Tunisia’s little black book scandal

The Tunisian presidency didn’t hold up for long. Weeks after publishing a report on the journalists who supported Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the same presidency announced it will launch an investigation on how “The Black Book” was leaked to the press.

After officials marketed the book, which includes lists and details of people and institutions who worked and got paid to promote Ben Ali’s image, the presidency backed down and said it wants to hold those who leaked this information accountable.

“The Black Book” scandals went beyond Tunisia as media communities in Arab and Western countries got busy checking the names listed and how linked they were to Ben Ali’s regime and how much they got paid, especially since most of those whose names were published in the book currently work in the media industry.

“The Black Book” scandals went beyond Tunisia as media communities in Arab and Western countries got busy checking the names listed

Diana Moukalled

But announcing that an investigation has been launched to reveal who leaked the book is not less confusing and problematic than publishing it.

It’s true that “The Black Book” directly reveals the propaganda system of the Ben Ali regime and reveals the involvement of Arab and Western figures, but this book was issued by the Tunisian presidential institution which decided to symbolically try the presidency which preceded it, announcing that the first to be held accountable from the previous era is the press.

The presidency did not wait for the path of justice to crystallize, so when it decided to punish others from the previous regime, it did not scandalize the judiciary or the security forces or the interior ministry and it did address issues linked to the worn-out administration and the authority’s corruption. The presidency skipped all these points and went straight to punishing the media. It’s as if there’s a desire to evade confronting the presidency’s current fumbling by limiting the problem to the media.

This is not an underestimation of the importance of scandalizing the propaganda system during Ben Ali’s reign. But the standard of priorities when holding a trial - even if it’s symbolic - of a previous regime is necessary. The nature of the party which handles punishing others and the mechanism through which punishment is carried out must be transparent and just.

Journalists and bloggers are still being jailed in Tunisia today, and security forces still act arbitrarily. So how can the presidential institution confront a malfunction in a sector which is less attached to it than other authorities, like the security, judicial and administrative ones?

President Moncef Marzouki backed down from publishing the book and said he was investigating how it was leaked. Reactions to the book were harsh and negative of him. The president did not bear the repercussions of his folly.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 23, 2013.


Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:40 - GMT 06:40
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