Though they received the prior recommendation of the National Authority for the Information and Communication Reform (NAICR), a total of a dozen new radio stations still await the interim government’s official green light to start broadcasting. Such a situation poses many questions.
Before the January 14 Revolution, the media landscape in Tunisia only had four private radio stations, namely Mosaïque FM, Chems FM, Jawhara FM and Express FM. These stations had obtained their licenses on purely political grounds and allegiance, their owners being relatives or from the inner circle of the ousted president, or else supporters of the former regime.
Last June, NAICR submitted its approval and recommendations to the prime minister in favor of twelve private radio stations distributed across the different regions of the country. Four radio stations will cover the Greater Tunis area (Radio Kalima, Radio Kif, Radio Ibtissama and Radio 6), while the remaining others will broadcast from from the regions of Kasserine, Gafsa, Djerba, Bizerte, Jendouba and Sidi Bouzid, Nabeul and Kairouan.
Founders of these radios voiced dissatisfaction at the present situation. Omar Mestiri, director of Radio Kalima, expressed surprise at the delay of the interim government’s decision to grant the final license. He told La Tunisie Vote that this delay is unwarranted and unjustifiable.
Mestiri said this delay was “meant to lead us through to the upcoming elections with the same media landscape as that of the former regime.” Mestiri accused the political parties to be the real reason behind this delay.
It is worth mentioning that Radio 6 is the only station of all 12 shortlisted by NAICR that is currently broadcasting as a pirate station. This radio station was created in 2007 by a group of young people and started broadcasting illegally on the Internet under the former regime.
One of the founders of Radio 6, Samir Jarray, pointed out to La Tunisie Vote that the station was “the first free and independent radio in Tunisia.” He said its founders “are not waiting for the Government’s authorization, and will continue to broadcast, whatever the situation may be.”
Samir Jarray underscored the need for public authorities to show sincere political will to facilitate the launch of new radio stations in order to encourage competition. He said the “legitimacy” of the new radios was, normally, more forceful than that of the old stations which obtained their licenses under the former regime, in a flagrant violation of the 1975 Act which prevented the Government from granting licenses to private media outlets.
On this level, Samir Jarray asked that all previous authorizations granted to old stations be repealed, “so that we all start on an equal footing.”
For her part, Nozha Ben Mohamed, founding journalist of Radio 6, said there was to “a total blackout” surrounding the final names and date of announcement of the radios that would benefit from an authorization.
She specified that she had tried to get in touch with the prime minister on several occasions, sent many mails to ask for clarifications, but did not obtain any convincing answer to her queries.
Contacted by La Tunisie Vote, Hichem Snoussi, member of NAICR, said the NAICR was “a consultative body trying to fulfill its mission under the best conditions possible.” He said the NAICR task was to “present proposals and recommendations to the interim government.”
“The Authority’s recommendations are by no means definitive. The interim government is the sole decision-maker about the list handed out by NAICR,” Snoussi said.
Snoussi added that 90% of the book of terms for the private radio stations was ready and would be submitted shortly to the Government.
He proposed that temporary authorizations be granted to new radio stations to enable them to operate while they await the final legal and technical procedures.
Regarding the technical problems, sources from NAICR said that the FM frequencies were very limited. They said the former regime used the deliberate policy of granting the scarce frequencies to media outlets that were close to it, in order to prevent the creation of new radios stations.
On this level, La Tunisie Vote learned that talks were underway between the National Frequencies Agency (NFA) and the National Broadcasting Board (NBB), on the one hand, and the International Frequencies Agencies (IFA), on the other, with a view to obtaining new frequency layers.
Furthermore, NAICR asked the Government to reduce broadcasting costs for the new radio stations to help them acquire a space in the new media landscape. The present cost stands at 100 million dinars (approximately Euros 50 million) for radios broadcasting from Greater Tunis and the interior regions.
Hichem Snoussi said “the present NBB charges should be symbolic at a first stage. It should be the same when it comes to sharing the advertising envelope among the new and old stations.”
All these issues, according to him, ought to be clarified as soon as possible in the final regulations that should take into account the special situation of the new radio stations the majority of which cannot afford to pay the current hefty licensing cost required by the authorities.