Reporters Without Borders condemns an angry crowd’s attempt to storm Nessma TV’s Tunis headquarters and subsequent threats against the head of the station and its staff. The violence was prompted by its broadcasting of the Franco-Iranian animated film Persepolis, which some conservative Muslims regard as offensive.
“There is no justification for these attacks,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “I understand how some people may have been offended by the broadcasting of Persepolis but that does not give them the right to threaten the head of the station. Freedom of expression requires tolerance for ideas that shock. Nessma TV had the right to broadcast Persepolis.”
Pointing out that only the courts have the power to decide whether media freedom has been abused, Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to condemn the acts of vandalism and intimidation against Nessma TV and to carry out an investigation with the aim of identifying and arresting those responsible
These events highlight the need to adopt new print and broadcast media laws that respect international standards including article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Tunisia has ratified. The new laws should eliminate the crime of offence against religions as well as prison sentences for media personnel.
Around 300 people participated in the attempt to storm Nessma TV, located on Mohamed V Avenue in the Tunis district of Montplaisir, on 9 October. The security forces intervened quickly, dispersing the protesters and briefly detaining about 100 of them. Charges have been brought against seven of them.
The attack came two days after the station broadcast Persepolis, a film by Iranian-born French novelist and filmmaker Marjane Sartrapi that portrays Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution through the eyes of a young girl and shows the girl’s depiction of God. The screening was followed by a debate on religious fundamentalism.
On the morning of 10 October, 144 lawyers filed a complaint against Nabil Karoui, who is the head of Nessma TV and one of its shareholders, under articles 44 and 48 of the media law (still in effect because the new print and broadcast media laws have yet to be promulgated) and under articles 226 and 226 (b) of the criminal code concerning offences against religions and affronts to public decency.
The public prosecutor immediately began an investigation and Karoui, who is facing a possible three-year jail sentence, was questioned yesterday afternoon.
The violence and intimidation has continued. Two individuals entered the TV station’s offices on 11 October and threatened to kill employees, while two cars parked outside Karoui’s home were torched.
The screening of this award-winning film and the attack on the station have triggered an impassioned debate in the final days before elections scheduled for 23 October. The National Union of Tunisian Journalists has condemned the attack on the station. So has the Tunisian Association of Newspaper Publishers, which has voiced total support for Nessma TV.
The National Council for the Reform of Information and Communication (INRIC) has condemned all forms of violence and attempts to terrorize media personnel. The political parties have condemned the attack but most of them also criticized the screening of the film in the run-up to the election as provocative.
Karoui issued a public apology on 11 October.