The consequences of the credit crunch were wide-ranging. In a well-documented ‘domino effect’ it spread to the rest of the economy, stalling growth both in developed and emerging nations. Tunisia – whose main trade partners are Europe’s biggest economies – became one the many collateral victims of the global economic meltdown. Whether the Jasmine Revolution is a by-product of the credit crunch is hardly debatable.
The participants in the Journalism Foundation’s training course in Tunisia all understood the concept of the interdependence of their economy. They expressed interest in the Greek bail-out negotiations, sensing that a negative development on that front could severely hinder their own country’s growth. Yet many were unaware of the chain of events that led to the tricky sovereign debt crisis. Everyone noticed food prices going up but they were also at odds to explain where food inflation comes from.
Lack of education is the main reason why Tunisian journalists stay away from economic and business reporting. Understandably, due to the ‘emerging’ nature of the Tunisian economy, business journalism is a marginal sector of the media industry. Yet the economy is the number one concern for Tunisians. The local press is filled with reports on food prices creeping up, the high unemployment rate (14% according to the World Bank), low wages, insecure jobs and the shocking disparity in wealth distribution. However, these topics are perceived as ‘social issues’ rather than being presented as ‘economic’ issues in the Tunisian media.
During a presentation on ‘business reporting in a democracy’ the participants focused on the role of business journalists: news-gatherers, analysts, but mostly, educators – the bridge between a knowledgeable elite and the man in the street. The accompanying workshop aimed at introducing basic knowledge of financial markets and economic data, in the hope that this ‘taster’ course in economics would spur students to educate themselves in their own time if they wanted to learn more.
After education, access to information is the second greatest challenge for would-be business journalists in the country. Corruption and fraud are endemic in Tunisia. The Heritage Foundation’s Freedom from Corruption Index indicates that the country’s economy is “mostly unfree”.
Slim Ayedi learnt it at his expense. The Tunisian journalist was a business reporter before starting a popular blog on politics in Tunisia.
“I had to give up business journalism. Access to statistics, companies, and municipalities’ accounts is too restricted. I couldn’t do any investigative work. It’s a shame because for me business journalists are the best in the profession,” he says.
Many of the students who attended the workshop faced similar hurdles. “If we ask local authorities to give us statistics and access to their books, they refuse to do it. They even threaten us. So what can we do?” they often asked.
“Don’t give up” is the best advice I could give them.
Charlotte Kan is a freelance journalist and one of four lecturers brought out by City University, London to take part in The Journalism Foundation’s training course in Tunisia. To read more about the course click here