The Tunisian blogosphere is up in arms over this year’s annual Tunisian Blog Awards. They accuse organizers of soliciting the participation of corporate sponsors Topnet and l’ATB, at the price of free speech.

Subzero Blue writes first about how fast the Tunisian blogosphere has grown and the progress it has made:

Just a few years ago, Tunisian bloggers could be counted on the fingers of one hand; now we have hundreds of active bloggers who are writing about everything, and voicing their opinions and thoughts about any issue that comes to mind. Day after day, the Tunisian blogosphere is representing the Tunisian society more and more, but in a more open and free way, and that can only be great, and I can only be proud that I’ve been there to witness it all from the beginning.

Many bloggers posted earlier this month about looking forward to the blog contest. The furor started when it emerged that many of their favorite blogs, along with, perhaps, their own, would not be eligible given the competition’s rules:

Les blogs à caractère haineux , racistes, religieux ou diffusant des idées contre les bonnes mœurs, l’ordre public, les lois et réglementations en vigueur, les droits d’autrui ne seront pas validés dans la compétition.

Blogs of a hateful, racist or religious character or those that spread ideas against common morals, the public order, prevailing laws and regulations, will be disqualified from competition.

Subzero Blue:

Well it seems it’s because the organizers are trying to make a bigger deal out of this one, bringing sponsors on board, thereby making it commercial, and because of it having to run a “clean”, “friendly” and well, let’s just say it as it is, censored event.

And that’s totally wrong, the blogosphere is a whole, it’s not a selection of friendly neutral blogs, as great as those might be, it’s everything, it’s a mirror of the Tunisian society, and should be taken as such.

Boukornine [Fr] describes how he was unable to even register for the competition. He tried to submit his blog to, but without success. ”At first I thought it was a technical error,” he writes. He later received this email from the organizers:

“Tous les blogs non conformes au règlement ne sont pas admis dans la compétition. Merci de bien lire le règlement avant de nommer des blogs. ”

“Blogs that do not conform to the rules will not be allowed in the competition. Please read the rules carefully before nominating blogs.”

Donc chers lecteurs faîtes attention vous êtes, parait-il sur un blog “hors la loi”…

So dear readers, take heed. You are, it appears, on an “outlawed” blog…

Stupeur! [Fr] was also banned from competition, along with Jolanare, Sam’s World and others. On Stupeur! a reader describes how he tried to nominate DEBATunisie, a political blog, three times but to no avail. Moreover, Stupeur! reports that since December 11th, tn-blogs, a Tunisian blog aggregator, no longer aggregates his posts. ”The bloggers are not sabotaging the Tunisian blogosphere; the Tunisian Blog Awards are segregating Tunisian bloggers,” Stupeur! writes.

In response to the firestorm of criticism, the organizers even reportedly shut down the wall on their Facebook group.

Subzero Blue:

That last point is unexplainable to me, I mean what were they thinking? These are bloggers you’re dealing with, and you’re shutting down a group wall? They’ll just run to their blogs and open fire on you! If anything it shows ignorance to what bloggers and blogging is all about: freedom, expression, conversations and opinions

Tunisian bloggers have organized their own Facebook group [Fr], calling on Tunisian Blog Awards sponsors ATB and TOPNET to “stop financing censorship.”

Some readers called for an “anti-blog awards,” some for putting pressure on the sponsors, others for dialogue. Winners of the Tunisa Blog Awards will be announced in late January.

In response to Boukornine’s post, a reader, riadh, wonders why anyone is surprised. ”Topnet’s sponsorship of prizes for blogs is a scam! Topnet participates in the censorship of Dailymotion and YouTube,” he charges. Kiffe Grave [Fr] writes, “Sure, it stinks, but it’s so typical!”

Zizou from Djerba [Fr] writes that he “was and remains a supporter of the concept of the Tunisia Blog Awards,” but criticizes the organizers for their “disrespectful” lack of communication since the fallout. ”They may have been under some restrictions, but that doesn’t explain their disrespectful lack of communication with the blogosphere.”

Tunisian Blog Awards

Stupeur! [Fr] has launched a badge for those bloggers unable to register for the competition. It reads, “Blog purged from the Tunisia Blog Awards”:

Anti TBA widget

Not everyone understood what the big fuss was about.

A reader called Arschloch, writing on Stupeur!:

Honnetement les gars…Je suis un lecteur passionné de vos blogs , presque tous …Mais j’ai été surpis par cette action … la question principale est pkoi vous vouliez participer a cette action des le debut ? s ke vous attendiez des applaudissements et une reconnaissance se symbolisant d’un trophé de klk1 ???!! votre trophé à vous ces “nous” , les lecteurs … nos visites , nos commentaires et notre echange d’idée … ske si toi stupeur par exemple si t’as été accepté dans ce concours à la con , ske t’aurais manifesté ta colere pour le refus des autres??

Honestly people…I am a passionate reader of your blogs, almost all of them, but I was surprised by this action…the fundamental question is why would you want to participate in this kind of thing in the first place? Were you waiting for for applause and a recognition symbolized by a trophy from someone???!! Your trophy is “us,” the readers…our visits, our comments our exchange of ideas…if you, stupeur, for example, has been accepted into this stupid contest, would you have demonstrated your anger for those others who were refused??

Similarly, a reader on Sam’s World:

Je suis néophyte dans le petit microcosme de la blogosphère mais la profusion de posts concernant cette cérémonie des awards n’est rien d’autre que de la masturbation intellectuelle à deux balles.

I am a neophyte in this little blogging microcosm, but the proliferation of posts about this awards ceremony is nothing but intellectual masturbation on both sides. So much effort and reflection for something so trivial…

Stupeur! reflects on the blog awards controversy in a post that supports the idea of an alternative awards, but subtly calls for unity and urges bloggers to move on and focus on more important things.

Comme ce qui s’est passé pour ces Tunisian Blog Awards, où on a montré que nous pouvions changer les choses même à petite échelle. Parce qu’on a refusé la censure, parce que nous avons exprimé notre envie de casser les barreaux qui nous étouffent, notre vrai combat nous le vivons tous les jours et demeure notre première priorité.

Like with everything that happened with the Tunisian Blog Awards, where we showed that, on a small-scale, we could change things. Because we refused to be censored, because we showed how we wanted to tear down the bars that stifled us. We live our real fight everyday and [that] remains our first priority.

Que vive la blogosphère.

Long live the blogosphere.

By Jennifer Brea

From Global Voices