Tunisia press union says state TV bars political parties

Demonstrators carry flags and banners during a protest against the Tunisian President Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers, in Tunis, Tunisia, September 26, 2021. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

TUNIS, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Tunisia's journalists' union said on Tuesday that state television had barred all political parties from entering its buildings or taking part in talk shows since President Kais Saied seized most powers in July.

Mehdi Jlassi, who heads the Tunisian National Syndicate of Journalists, told Reuters the restrictions were the first since the 2011 revolution that ended the autocratic rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and introduced democracy.

Saied dismissed government and suspended parliament in July. Rights groups have since reported a crackdown including the detention of lawmakers.

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"Since July 25, there has been a political decision to prevent all parties from entering television ..., which is a very dangerous and unprecedented matter that seriously threatens freedom of the press and perpetuates individual power," Jlassi said.

The limits on politicians appearing on state television channel al-Wataniya had previously been noted by some activists and opponents.

Al-Wataniya head Aouatef Sagrouni strongly denied "any political decision to ban hosting parties".

"On the contrary, the main news bulletin, and the only political programme at prime time, covers all parties' activities, with no exceptions," she told Reuters.

Al-Wataniya's main news bulletin has covered protests against Saied.

However, the station has not featured political guests since the July power grab, which Saied said was necessary to stop the state collapsing after years of political party feuding and policymaking paralysis.

He has started preparing a new constitution, which he says he will put to a referendum in June.

On Monday, Saied criticised Tunisia's local media, saying they "lie, lie like news bulletins".

Only state media representatives were invited by the presidency to a news conference with the Algerian president last month.

State news agency TAP still issues coverage critical of the authorities and gives space to the president's political opponents.

Saied, who became prominent as a law professor appearing on media shows to talk about the constitution after 2011, says he respects all freedoms and rights and will not become a dictator.

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Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Frank Jack Daniel

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