Business

Tunisian media enjoys new-found freedom

Nourredine Achour is leading the daily editorial meeting at Assabah newspaper, one of Tunisia's oldest newspapers
Image caption Editorial meetings at Tunisian newspapers are no longer burdened by censorship

It is 9.30 in the morning and Noureddine Achour is leading the daily editorial meeting at Assabah, one of Tunisia's oldest newspapers.

At first glance, there is nothing unusual about the gathering - simply eight journalists in a beige conference room, talking about what tomorrow's big story will be.

But listen carefully and it is the conversation that is special - they are discussing who's who in the cabinet and what Tunisia's new political parties are up to.

Until four months ago, this was the kind of conversation that was actively discouraged.

'Not scared'

Mr Achour has been the editor of Assabah for nine years.

For most of this period, the paper enjoyed a good reputation.

But two years ago, the son-in-law of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali bought a majority stake in the publishing house that owns Assabah and several other titles.

It knocked the paper's standing with its readers.

"We were forced to take a certain direction in our reporting," says Mr Achour.

That changed on 14 January this year, however, following the revolution in the country.

Immediately afterwards, the newspaper was revamped. New journalists were hired. The news agenda changed.

Even the way the paper looked was overhauled. Back came the old logo, while pictures of Ben Ali that were often obligatory were removed.

"We've changed and journalists will never go back to the way it was," says Mr Achour.

"Even the way I look and analyse issues is different now.

"I'm not scared. I don't wait for a phone call from authorities or from the Ministry of Information. They used to be behind us all the time. We used to call them our neighbours."

New freedom

The freedom with which journalists can now operate is also having an impact beyond the established newsrooms.

Image caption Tunisia is enjoying greater press freedom, though more could be done

Suddenly, young writers and bloggers are able to start their own ventures.

Slim Kharbachi was among the first to do so.

The 25-year-old set up a news website called Tunisie-Presse.com at the height of the revolution.

"The Tunisian revolution was characterised by a huge amount of information, by thinkers, bloggers and journalists too - so why not?" he said.

"We also had our ideas that we wanted to get out there."

Mr Karbachi has recruited bloggers and writers for his website, many of whom study media at university.

And he hopes that when he gets enough visitors logging onto his site, he can start selling advertising space and make money from it too.

Pirate media

On the other side of Tunis there is a group of radio journalists who think much more needs to be done, however.

The secretary-general of the Tunisian Union of Free Radio Stations, Saleh Forti, who has been involved with independent radio since the 1980s, is among them.

"There's no legislation, there aren't any ministers who look after media, press or information," he says.

Under Ben Ali, Mr Forti was prevented from setting up his own station.

Political police attacked him and tried to keep him off-air, so he ended up secretly broadcasting via the internet from an apartment in the suburbs of Tunis.

"We launched our radio as a kind of pirate radio," he says.

Image caption Mr Forti wants media that was loyal to the dictatorship to disappear

Mr Forti acknowledges that the media has found its voice in post-revolution Tunisia, though he points out that nothing has actually changed in the eyes of the law.

"In fact, all media in Tunisia is pirate because Tunisian legislation hasn't been changed," he says.

Changing the law would help, though getting rid of any media that was associated with the former president's dictatorship is even more important, Mr Forti insists.

"We can't put up with media that supported Ben Ali, that tried to restore their image to give a good impression of the mafia regime," he says, "only to see them change sides - because they're now 'revolutionaries'."