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International Conference Tunis, 12-13 April 2018 : State and Media: What Public Governance of Media in a Period of Democratic Transition
Date of creation: 05 Dec 2017

MANOUBA UNIVERSITY 

Institute of Press and Information Sciences

International Conference

Tunis, 12-13 April 2018

***

State and Media: What Public Governance of Media in a Period of Democratic Transition 

 

Introduction :

 

The popular uprisings that have been shaking the Arab world since 2011 and caused the downfall of several authoritarian regimes (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen) have, variably, paved the way for ‘ freedom of expression as never before. This need to have access to more liberties has been imposed even in countries that did not experience a regime change, such as Marocco, Algeria, Syria and Gulf countries. 

 

Giving in to «a media outbidding over the revolutionary impact of internet uses» (Romain Lecomte, 2011), many observers questioned the role of media in accelerating popular revolts that are hostile to existing powers. Some even went as far as to argue that media, namely Al Jazira, 2.0 web and socio-digital networks are the legitimate fathers of the «Arab Spring» revolutions.

 

Whether real or supposed to be so, the influence attributed to «alternative» media would put policies against a major challenge: that of rethinking the State-media relation and putting into place a more democratic alternative to State- controlled information. The latter has been completely disqualified by the fall of the regime that it was supposed to promote and it was made obsolete by the new information and communication technologies. 

 

After decades marked by «State information» (Chouikha, 2015), the new terms of the State-media relation in the context of a democratic transition must therefore be invented, given that Arab states, be they monarchies or republics, do not have traditions in terms of democratic governance. For even in countries which, like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, drove out dictatorship through popular revolt, «it would be wrong to think that post-authoritarianism naturally leads to a secular and liberal democracy» (Redissi, 2017).

 

This international seminar aims to revisit and question the State’s role in implementing the citizen’s right to information, as it is guaranteed in many new Arab constitutions, such as Marocco (2011), Egypt and Tunisia (2014) as well as Algeria (2016). This implies the study of the central question regarding the State’s support to the press and the evaluation of its relevance to the international standards that are being implemented in democratic systems. 

In the north and south of the Mediterranean, the experiences of these countries are not homogeneous. Our seminar will be the occasion to make a comparative assessment of public policies in terms of information and communication governance, of media aid systems, and of the audiovisual regulation, in order to allow researchers to take a cross-look at these themes. 

 

This seminar also aims to be multidisciplinary, as its theme centered around the convergence of several disciplines, such as information and communication sciences, management, namely the economy and regulation of media, public law, political sciences, etc.

The requested contributions for this international seminar revolve around the following three main axes of reflection:

State as legislator

Public broadcasting 

State aid

 

Axis I : The State as Legistator against the Challenge of the Media System Mutations and the Emergence of Citizens’ Right to Information

 

Since the popular uprisings started in January 2011 with the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Moubarak in Egypt, many countries of the «Arab Spring» have found themselves confronted with the challenge of redefining «the social contract» which posits the terms of the people’s consent to State authority. 

 

What is remarkable is that all the Arab states which adopted new constitutional texts insisted on including new guarantees in terms of information rights and liberties.

 

As an example, the right to access information, which was ignored for a long time by Arab legislators, is now a dedicated constitutional right. It is guaranteed in the Maroccan constitution of July 29, 2011 (Article 27), but several curbs that will be «determined by the law» will be imposed on it. The Egyptian Constitution of January 18, 2014, stipulates that the State guarantees the citizens’ access to official data and documents that are «the property of the people» (Article 68). «The right to information and the right to access information» are also guaranteed by the Tunisian Constitution of January 27, 2014. As to the Algerian constitution, it stipulates that «the access to and flow of information, documents and statistics are guaranteed to the citizen» within the limits fixed by the law (new Article 51). 

 

On the other hand, some Arab countries (Marocco, Tunisia and Egypt) made sure to promote their information and media regulation authorities to the rank of constitutional authorities that are more or less independent. 

 

But this legislative progress, clear at the level of constitutional texts, must be questioned during its implementation, which is taking too long to come into force. In fact, most of the laws and regulatory texts of enforcement remain non-existent. At the level of the first axis of the conference, researchers are required to bring answers that enlighten the following questions: 

 

What are the constitutional obligations of the State in terms of guaranteeing  the information and communication rights and liberties? 

 

What are the elements, existent or to be provided, for the implementation of a public policy guaranteeing the right to information as well as the freedoms of expression and information? 

 

What public mechanisms/structures are used as State tools of intervention and framing in order to protect liberties and to guarantee the pluralism and quality of information?

 

Should we keep or remove the Ministries of Information/Communication? How to promote the media self- regulation, especially that of written and electronic press (press councils, mediators, etc)? 

 

 

Axis II : The State and Public Broadcasting 

 

Public broadcasting is the field of realizing public policy and should provide citizens with a high quality, pluralist, public and independent radio and TV service. However, examining the Arab public audiovisual landscape, the Maghreb in particular, reveals huge deficiencies mainly linked to State failures. 

 

In Marocco, the High Authority of Audiovisual Communication (HAAC) had a solid experience in programs monitoring, but it is facing difficulties to regulate the audiovisual landscape, which is dominated by public channels that remain under the weight of the administrative supervision of the Ministry of Communiciation.

 

In Tunisia, the High Independent Authority of Audiovisual Communication (HAICA), established in May 2013, is currently being evaluated, for it will soon be replaced by the planned constitutional authority (ICA). Its efficiency in enforcing respect of private channels specifications has not been as good as expected of its independence and real prerogatives. 

 

In Algeria, the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV), whose Council members were appointed and started work in June 2016, has not resulted yet in a significant experience in regulating the Algerian audiovisuals. It has also been challenged due to the slippages of Ramadan programs in private television channels.

 

Researchers will have to explore the following thought trails: 

 

Have the promises of a move from State media to public service media been kept? What are the obstacles that continue to hinder the full development of public channels?

 

Have the audiovisual regulatory authorities really been independent and efficient? Do they have the means to ensure respect of the pluralism, diversity, and quality of audiovisual programs? How to integrate civil society ( as a public representative) into the councils of these authorities?

 

How would it be possible to make public media governance comply with international standards (supervision, composition of the boards of directors, financing, editorial councils ...)

 

 

Axis III : State Aid 

 

The question of State aid to the media is recurrent, but it is asked with new terms in countries that have been shaken by the protesting waves of the «Arab Spring».

A priori, the liberal doctrine is hostile to any intervention of the State in the market free play, which should only be regulated by the «invisible hand», dear to its theorist Adam Smith.

 

But the theory of freedoms has evolved and, since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the State has been recognized as playing a positive role in guaranteeing rights and freedoms. In his manual Civil liberties, Jean RIVERO already noted in 1973 that «the freedom of the press, in the current state of the economy, would not be able to survive without the massive help that the State brings to the newspapers under various forms ...» (Rivero, 1973, 103). 

 

In a more recent study, published in 2012, on «the regulation of State aid to the printed press,» the British organization (Article 19) reaffirms in its recommendations that «every State has the positive obligation to adopt a [...] legislative framework in order to promote a real development of the right to freedom of expression and the right to independence and to media diversity.»

Since the existence of independent and pluralist media is considered as vital for democracy, European democracies have agreed to provide support and tax advantages to their private media, especially newspapers of general and political information.

But this policy has been increasingly criticized by neoliberals, who find it costly, counter-productive and sterilizing, and by the editors of online newspapers who rebel against the advantages granted to print media at their expense. 

In its 2013 report about State aid to the press, the French Court of Auditors admits that «as evidenced by its decline in print and circulation, the press crisis persists and has increased despite the significant resources committed by the State.»

If the question of State aid to the press is still in conflict with the old European democracies, what is its status as a thought process in the Arab countries, in the aftermath of the upheavals caused by the «Arab Spring»?

What is the comparative assessment of the aid given to the press in countries of the North and South of the Mediterranean? 

How is it possible to provide public aid to media without compromising their independence in relation with public authorities? Should such aid be limited to public media or benefit the private medias as well? Should it be limited to print media or extend to online press? 

Some thought trails are hereby suggested as a non-exclusive indication:  

Public aid for media is still necessary and legitimate in order to guarantee the existence of diverse and pluralistic newspapers that would disappear without this support; 

State aid should be provided in a democratic and transparent way, so as not to compromise the independence of the media from the government and other public authorities;

The mechanism responsible for the distribution of public aid should be independent and neutral; 

The distribution of advertisements by public institutions should be carried out with transparency and in respect of equity rules, so as to break with existing models in many Arab countries that use public advertising budgets as a means of pressure to eliminate independent or opposing headlines and replace them with propaganda. 

 

 

Those three axes, which will structure the works of the conference, represent a field of research that is particularly favorable to the study of the new terms of the State-Media relations in the countries in transition as well as in the «old» democracies. 

 

Interested researchers are invited to send a summary of their proposal, outlining their problematic, their methodology and, possibly, the expected results. 

 

Proposals, of around 1500 words, have to be submitted no later than January 15, 2018, with the mention IPSI 2018, and sent to colloque.avril2018@hotmail.com

Proposals will be evaluated (double blind) by members of the scientific committee of the seminar and a response will be sent to their authors no later than February 2, 2018. 

Final texts are expected to be received by April 2, 2018.

Pr Abdelkrim Hizaoui , scientific coordinator ahizaoui@gmail.com

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Article 19 : “Regulation on state aid to print media”, 2012

https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/3554/en/regulation-on-state-aid-to-print-media

 

Barata-Mir, Joan: “Political and Media Transitions in Tunisia: A Snapshot of Media Policy and Regulatory Environment” , Internews, August 2011

https://www.internews.org/sites/default/files/resources/Internews_Tunisia_MediaLawReview_Aug11.pdf

 

Ben Achour Iadh: « Tunisie, une révolution en pays d’islam » ; Cérès Editions; Tunis, 2016, 387p

Camau Michel : « l’Année du Maghreb, CNRS Editions, 2012

Chevalier  Jacques, « L’Etat régulateur » , Revue française d’administration publique, 2004/3 (no111), Ed. ENA, France, pp 473 – 482.

Chouikha Larbi : « Des séquelles de l’étatisation aux aléas de la transition. La difficile transformation des média » ; Ed. FINZI, Tunis, 2015, 115p

Redissi  Hamadi : « L’islam incertain, Révolutions et islam post-autoritaire » ; Cérès Editions ; Tunis, 2017, 127p

 

Rivero, Jean : Les libertés publiques, PUF, 1973, Paris, 273p. 

UNESCO : Etude sur le développement des médias en Tunisie

http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/ HYPERLINK «http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002192/219222F.pdf» HYPERLINK