Tunis, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Tunisian journalists went on
strike on Wednesday, piling pressure on the Islamist government
they accuse of restricting freedom of speech after a revolt
toppled the country's autocratic leader last year.
Tunisia's once-staid media has enjoyed a new lease of life
since the removal of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, but activists say
the government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, is
now seeking to impose new controls.
The strike, which also involved staff at state-run
televisions and news agency TAP, was called by the 1,200-member
journalists' union and is the first ever staged in Tunisia.
"The first general strike (by Tunisian media) aims to defend
press freedom after we have exhausted the channels of dialogue
with the government," the union said in a statement.
Journalists had in the past year demonstrated outside the
office of the prime minister to demand an end to restrictions on
media freedoms after the appointment of government officials and
editors to state television positions.
The government has repeatedly denied accusations it is
seeking to stifle the media.
Radio channels broadcast programmes about the strike,
limiting news bulletins to just the headlines. The union plans
to stage a rally later on Wednesday and newspapers are expected
to be off the stands on Thursday.
Earlier this week, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch accused the
government of failing to crack down on Islamist violence
against advocates of secularism including journalists and
"It's a shame that journalists continue to suffer from
interferences in their work after the revolution," union member
Ziad Hani told Reuters. "The government is trying to sow a
climate of fear among journalists through beatings or jail".
"We will not allow a return to the pre-January 14 (revolt)
era," Hani added.
Under Ben Ali, the press in Tunisia was among the most
repressed in North Africa.
Sami Fehri, owner of private television channel Tounissia,
was jailed in August on corruption charges. Journalists and
government critics say the real motive lies in a satirical show
that poked fun at political leaders, including President Moncef
Marzouki and Ennahda's leader Rached Ghannouchi and Prime
Minister Hamadi Jebali.
Three reporters at Assabah, Tunisia's oldest newspaper, have
been on a hunger strike for almost three weeks to protest the
appointment of a new editor they say is close to Ennahda.
The union accuses the government of appointing officials
close to Ennahda at the helm of media organisations in order to
control them and curb their independence.
The prime minister has denied his government wanted to
control the media saying that the government had the right to
name officials at the helm of state media organisations.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara, editing by Diana Abdallah)