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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07TUNIS1531 2007-11-29 15:33:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tunis
Cable title:  

JOURNALISTS OF TUNISIA (TRY TO) UNITE

Tags:   PHUM PGOV PREL KDEM KPAO TS 
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VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTU #1531/01 3331533
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 291533Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4160
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L TUNIS 001531 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR DRL (JOHNSTONE/KLARMAN)
NEA/MAG (HOPKINS/HARRIS) AND NEA/PPD
LONDON AND PARIS FOR NEA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/25/2017
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KDEM KPAO TS
SUBJECT: JOURNALISTS OF TUNISIA (TRY TO) UNITE

REF: 06 TUNIS 2844

Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

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Summary
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1. (C) The unrecognized Tunisian Journalists Syndicate
(SJT, reftel) claims that its efforts to join the umbrella
General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) are being blocked by
the GOT. In addition to discouraging the UGTT from working
with the SJT, the GOT is purported to have manufactured the
unionization of the more pro-government Tunisian Journalists
Association (AJT) as part of a campaign to stymie the SJT.
The standoff between the two unions leaves Tunisian
journalists without an effective legal advocate, and hampers
local efforts to foster credible critical reporting on
domestic issues and freedom of expression. End summary.



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No Safety in Numbers


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2. (C) The small Tunisian Journalists Syndicate (SJT) says
that it has long suffered from GOT pressure, most recently
efforts to stymie its unionization effort. SJT President
Lotfi Hajji told PolOff that Tunisian labor law requires a
declaration of intent to unionize be filed with the regional
governor in order for a union to be recognized. Hajji says
the SJT did so in May 2004, but the governor refused to
accept the Declaration, a circumstance which the law does not
address. (Note: Such bureaucratic end runs are typical of
GOT efforts to stymie many civil liberties which, on the
books, are protected by law. End note.) As a result, Hajji
considers the SJT legal, while the government has refused to
recognize the union and argues it should register as an
association (for which a different procedure applies).
Hajji estimates that there are roughly five hundred
practicing journalists in Tunisia not including support
staff. According to Hajji, the Tunisian Journalists
Association or AJT (a government-sanctioned association but
not a union) has 800 to 900 registered members only because
they issue press credentials to support staff and others only
tangentially connected to the media. He said that at its
start, the SJT had about 150 members, but as a result of GOT
pressure not all SJT members are active.



3. (C) Hajji had been in talks to merge the SJT with the
registered Tunisian labor confederation the General Union of
Tunisian Workers (UGTT, reftel). (Note: The UGTT often walks
a fine line between cooperating with the GOT and responding
to the demands of the rank and file. Such a merger would
have offered legitimacy to the SJT, perhaps at the cost of
some of its independence. End note.) Unfortunately,
according to Hajji, the UGTT suddenly began to throw up
roadblocks. First the UGTT refused to register journalists
that worked for foreign media outlets. This would have
excluded many independent journalists (including Hajji
himself) who are correspondents for foreign media outlets
because they are unable to find work domestically. Hajji
reckoned the rule would render about a quarter of the SJT's
journalists ineligible to join the UGTT. Increasing
difficulties led to the indefinite postponement of the SJT
congress planned for October (which would have paved the way
for the SJT to join the UGTT). Faced with the loss of the
use of the UGTT-provided public space, the SJT is exploring
alternate means of holding its congress, such as on-line or
by absentee ballot.



--------------------------


UNLESS YOU HAVE THE RIGHT FRIENDS


--------------------------





4. (C) Just 48 hours after the cancellation of the SJT
Congress, the AJT came forward and began discussions to join
the UGTT as a union. Unlike the SJT, the AJT had no
difficulties holding its congress, which it used to modify
its constitution allowing it to become a union. The AJT
presented its request to unionize to Governor of Tunis
Mondher Friji on November 15, and the governor accepted the
request. Post-unionization, the AJT will be known as the
National Union for Tunisian Journalists or SNJT. Hajji views
the SNJT/AJT's unionization as a significant blow to the SJT.
He fears it will jeopardize the SJT's standing with
international organizations and facilitate GOT attempts to
marginalize the SJT domestically. The SJT president
speculated that the SNJT/AJT's unionization is being
fast-tracked because it is an organization close to the
ruling party, whereas the SJT is independent. (Note: The
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) suspended the
membership of the AJT on March 7, 2004 over complaints that
the AJT failed to adequately defend the rights of Tunisian
journalsts. In June 2007 the AJT was reinstated. The SJ
is also a member of the IFJ. End Note.) Hajjiopined that
even SNJT/AJT discussions with the UGTT would be grounds to
refuse the SJT's request to merge with the umbrella
organization. Despite this, Hajji said the SJT would attempt
to resolve its difficulties with the UGTT, but ultimately
would revert to its status as an independent union if
negotiations were not productive.



5. (C) While the SNJT had no trouble getting authorized, it
appears organization is proving more difficult. Plans to
hold a congress to elect new leadership, originally planned
for December, have been postponed until 2008. SNJT President
Raouf Bouzaiene refused to meet with EmbOffs until the
Congress is convened, which suggests the group may not have a
unified position on key issues related to the journalism
profession. At the same time, some AJT members are seeking
to block the association,s transformation into a
professional union. One member told PolOff a group of
journalists is protesting the dissolution of the AJT and seek
to retain its original purpose of defending freedom of
expression and press liberty.



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Comment


--------------------------





6. (C) Despite international calls for increased freedom of
expression, journalism remains a difficult endeavor in
Tunisia, not suitable for the faint of heart or easily
discouraged. The SJT/SNJT situation leaves Tunisian
journalists without a useful legal advocate. The
independence of the SNJT is questionable, while the
unrecognized SJT lacks the legal standing it needs to
effectively defend journalists. Though they report frequent
harassment, the international attention commanded by notable
journalists provides them with some measure of protection.
Without a union, however, the average reporter is left to
bear the full brunt of GOT pressure. The role the
international community can play is limited, and ultimately
the ability of domestic journalism to evolve hinges on the
creation of an independent legal union, which does not seem
likely in the near future. End comment.
GODEC