Twelve Tunisian press officers visited Germany to explore how the Interior Ministry communicates, how the Federal Foreign Office approaches crises, and the unique role of the Federal Press Conference.
A dozen German ministry press officers take the podium, among them government spokesperson Steffen Seibert. For roughly two hours, they field journalists' questions about the refugee crisis, the conflict in Ukraine, the elections in Greece, and the VW scandal. The Federal Press Conference covers every topic in the public eye this particular Monday. Even when the questions turn tough and voices raise in challenge, the press officers retain their calm, either debating a point or declining to comment.
Twelve Tunisian press officers occupy the back row at today's session. They are spending a week in Berlin as guests of DW Akademie, acquiring insight into German government institutions and media relations work at the federal ministries. As the Federal Press Conference got underway, the visitors had an opportunity to observe how the government and the media communicate in Germany.
"I was impressed by how calm and unruffled the press officers were and how accepting journalists were if a question went unanswered," said Sonia Gharbi, head of the Tunisian Ministry of Transport press office. The twelve visitors were most surprised by the mutual respect displayed by press conference participants. "For me, regular meetings like this would be a dream come true. They turn the right to access information into a reality," said Sofiène Shili from the Tunisian Justice Ministry.
Disciplined fire drill
The group of delegates was also amazed to discover that sports and religion fall under the jurisdiction of Germany's Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI). Its Tunisian counterpart is only responsible for police and security. Former BMI press officer Hendrik Lörges, who has worked with DW Akademie's Media Training team since 2013 on the consulting project with Tunisia's ministerial press offices, explained that these sectors all help promote social cohesion.
Many in the group were fascinated to learn how the press office allocates responsibility and the prominent position it occupies in the ministry. "I think it's good that the press office is positioned directly under the minister right at the core of the command structure. It reflects the importance of media relations," said Najet Hammami from Tunisia's Ministry of Religious Affairs.The final comments at the conference had hardly died away, when a sudden, shrill noise signalled a precipitous end to the event: a fire drill at the BMI. The evacuation was a chance for the Tunisian guests to see the famed German discipline in action, and to photograph the Ministry's beautiful garden from every angle. No seemed to mind the extra minutes this added to the drill.
Text messaging the Chancellor
Nikola Krebs and Aniss Ben Rayana talk about how press work differs in the agricultural ministries of Tunisia and Germany
24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the German Joint Information and Situation Centre monitors and analyzes news from around the world. Chancellor Angela Merkel is immediately informed of any important incidents via text message. The Tunisians guests learned about this and other activities at the Federal Press Office before meeting up with their counterparts from various federal ministries for a broad group discussion.
The lively discussion addressed topics such as preparing to interact with the media and inter-ministerial cooperation. Participants later split into smaller groups to directly exchange ideas with their German counterparts.
"I really enjoy events like these because I always learn something new. It's very motivating," said Georg Streiter, Deputy Government Spokesperson at Germany's Federal Press Office. Nikola Krebs from Germany's Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture also found the experience enriching. "My Tunisian counterpart had very concrete questions about how our press office is structured. I also learned quite a lot about the situation in Tunisia and hope I was helpful," she said.
"A good model for our country"
Members of the Tunisian delegation learned about digital media work in depth at Germany's Federal Foreign Office. Crisis expert Heinrich Hubbe emphasized the importance of close cooperation and the clear allocation of tasks in crisis communication to maintain credibility. Hubbe described the Federal Press Conference as "ideal" for crisis situations, thus bringing the educational journey back full circle to the point of departure. "The Conference serves as a venue where all questions can be answered at once, so the phone isn't always ringing off the hook," he said.
Visits to the German Bundestag and Deutsche Welle also provided some fascinating insights. Press Office Manager Chokri Nafti declared the delegation's jam-packed visit a success. "I'm really glad I expanded my understanding of how press offices operate in Germany. They can serve as excellent models for our country."