

Neziha Rejiba, a journalist known for her opposition to Ben Ali’s regime, said that she has been one of the strongest advocates from the earliest days of the revolution of holding journalists involved with the former regime accountable. However, she added that the delay in doing so and the control of Ben Ali’s supporter over the media scene in Tunisia were clear signals that the situation will get more complicated and will contribute to brining more pollution to the political scene.  

She considered that it was necessary to hold the corrupt journalists accountable and to remove them in order to purify the atmosphere and inject new blood in this delicate sector in order to build up a relationship of trust and respect between the media and the Tunisian people.  However, this did not happen neither before nor after the elections and this has encouraged many political parties, especially the Ennahda Movement to attract Ben Ali’s media professionals.

She added that “today, when the opportunity for reforming the media has vanished, the presidency of the republic is issuing a book on corruption in the media sector containing the names of journalists who struggled under the Ben Ali’s regime such as Lutfi al-Hajji, who started a hunger strike and who was exposed to verbal and physical abuse.” She continued saying that “in this book, there are many names of persons who were advocating the policies of the former regime on television channels that were owned or close to the ruling party (Ennahda Movement) before the revolution that were not listed.  This raises doubts and question about the book and confirms that it is a suspicious one. 

Rejiba added that she was expecting that this file will be handled in the context of transitional justice, “but it seems that there is an attempt to ‘discipline’ the media by letting another party handle the file.”  

Abdul Sattar Ben Musa, the head of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, said that Neziha Rejiba is right in what she said and he stressed that the publishing of a book by an official body such as the presidency of the republic, containing the names of journalists who were engaged with the former regime, is an attempt to take revenge from those who loudly criticized the performance of the government. He added that “there were others who were involved with the former regime but their names were not listed because they showed loyalty and thus they were granted forgiveness.

Ben Moussa warned of the possibility of targeting journalists by militants, pointing out that it is necessary to address this file, provide the necessary and adequate protection for those involved and respect human rights in this context.  

The book is of no interest to me 

The book contained a list of human rights activists, media, and political personalities who were harassed during the Ben Ali’s regime era and explanations on the methods and techniques that were followed in an attempt to silence them.  Among these names is the name of Radhia Nasraoui, a lawyer and a human rights activist.  Commenting on the book, Radhia said that she does not care about a book issued by the presidency of the republic and that she prefers to concentrate her efforts on more critical issues.  

She said that “the book, when it comes to the names of those who were harassed by the former regime, was unfair to many freedom fighters among them is Hamma Hammami, my husband, who is a leading member of the Popular Front and who had suffered greatly from harassment and restrictions on his movement during the reign of Ben Ali.” 

Many of the persons whose names were listed in the book among those who were harassed by the Ben Ali’s regime said that Moncef Marzouki was not fair. He gave himself 12 pages while other freedom fighters were either not listed at all or when listed they were given very few lines.  

For its part, the presidency of the republic kept silent when its book reached the media.  It did not make any official statement on this issue and the Information Department of the presidency cancelled a press conference earlier this week after the criticism voiced about the report, especially by jurists and politicians. 

In the end, the black book was neither accepted by those involved in the corruption system nor by its victims.