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Tunisian journalists protest appointment of state news agency boss

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FETHI BELAID/AFP or licensors -

Press freedom

Journalists at Tunisia’s state news agency protest the appointment of a new chief executive.

The protesting media professionals say the appointment of Kamel Ben Younes is an attempt at undermining editorial independence.

Dozens of the journalists gathered infront of the news agency, known as Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) chanting ‘’TAP is free’’.

"We have never seen a CEO who was appointed and who has access to the TAP Agency thanks to the police. It has never happened even in the other establishments", said Salma Henni, journalist within the political service of TAP.

According to the journalists, Kamel Ben Younes, is too close to the moderate Islamist Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament, accusing him of backing moves to control the press before the 2011 revolution brought democracy.

"We ask the head of the government to reconsider its decision of appointing Kamel Ben Younes at the head of the TAP agency. We consider the public service as an independent one and at an equal distance from all parties", Henni said.

Ben Younes has denied both charges. He said he is a political independent, referencing his past work as a journalist with several outlets, including the British public broadcaster (BBC).

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, whose government needs Ennahda’s parliamentary backing to survive, has described the appointment of Ben Younes as a purely administrative move. He said his appointment is in no way an effort to interfere with TAP’s editorial stance.

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.

During protests in January, it reported on demonstrations as they took place and on accusations of police brutality. It has also reported on the friction between Mechichi, Ennahda and President Kais Saied.

The Journalists’ Syndicate, part of Tunisia’s labour unions movement, has called for TAP reporters to hold their first-ever strike on April 22 if the government does not withdraw Ben Younes.

Mechichi and Ben Younes have said they will not back down.