This year, The Journalism Foundation ran a media training course in Tunisia mounting two two-day workshops for Tunisian journalists entitled ‘Reporting in a Democracy’. The course was put together in conjunction with City University, London and aimed to cover political reporting, economy and finance, citizen journalism and social media.
Charlie Burgess, The Journalism Foundation’s Managing Editor, met with representatives from the Tunisian Journalists’ union (the Syndicat Nacional des Journalistes Tunisiens) last year to talk about the kind of training that would be useful. The course that was devised aimed to provide practical skills essential to the practice of everyday journalism. Students used the course as a means to network with one another, forging relationships between print, television, radio and the blogosphere. The course gave room for discussion on the clash of cultures between older established journalists who worked under the former regime of President Ben Ali, and those who are new to the trade including some whose voices were heard around the world on Twitter and Facebook through the Arab Spring. Students discussed the future of journalism in Tunisia agreeing that the revolution was not enough – time and continued change were required to achieve a truly free press. Many students agreed that training courses such as the one mounted by The Journalism Foundation were the only way for the media to develop.
Charlotte Kan, a business journalist based in London, led the course on economics. In reflecting on the course she said that: “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.” She hoped that her course would spur students to learn more.
Dr Zahera Harb led the course on social media and citizen journalism. She was surprised to discover that almost none of her second group of students (drawn largely from outside of the capital Tunis) used Twitter. Since the course, students have established a Facebook group to document their experiences, to exchange information and to share leads. The Journalism Foundation is in contact with a number of students from the course who have agreed to continue to write updates on Tunisian media for the website.
Professor Ivor Gaber, Director of City University’s Political Journalism MA, ran a course on the complexities of political journalism. His seminars, translated into French generated discussions on best techniques for extracting information from a subject, negotiating spin doctors and the techniques of distraction and prevarication deployed by politicians to avoid giving straight answers. One of his groups of students included a media adviser from the government, who seemed particularly interested in Professor Gaber’s session.
The workshops culminated in a lecture to students from The Independent’s Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk. Fisk told students about how his career began at a local newspaper in Newcastle before he moved to The Sunday Express, The Times and ultimately to The Independent. One student described meeting Robert Fisk as a “holy experience”.
Evgeny Lebedev, Chairman of the Trustees of The Journalism Foundation and proprietor of The Independent and The Evening Standard attended the lecture. In the afternoon he met with the Tunisian Prime Minister to discuss the media and the future of the country.
At the end of the course students were presented with certificates by Journalism Foundation CEO Simon Kelner and invited to a reception after Robert Fisk’s talk. Throughout the course students recorded videos of their thoughts on the future of journalism in Tunisia, which will be going live on The Journalism Foundation website this week. Feedback from the course was overwhelmingly positive. The Journalism Foundation hopes that the combination of practical coursework, networking opportunities and discussions led by international experts will contribute to the continued growth and development of media in Tunisia.
To read more about The Journalism Foundation’s Tunisian project click here