Tunisian state television has barred all political parties from entering its buildings or taking part in talk shows in a serious setback for press freedoms, the country’s press syndicate has said.
Mehdi Jlassi, the syndicate head, told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that the apparent ban had been in force since President Kais Saied seized most powers in July in moves that his foes have branded a coup.
Jlassi said it was the first time such a ban had been introduced since the 2011 revolution that ended the rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and introduced democracy.
Government and state television officials were not immediately available for comment.
Jlassi said, “Since July 25, there has been a political decision to prevent all parties from entering television … which is a very dangerous and unprecedented matter that seriously threatens freedom of the press and perpetuates individual power.”
Aouatef Sagrouni, head of the state television channel al-Wataniya, strongly denied “any political decision to ban hosting parties”.
“On the contrary, the main news bulletin, and the only political programme at prime time, covers all parties’ activities, with no exceptions,” she told Reuters.
In July, Saied dismissed the government and suspended parliament, saying these were necessary steps to prevent the state from collapsing after years of political party feuding and policymaking paralysis that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
He has started preparing a new constitution that he has said he will offer to a referendum in July.
The vote will take place following an online public consultation that will start in January. Parliamentary elections are also expected to take place at the end of 2022.
But since Saied’s intervention, al-Wataniya has featured no political guests. On Monday, he criticised local media, saying they “lie, lie like news bulletins”.
Only state media representatives were invited by the presidency to a news conference with the Algerian president last month.
However, the state news agency TAP still issues coverage critical of the authorities and gives space to the president’s political opponents. Wataniya’s main news bulletin has covered protests against Saied.
The envoys of seven Western countries plus the European Union last month urged Tunisia to respect “fundamental freedoms” and set a timeline for a return to democratic institutions.
Saied’s power grab in July 2021 won support from many Tunisians tired of political parties seen as deeply corrupt and incapable of solving the country’s deep social and economic woes.
He has since faced mass demonstrations and growing accusations that he is becoming a new dictator.
Saied, who became prominent as a law professor appearing on media shows to talk about the constitution after 2011, has said he respects all freedoms and rights and will not become a dictator.