The Tunisian journalists’ union, the Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens on Avenue Des Etats Unis, has been freshly refurbished inside and out, its arched entrance cleaned and repainted. Inside is an organisation working to improve journalistic standards after 40 years of governmental control. The staff talk enthusiastically about the proliferation of media that has emerged since the fall of the authoritarian ruler Ben Ali, just over a year ago. But Murad Teyeb, a Tunisian journalist says that for all the union’s work, there is still a long way to go.
Teyeb believes that the problems for media in Tunisia run deep. “All the journalists who were in control under Ben Ali are still in control [...] 70% of the media are against the new government. They continue on from the time of Ben Ali.”
In a morning session of The Journalism Foundation’s course on ‘Reporting in a Democracy’ at the Hotel Diplomat in Tunis, discussions around the subject of media freedom and the future of the media are broad-ranging. The journalists on the course are a mixture of old hands and new; journalists who worked in the mainstream media under the former regime and bloggers whose voices were heard around the world during the Arab Spring.
“Neutrality is a very big problem for journalists. The public still regard reporters as being incredibly biased, either personally or politically,” says Sarah Ben Hmida, a journalist who works for the ABS television network. She goes on to say that the explosion of amateur journalists, while evidence of a growing plurality of media, is also endangering the professionalism of the media. “Some bloggers and journalists are paid to write stories for political reasons.”
“For the media to continue to develop, we need new faces alongside the old”, says Adnan Chaouachi, a radio journalist and media advisor. But he also believes that representatives of the old media can be retrained, rather than the system needing to be replaced wholesale.
Everyone speaks of the necessity of training. Everyone says that such training must begin now. But everyone agrees that the transition to a free press is going to be a long, slow process.
The Journalism Foundation and lecturers from City University were in Tunisia until February 17 when Robert Fisk delivered the inaugural Journalism Foundation lecture to students, embassy officials and representatives of Tunisia’s newly elected government