Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is expanding the responsibilities of its Tunis bureau, which will henceforth be in charge of RSF advocacy and projects in the neighbouring North African countries of Libya, Algeria and Morocco in addition to Tunisia itself.
After contributing to the emergence and (so far insufficient) consolidation of media freedom in Tunisia, partly by creating the Tunis bureau in 2011, RSF is developing its activities throughout the Maghreb.
Previously run from RSF headquarters in Paris, the North Africa work will be conducted from Tunis under the leadership of Yasmine Kacha, the bureau chief. It will be her job to reinforce advocacy activities and carry out concrete projects in the field in response to the many challenges in these four countries.
Providing news and information is still a high-risk activity in Algeria and Morocco, where the authorities cite threats to national security, national interests, the head of state or the monarchy as pretexts for persecuting independent journalists. The Tunisian authorities no longer hesitate to prosecute reporters on trumped-up charges of supporting terrorism. And the fate of journalists during the recent months of extreme violence in Libya has only emphasized the urgent need for greater efforts to protect freedom of information in the region.
"Expanding the activities of our Tunis bureau is part of the strategic reinforcement of our capacities in North Africa, an extremely important region for our organization," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. "Our activities will be concentrated on three main areas: defending and reinforcing media independence, lobbying for an end to criminal proceeding against journalists, and combating impunity for those responsible for violence and abuses against the region's media personnel."
North Africa bureau chief Yasmine Kacha added: "We will combine policy-influencing strategies with assistance activities in order to help Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian and Libyan journalists to work freely and in the hope that the media will finally be able to play their watchdog role to the full."
Opened after the fall of the Ben Ali regime, the Tunis bureau's main initial aim was to assist media reform in Tunisia. RSF campaigned for the inclusion of article 31 on free speech, article 32 on access to information and article 127 on the Broadcasting Communication Agency in the January 2014 constitution. It also campaigned for the exclusive application of Decree-Law No. 115-2011 (and not the criminal code) to media cases, and urged police and journalists to resume a long-interrupted dialogue.
RSF has organized a score of seminars for professional and non-professional journalists on protecting personal data, physical safety and covering human rights-related issues. It also conducted two public information campaigns - "Free until when?" in 2012 and "Freedom of information hanging by a thread" in 2015 - which were very visible in all the media and throughout the country and which drew attention to the importance of preserving freedom of information, one of the key achievements of the 2011 revolution.
An international NGO defending and promoting freedom of information worldwide from its headquarters in Paris, RSF has international bureaux in 14 cities including Washington, Brussels, Berlin and Madrid. It recently opened a bureau in Rio de Janeiro to cover Latin America and plans to open another in Hong Kong in the near future. The Tunis bureau is its main branch in the Arab world. RSF also has correspondents in 130 countries.