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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08TUNIS1199 2008-12-04 11:34:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tunis
Cable title:  

GOT SEEKS TO "STRANGLE" PRIVATE TV STATION

Tags:   ECPS KPAO PGOV PREL PHUM PREF TS 
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VZCZCXRO8353
RR RUEHTRO
DE RUEHTU #1199/01 3391134
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 041134Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5789
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1473
RUEHDE/AMCONSUL DUBAI 0163
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TUNIS 001199 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG (WILLIAMS, NARDI, PATTERSON), NEA/PPD
(DOUGLAS, AGNES, JAZYNKA), DRL (JOHNSTONE, KLARMAN); LONDON
FOR RMH (SREEBNEY); DUBAI FOR RMH (PELLETIER)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/01/2018
TAGS: ECPS KPAO PGOV PREL PHUM PREF TS
SUBJECT: GOT SEEKS TO "STRANGLE" PRIVATE TV STATION

REF: TUNIS 795

TUNIS 00001199 001.2 OF 002


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



1. (C) Summary: In a meeting with the Ambassador, the owner
and director general of Tunisia's only private TV channel
recounted several examples of GOT efforts to "strangle" his
business. He sought to strengthen his ties to the Embassy
and Ambassador to try to shield the station from further GOT
interference. End summary.



2. (C) In response to an urgent request from Mohamed Larbi
Nasra (protect), the Ambassador agreed to a December 2
private meeting with the Tunisian media magnate. Nasra,
owner and director general of Tunisia's only private
terrestrial and satellite television channel, Hannibal TV,
has long been regarded as an insider with close ties to the
Tunisian Presidency. Nonetheless, he had spoken frankly
about GOT censorship and pressure (reftel) in a July 16
courtesy call to Hannibal TV by the Ambassador. He was even
more forthcoming in the latest meeting, clearly stating that
GOT interference has reached a point where the future of
Hannibal TV is uncertain and repeatedly characterizing the
GOT actions as efforts to "strangle" the station.



3. (C) According to Nasra, as a result of GOT pressure,
advertising revenues at the station--over US $11 million for
the first six months of 2008--have dropped to just US
$350,000 to date for the second half of the year. Such low
levels of advertising cannot sustain the station's
substantial investments in studios and equipment and over 300
full-time employees.



4. (C) Nasra attributed much of the blame to Minister of
Communications Rafaa Dekhil, stating that his relationship
with Dekhil has deteriorated to such a degree that they no
longer converse; Dekhil just chastises him and issues orders.
Nasra said that at one point he asked the Minister to put
his orders in writing. Dekhil, however, has refused to do
so. One area of continued dispute is Nasra's claim that his
license to operate specifically allows him to broadcast
general news flashes, while Dekhil insists that any news
coverage is prohibited. Except for sports and entertainment
programming, Hannibal TV currently broadcasts no news
programming, so the only source of local TV news is state-run
Tunis 7. Nasra, emphazising his belief in freedom of
expression, said firmly that he would not bow to pressure
from the Minister.



5. (C) The Ambassador's July visit to Hannibal TV was one
incident that sparked Dekhil's and the GOT's ire. Following
the broadcast of a few snippets of the July courtesy call
along with a 50-minute documentary on young American
musicians (supplied by post via the IIP Office of Video
Acquisitions), Nasra received a call from Dekhil, who stated
that that Nasra "had no right" to receive the American
ambassador or broadcast any part of his visit without
authorization. At the December 2 meeting, Nasra also
presented the Ambassador with a DVD of the Embassy's November
4-5 American election night events, at which Hannibal TV was
the only broadcast media in attendance. The program has not
been broadcast, and he has been told by the authorities that
he is forbidden from doing so.



6. (C) Another example cited by Nasra was the station's
special program on the November 7 21st anniversary of the Ben
Ali regime, which he said was very complimentary, but from
which the station had been forced to cut interviews, also
complimentary, with leaders from parties other than the
ruling RCD, even loyal (pro-Ben Ali) opposition parties.



7. (C) Not for the first time, Nasra stated that a group of
investors had come to his office a few days ago, unsolicited,
to discuss purchasing the station. He indicated that he had
no interest in selling, regardless of price, and he would
"shut and lock the doors" rather than sell. Nasra said he
had sought a meeting with President Ben Ali on the increasing
GOT pressure, but he has received no reply as yet. In light
of all these factors, Nasra asked for the Ambassador's help
in the form of "a clear indication that you are my friend."
According to him, the authorities "fear the Americans" and
such ties may help shield his business from further pressure.
He even asked, only half in jest, if he could emigrate to
the United States where he would be free to express his views.



8. (C) Comment: Local media research firms regularly report
Hannibal TV as equaling or bettering state-run Tunis 7 in

TUNIS 00001199 002.2 OF 002


audience penetration; in fact, Hannibal TV is often the
most-watched station in the country. Indirect GOT pressure
via advertisers is consistent with similar GOT tactics used
against newspapers and magazines that step out of line. The
specific examples cited by Nasra also point to the ongoing
GOT crackdown, not only on dissent, but on any independent
expression or association with foreign institutions not under
GOT control. Those who deal with the U.S. Embassy come in
for particular rebuke. Once again, GOT rhetoric strongly
contrasts with the reality on the ground as the space for
debate remains very small in the tightly-controlled Tunisian
media landscape. End comment.
Godec