LONDON: Journalists in Tunisia clashed with police during a protest against the appointment of Kamal Ben Younes as head of state news agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).
The flashpoint came when demonstrators attempted to block Ben Younes from entering TAP’s headquarters, but police later forced a way in.
The writers fear that Ben Younes’ known leanings toward the Ennahda party – a movement with historical and ideological ties to the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood – could undermine the agency’s editorial independence.
Hani Nasira, a media expert and researcher into extremist groups in the Middle East, including the Muslim Brotherhood, told Arab News: “Ben Younes was a prominent figure during the days of (former Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine) Ben Ali, as well as during the days of the revolution.
“He embodies a model of journalists who change their loyalty as the system changes. They supported (former Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak in Egypt, then the Muslim Brotherhood and so on.
“They do not believe in journalism as a space for freedom, objectivity, and neutrality but aim to transform it into a private institution that works for certain entities. This same state news agency is seeking to monopolize the management of an important affair like the press,” he said.
Tunisian journalists accuse Ben Younes of backing moves to control the press before the 2011 revolution brought democracy to the North African nation, and while he has denied the charges, protesters are demanding he steps down.
Co-founded in 1981 by Rachid Ghannouchi, Ennahda was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The Journalists’ Syndicate and Tunisia’s labor unions movement called for TAP reporters to hold their first-ever strike on April 22 and invited Tunisian journalists to continue the open sit-in at TAP’s headquarters.
TAP journalist, Ayman Zamal, told Al Arabiya news channel: “(We must) continue the open sit-in in TAP’s headquarters at all costs so as to maintain the agency’s independent line and national line which cannot become a servant of a certain political group and to prevent the published media from becoming partisan or authoritarian media.”
Before the revolution, TAP was an arm of state propaganda based entirely on official sources. But it has become a rare Arab news agency with editorial independence, often covering stories that criticize the government.