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20.06.2013 - Communication & Information Sector

Entrenching freedom of expression in Tunisia

Mehrezia Laabidi and Guy Berger. © UNESCO

Discussions about Tunisia’s draft constitution took place this week between Deputy-President of the country’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA) Mehrezia Laabidi and Guy Berger, UNESCO's Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development.

Berger also took part in a conference arranged by the Tunisian presidency on the state of national media reform.

Referring to the recommendations of a study using UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators in the country, the UNESCO Director highlighted how some draft provisions in the constitutions could be improved so as to better meet international standards.

In particular, he said that confidence could be built by removing reference to the conditions for limitations on free expression and access to information from within the same clauses as these two rights themselves were stated.

The matter of limitations of any rights was already covered in a general clause in the draft constitution, he pointed out. However, Berger added that this general limitations clause could also be strengthened by adding that any curtailment of rights should be shown to be necessary within a democracy.

Berger noted that in terms of international standards, any limitations on freedom of expression should be the exception to the norm. Following from this, he suggested that the media regulatory authority envisaged in the constitution should confine its remit to broadcasting and not all media.

It was because broadcasting needed to use a public resource in the form of the airwaves, that there was a justified need to regulate licenses and conditions of use, he said. The unique character of broadcasting was why the norm in most democracies was to have voluntary self-regulation for newspapers and online media.  

The independence of a body to regulate broadcasting could also be enhanced if the appointment of its members was broadened beyond parliamentary processes, Berger suggested.

Laabidi was also briefed about work by UNESCO and UNDP to train security forces on free expression issues, boost community radio, and build the skills of parliamentary reporters.

UNESCO's contribution to a UNDP submission to the Tunisian constituent assembly concerning the country's constitutional development:

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