| On the occasion of the celebration of World Press Freedom Day 2020 in Tunisia, UNESCO organized a Webinar on Wednesday 20 May, under the theme “Journalism without Fear or Favour”.
UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Moez Chakchouk, President of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) and Tunisians from the media sector took part in this interactive meeting.
This internet seminar addressed three related sub-themes concerning “the safety of journalists in times of crisis”, “fact-checking and the fight against disinformation in times of crisis” and “access to information in times of crisis”.
SNJT President Néji Bghouri, referred to the professional insecurity suffered by both journalists and the media as a result of the pandemic. He deplored the lack of public policy on the media that could remedy the vulnerability of journalistic work, among other things, while underlining the failings of the state in this regard.
Bghouri also pointed to the hate speech against journalists emanating from politicians, including parliamentarians. He said this climate of tension and violence encourages self-censorship and does nothing to promote press freedom.
“We cannot talk about press freedom in a climate undermined by hatred, especially since the authorities do not protect public debate,” he said.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) North Africa Regional Director Souhaib Khayat, for his part, raised the problem of the economic security of journalists in times of crisis. Khayat stressed that despite the gains made in press freedom, the status of journalists remains precarious and the most economically vulnerable. He supports the development of a reflection on the economic support of journalists who have been dismissed and the accountability of the media concerning a policy that allows journalists to exercise their profession in dignified socio-economic conditions.
For his part, SNJT executive board member Zied Dabar stressed the threats to the safety of journalists on the psychological, social, economic and digital levels. He raised the lack of a clear protocol on the safety of the journalist in times of health crisis, even though there is a comprehensive guide on physical and legal safety for the journalist in normal times.
In this sense, Dabar advocated that there should be an in-depth reflection on the management of the trauma faced by the journalist responsible for gathering information in the field about the virus.
For his part, Moez Chakchouk stressed the role of UNESCO in raising awareness of the problem of safety of journalists in times of crisis. Chakchouk believes that the solution to this problem in the case of Tunisia requires a fundamental dialogue between all parties involved.
Concerning fact-checking and the fight against disinformation in times of crisis”, Coordinator of projects on access to information at UNESCO’s Tunis office, Néjib Mokni, warned against the impact of fake news on press freedom. Mokni said Tunisia’s record remains positive in many respects, although threats still persist in the absence of laws and a lack of response to the aspirations of media professionals.
President of the High Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA), Nouri Lajmi, said that disinformation threatens the very legitimacy of journalists and the nascent democracy in Tunisian society.
In this regard, he mentioned the establishment of a media consortium to deal with the “infodemia”. It is concretely a platform composed of a dozen media responsible for blocking disinformation and preserving the credibility of journalism itself.
Lajmi advocates in the same vein, the holding of training in the fight against misinformation, ethics and knowledge of laws and the implementation of the media education programme. In this sense, HAICA President emphasizes the role of NGOs in countering disinformation through coordination links.