There have been 153 new publications since the revolution according to Nejiba Hamrouni, the president of the Tunisian journalists’ union, the SNJT. She recognises the need for change in the mentality of some of her colleagues and the wish to see how other countries operate. This is why The Journalism Foundation is working to help further their skills in reporting public life in a democracy.
ON A LATE night tour of Tunis last week with Adnen Chaouachi, a journalist with Tunis International Radio, we pass a tall, darkened building. “That used to be the party headquarters of President Ben Ali. It was always light on the outside but dark inside. Now it is just dark.”
He said that in the past, before Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia last January, the first revolution in what has become known as the Arab Spring, if people spoke any criticism of the president, and many chose not to, they would do so under their breath. Never in public.
Tunis’ journalism was neutered too. In 2008, in terms of freedom of the press, Tunisia was ranked 143 out of 173. Some journalists hostile to the regime were imprisoned, attacked and others forced into exile.
Now there is a real hunger to learn how to report a democracy – and a hope that journalists can learn to question authority positively. For some, who worked in the media before the revolution, this will be difficult. How do you ask a question or develop a story if you have always been told what to say?
Kamel Labidi, the veteran Tunisian journalist and human rights campaigner, now heads the national body looking into the reform of information and communication. He was forced into exile.
He said: “Many journalists were prevented from doing their job. Many had their telephone lines cut and were under tight police surveillance. For decades there was a lack of independent journalism and the media outlets were propaganda tools. Young people and activists managed to find ways to send messages and pictures to the international community. But some journalists have not evolved and there is a huge need for training.”
Dhouha Talik works for the Tunisian news agency TAP. She said: “Since the revolution it has been like a flood, but some of the journalists are going back to the same behaviour and habits. We are not practiced in being positive critics of the government and if we don’t criticise and learn how to say no we will have the same system. We need to learn the techniques of journalism in a democracy because for a long time we used to write just the formal version of news. We need to see how other other countries deal with it. We need to be pushed to do it better.”
There have been 153 new publications since the revolution according to Nejiba Hamrouni, the president of the Tunisian journalists’ union, the SNJT. She recognises the need for change in the mentality of some of her colleagues and the wish to see how other countries operate.
This is why The Journalism Foundation, in cooperation with the Department of Journalism at City University, London, is working with the SNJT and others to set up a practical course for Tunisian journalists, to help further their skills in reporting public life in a democracy. And in the process we who have never been faced with such restrictions may learn something too.
To find out more about The Journalism Foundation’s project in Tunisia click here