In association with City University London, The Journalism Foundation visited Tunis last week to begin work on a media training course for journalists in post-revolutionary Tunisia.
NINE MONTHS AFTER a people’s revolution swept the dictator Zine Al Abedine Ben Ali from power, Tunisia went to the polls in the first free elections of the Arab Spring. As the Islamist an-Nahda (Revival) Party prepares to head a coalition government, the expression of newfound freedoms is everywhere apparent in the capital Tunis.
The Journalism Foundation, in conjunction with City University London, sent a delegation to Tunisia this week to meet with representatives of the Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens to discuss a project to provide one of the first practical courses for journalists in the country since the revolution.
At least 20 newspapers have launched since Ben Ali was deposed, and 12 radio stations and five television stations have applied for licences. The appetite for more media outlets – and journalism – seems, at present, insatiable.
City University has mounted international projects in the past. In a month’s time a group of Middle Eastern Journalists will arrive for a specially devised course on social media, designed at their request. The list of projects with longstanding high-profile institutions is endless. But for the Journalism Foundation the proposition is somewhat different. The aim of the foundation – to promote free-thinking journalism in a free world (including to get people to vote) – is a pretty tough target. But the attraction is exactly that: the concept of starting small and starting anywhere – Tunis or Stoke-on-Trent – presents a broad range of possibilities. The most obvious synergy with City is opportunity for our students. One Arabic speaker has already produced a comprehensive list of data on Tunisian media for the foundation, two more will have short and busy internships with the Foundation during the Christmas break.
But the other attraction is joining at the beginning and designing a new sort of journalism education focussed on a blend of new technology and new thinking. We can hardly come to Tunisia to lecture people who are incredibly internet savvy on the integrity of the British press, when they can follow the Leveson inquiry online themselves. Nor can we preach objectivity and the need to challenge to people whose revolution was last spring as opposed to the 1640s. But we can share. For example one fascinating thing which has come out of the Tunisia trip is the Tunisian journalists’ desperate desire to include journalists outside of the capital city in both the technological and ideological revolution. To those of us grappling with the way regional journalism is developing in the UK, from BBC regionalism, to new websites and the possibility of local TV, this is compelling and unpredicted stuff. And we have only discovered this through coming here with open minds and our need to find out their needs – achieved in a small way so far by spending hours at the Syndicat National des Journalistes on Avenue Etats Unis just talking to people.
The Journalism Foundation does seem to be on to to something different, with a bottom up approach and the keenness to talk to anyone from the wary old hack to the sharp young blogger. We hope to be running courses in January in Tunis where we will probably learn as much as the participants. Who knows exactly where it will go? The thrill is in the new. Wish us luck.