For Tunisian journalist Nissim Gasteli, journalism is a mechanism to fight every form of oppression by informing people, and holding those who govern accountable for their actions and reminding them of their responsibilities.
Gasteli works for Inkyfada, an independent Tunisian media group that a team of journalists, developers, and graphic designers founded in 2014 to support public interest through innovative journalistic content.
When Kamel Ben Younes was appointed as CEO of the Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) agency on 6 April 2021, it provoked strong reactions from employees. Ben Younes was a collaborator of the former regime of the late Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“His appointment highlighted the lack of any real change within TAP, a former propaganda organ. I wanted to investigate as I believe it is critical for the public to know TAP news agency’s role in the old media control system. They need to understand how dangerous a partisan nomination of an old collaborator of Ben Ali’s regime at the head of TAP can be,” said Gasteli.
Speculation was rife that Ben Younes was a political appointee of prime minister Hichem Mechichi and would undermine the editorial independence cultivated by the news agency since the Tunisian revolution of 2011.
“Since the revolution, the Tunisian public and private media sector evolved due the end of Ben Ali’s censorship system. However, in the media landscape, some practices still remain. The prime minister nominating a new CEO as the head of the TAP news agency, especially when this one had close relations to the old regime, is a good example of this,” said Gasteli.
Gasteli, who studied social sciences at Paris 8 University, says while members of the media protested the appointment, most dealt with the issue only in passing, and without any context. To counter the lack of background information, Gasteli delved through documents and testimonies into the complex history of TAP and Ben Younes’s past.
“By the time the article was published on Inkyfada on 20 April 2021, Ben Younes had already withdrawn from his new position the previous day. He stated that he wanted to ‘avoid being involved in political tensions or the classic management of a state media organisation that needs a comprehensive reform plan that include administrators and journalists’,” said Gasteli.
“However, we received widespread and important reactions from various people because Ben Younes was only a symptom of TAP’s lack of change since the revolution. And that was exactly what the article was trying to show,” said Gasteli.
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Featured image: Journalists at the state-owned Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) protesting the appointment of Kamel Ben Younes. Image: Supplied
At Tap, the appointment of a new ceo evokes a heavy legacy
The appointment of Kamel Ben Younes as head of the Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) agency provoked strong reactions from employees. Beyond the fact that he personifies collaboration with the former regime, his appointment also highlighted the lack of any real change within TAP. Through documents and various testimonies, Inkyfada has delved into the complex history of this agency, a former propaganda organ.
On April 6, 2021, the head of government, Hichem Mechichi, appointed Kamel Ben Younes as head of the Tunis Afrique Presse agency. The news was announced on the same day in the JORT, at which time the staff began a sit-in to denounce this “political and partisan” move.
No reason was given to justify the head of government’s decision to dismiss the then CEO Mouna Mtibaa, who had held the position for 10 months. Accused of being an ally of the Ennahdha party, Kamel Ben Younes also supported the Ben Ali regime, collaborated with the Tunisian External Communication Agency (ATCE), and recently participated in the political conference of the Ennahdha movement’s youth.
“Our role is to report, we are the wholesalers of information, we don’t rely on political pressure”, explains Sonia Ben Abdallah, head of the economic and financial desk. For many TAP employees, this move is reminiscent of the agency’s dark days and a revolution that is still waiting to happen.
KAMEL BEN YOUNES “COLLABORATED WITH THE ATCE FOR MANY YEARS”
Kamel Ben Younes’ name appears in two reports concerning the former Ben Ali regime. In ‘Le Système de propagande sous Ben Ali, Le Livre noir’ (2012) it is stated that “[Kamel Ben Younes] collaborated with the ATCE for many years”, and the ATCE (the Tunisian Agency for External Communications) has long been the cornerstone of the propaganda system established during the Ben Ali regime.
This document was published under the presidency of Moncef Marzouki. Based on the archives of the Carthage Palace, the 354 pages detail the organised propaganda system set up by Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and lists 90 journalists who “collaborated with the former regime”.
According to the document, Kamel Ben Younes “defended President Ben Ali in foreign media and was among the very first to support President Ben Ali for the 2004 presidential elections”. In this section dedicated to him, he is also accused of having used various media platforms to attack “the disinformation of foreign media” and several journalists and former opponents of the regime (Taoufik Ben Brik, Moncef Marzouki, Sihem Ben Sedrine, Khemais Chammari, Mohamed Mouâda and the LTDH).
The journalist is also mentioned in the report of the National Commission for Investigation of Corruption and Embezzlement (2011). Under his initials ‘KBY’, he appears in a chart showing “the agency’s main collaborators by amounts paid for external communication”. He is said to have received 152,750 dinars for ‘journalistic production, news and articles’ and ‘preparation of a report on terrorism’. This sum was paid out from 1 January 2008, the date marking the beginning of his collaboration with the ATCE, “according to data provided by the agency”.