In Depth

Sousse massacre: why Tunisians don't believe their own media

Tunisians are increasingly turning to foreign media to find out what their newspapers aren't telling them

by Mourad Teyeb

Since last Friday's massacre of foreign tourists at a beach hotel in Sousse, Tunisian media outlets has been awash with reports on the attack and its aftermath, but most are being ignored by a Tunisian public mistrustful of official news reports.

After an initial period of confusion in the attack's immediate aftermath, the country's media focused primarily on the identification of the victims' bodies and their return to their respective home countries.

The arrests that followed also received media attention, as did the theories about which terror networks may have supported the attack and whether any further attacks can be expected.

But the widespread outcry over how Tunisian authorities failed to stop two bloody attacks in such quick succession was almost entirely ignored by media outlets known to be acquiescent to the political establishment. Most media companies in Tunisia are either owned by businesses directly linked to the country's former autocratic regime, or supported and financed by them.

One of the few serious reports on Tunisian media carried out by the Carnegie Endowment in 2012 found that "the Tunisian media is still a venue for manipulation, intimidation and bias".

A recent report (in Arabic) by Haica, Tunisia's media regulation body, found ethical and professional violations throughout the media's coverage of the Sousse attack. Haica mentioned "immoderate" and "irrational" treatment of information as well as "hate speech" by journalists. The regulator called on broadcasters to adopt a more professional approach to their coverage of terrorist attacks.

Instead of analysing the shortcomings of the security provisions in tourism resorts away from the country's capital, the media has instead focused its attention on difficult-to-prove links between the suspected gunman Seifeddine Rezgui and hard-line Islamist groups.

Questions remain over how the suspected gunman was able to spend 35 minutes on a shooting rampage without police intervention of any kind when the Hammam-Sousse police station is just ten minutes away from the crime scene.

As in the days of former ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted during the Arab Spring in 2011, Tunisians are once again turning to foreign press and social media to find out what their own newspapers, radio and TV networks are not telling them.

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