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Tunisia's press revels in new freedom

Journalists now can report freely about events in Tunisia.

“I love journalism, I want to work hard and improve my work,” Saoudi said. “I was so happy when I wrote, a few days after Ben Ali left, an opinion piece about the former interior minister titled ‘They are martyrs, Minister.'”

A major change at Assabah is the reinstatement of Noureddine Achour as editor. He had been editor of the paper for nine years but was ousted when El Materi took over more than two years ago. After the revolution, the paper's staff asked for Achour's return and he started running the paper again in February.

“We are the oldest paper and before being acquired by the son-in-law of Ben Ali, we were the most credible paper in Tunisia,” Achour said. “We need to adapt to a new political situation. We need to help politicians to have a sphere for debate.”

He warns that the task is important and the challenges great.

“Reporters need to adapt to this new liberty. A muzzled press that suddenly is free can be dangerous,” he said.

There are approximately 245 newspapers and magazines, and over 1,500 journalists in Tunisia. Most of the publications are private and others belong to political parties, like Al Mawkaf, the voice of the leftist party The Progressist Socialist Rally — the rest are state-owned. Major newspapers and radios were owned by members of the Ben Ali or Trabelsi clan.

“There has been a big change but there is a problem of training. We don’t have investigative journalism. Media were trained to write propaganda. They need to learn everything from scratch, especially the ethics, “ said union leader Naji Bgarni. “We are asking for a reform of the press code.”

The media groups still have to gain respect from their audience, and from the militant reporters who paid a high price for their courage during the Ben Ali years.

“I despise the journalists who were Ben Ali’s watchdogs and who now want to position themselves as the keepers of the revolution,” said Ben Brik, according to AFP. He is a prominent critic of Ben Ali who famously went on a hunger strike for 42 days to protest against the regime in 2000.

"Journalists are living a historical period where their freedom is for the first time respected. We must encourage and support their efforts,” said Jean-Francois Julliard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders. The organization expressed the urgency for preserving this newly acquired freedom.

“It is especially necessary to consolidate the achievements of this young revolution. Censorship has not disappeared and may return in force at any time,” Julliard said. “We must quickly protect it by establishing a legal and institutional framework to ensure in a sustainable manner the freedom of expression.”