I am writing because I can. I can put down letters, that will form words and eventually sentences – hoping they make sense – because here I am sitting at a café, in a free country. A country where you bring up any topic you like. You can talk about flowers and sunshine. You can write poems about love or spleen. You can talk about sex and religion. You can take apart politics and politicians, praise them if you wish. The only threat, on this comfortable couch, would be receiving angry comments, perhaps insults. As long as I do not harm anyone’s life or freedom with my words, I will live through it. My voice is unchained and can confront all minds.
This is not the case everywhere. I grew up in a country where speaking was dangerous. People censored their very thoughts. Friends and families didn’t dare to whisper certain topics. Politics. Relatives had to live in exile for speaking their mind.
In 2010, Reporter Sans Frontière was ranking Tunisia 164 out of 178, just a few ranks above Cuba (166), China (171) and North Korea (177). This year’s report shows a little improvement – 133 – as an achievement of the so called Arab Spring. The situation in Tunisia today is indeed way better than what it was three years ago. The media scene changed drastically, new television channels, new programs, new printed press and information websites. Political debates, caricatures, satirists… But more important, the Tunisian people is now speaking. The joke right after the 2010-2011 revolution was that Tunisia had gone from 10 million football coaches to 10 million political analysts. You will hear no one telling you that you are being too loud on a sensitive topics. The more sensitive the subject is, the louder you should get.
Of course, there is still work to do. A lot. Artists are still victims of the former regime system. Last year, Weld El 15, a Tunisian rapper, had to bear the consequences of his words in a song denouncing police abuses. He was first sentenced to two years of imprisonment, before being released on appeal and after months of detention and media coverage of the story, as well as a strong support from fellow artists. But this is also proof of change: three years ago, no one would have heard of this story. Perhpas rumors. But no media would have covered the story, and no public personality would have stood up, and no one would have made a social media campaign to support him. Or if they did, they would have been quiet fast.
In 2012, Nabil Karoui, owner of Nessma TV, was being prosecuted after screening the movie Persepolis for ‘violating sacred values’ and ‘disturbing the public order’ because of a scene in the film depicting a representation of God. At the end of the trial he was sentence to a 2400TND fine (about 1100€).
The same year, three journalists were arrested for a scandalous cover on the newspaper Ettounsyia, a reproduction of the GQ Germany cover with a picture of Tunisian football player Sami Khedira embracing his naked wife.
Nowadays, journalists in Tunisia can talk politics. But religion and mores are still sensitive, directly mirroring the situation in the Tunisian society.
Countries like Tunisia need a new generation of professional journalists. Now that people can speak, write, debate, they need the tools for it. Your voice will go nowhere if your tong is twisted. Hopefully, Tunisia still benefits from highly educated individuals with good entrepreneurial skills, and a strong civil society commitment, creating business that profits the community. New internet media are growing. Websites such as http://www.nawaat.org or http://www.inkyfada.com are doing an interesting work on journalism, both in their publications as well as in training new generations and offering employment opportunities.
Security is another terrible concern for the free speakers. Two Tunisian journalists, Sofiene Chourabi and Nader Ktari disappeared the 8th of September in the east of Libya. Today it has been 2 months and 10 days. Let’s not forget them. Their names add up to the long list of detained/disappeared/taken hostage journalists around the world.
As of 2014 in the world: 58 journalists killed, 21 netizens and citizens journalists killed, 177 journalists imprisoned, 174 netizens imprisoned (Reporters without Border).