Reporters Without Borders demands an immediate investigation into an incident in which the new director-general of a state press group reportedly deliberately injured one of the organization’s journalists.
Lotfi Touati, director-general of the Dar Essabah publications group, was driving a car that injured journalist Khalil Hannachi in front of company headquarters in Tunis at midday on 13 September. The incident occurred as journalists were demonstrating to demand that Touati resign, citing interference with editorial independence. The prime minister appointed him in August.
“We energetically condemn the apparent targeting of Khalil Hannachi,” said Christophe Deloire, the press freedom organization’s director general. “Nothing can justify Lotfi Touati’s behaviour, which cannot be tolerated under the rule of law.” A thorough investigation leading to sanctions for injuries to the journalist is essential, Deloire said.
According to eyewitnesses contacted by Reporters Without Borders, Touati started up his car while Hannachi was standing in front of it. The car rammed Hannachi, dragging him as he clung to the hood for several hundred meters. He was thrown off when Touati suddenly hit the brake.
The injured journalist was immediately hospitalized. Doctors said his condition was stable, but kept him under observation.
For his part, Touati filed an official complaint against Hannachi, accusing him of deliberately throwing himself on the car in order to harm Touati’s reputation and force his resignation. Touati was not detained.
The incident came amid an escalating conflict between Dar Essabah journalists and the group’s newly appointed chief. Protests have been under way since 21 August, focused on Touati’s attempted assumption of unilateral control of editorial policy. Only a few minutes before Hannachi was injured, Touati had moved to name Nourredine Achour the group’s daily newspaper editor. Achour has been editor of the weekly Essabah Hebdo.
Touati had not consulted the newspaper’s staff. As a result, they gathered in front of the headquarters to demand his resignation – the most recent of several such demonstrations. They booed him as he walked out of the building, shouting “Get out!”
Other events leading up to the confrontation included Touati’s pushing out on 27 August of Jamel Eddine Bourigua, one of the three top editors of the daily Essabah. Touati also published a list of people authorized to write editorials. On 29 August, he had security forces block the delivery of 15,000 copies of his own daily, on which a list of journalists’ demands appeared on page 3. That page was replaced by a page of advertisements.
These events led journalists to hold a one-day strike on 11 September.
Reporters Without Borders reaffirms its support for editorial independence of public media, and for transparency in the appointment of their executives. The organization deplores official meddling with public media operations, and the grave consequences that interference can set in motion.
The events at Dar Essabah underline the urgent need for creation of a independent body to guarantee the independence and pluralism of public media, and authorized to settle conflicts and head off crises.