Tunisia commission slams govt over press freedom

By the Associated Press | July 4, 2012 | 12:38 PM EDT

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — The commission charged with writing Tunisia's new media laws quit Wednesday, citing the lack of government will to create the institutions for a free press and thereby threatening the freedom of expression in the country.

The National Authority to Reform Information and Communication was tasked with writing new laws to regulate print and broadcast media in March 2011, replacing those of the deposed dictatorship.

"In the absence of concrete action showing the will to build the foundations of free and independent media conforming to international standards, the commission refuses to continue serving as decor," its statement said.

Since overthrowing their dictatorship in January 2011, Tunisians elected a moderate Islamist party that rules in coalition with two secular parties. In recent months, however, it has been heavily criticized by the opposition and civil society for lacking democratic approach and mismanaging the country.

The commission presented its laws in November and said they have since been ignored by the Islamist government.

In the ensuing vacuum, the media scene has been invaded by outlets that ignore existing laws, while the government arbitrarily appoints the heads of state media companies just like the previous regime, the statement said. The new law calls for a system of consultation over media appointments.

"This is a strong message we are sending to public opinion and the authorities," said commission head Kamel Labidi.