Ben Ali's mini-coup

With a presidential “election” coming up in Tunisia in October, you might think Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s position looks secure. The 72-year-old dictator has been in power since 1987 and the last time he sought a popular mandate, in 2004, he secured an incredible 94.48% of the votes.

But Ben Ali is not one for taking any chances and so, ahead of the election, he’s making sure the media will stay in line.

Last weekend pro-government elements staged a coup in the journalists’ union, replacing the president and the entire executive committee at a specially-convened congress.

The campaign to grab control of the union began on World Press Freedom Day (May 3) when the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists criticised the state of press freedom in the country.

Three pro-government members of the union’s board resigned in protest at this criticism and organised a "no-confidence” petition seeking to oust the remainder of the union’s leadership. Union members were then pressurised into supporting the petition,according to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists at the time:

"Either you sign the petition or take the risk of losing your job," Bghouri [the now-ousted union president] told CPJ. "Privately owned media are pressuring their journalists to sign the petition for fear of being deprived of public support and advertising revenue." In Tunisia, advertising is selectively granted by the Tunisian Agency for External Communication to newspapers aligned with the government.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 21 August 2009.