Tunisia: “The old notions won’t survive” | Africa | DW | 21.04.2011
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Tunisia: “The old notions won’t survive”

In Tunisia, too, changes have been happening very fast over the last several weeks. DW Akademie project manager and project coordinator for North Africa, Michael Tecklenburg, talks about the media situation in Tunisia.


Why is it so important to support the media in Tunisia right now?

After the revolution at the beginning of the year journalists told us they were in a kind of vacuum. During the revolution our Tunisian colleagues went out and for the first time reported live. That was a turning point for the media there - to go out and record people live without censoring them. After a while, though, they realized that they were lacking certain skills. For 25 years journalism didn't really exist. They simply held out a microphone to those in power and recorded them, but never in a journalistic sense with viewers or listeners in mind.

What are DW Akademie's plans in Tunisia?
Right now we're focusing on the elections scheduled for July 24th. In May we'll start with a workshop series on election reporting for radio journalists. It's important for our colleagues to learn how to step out of the role of the microphone holder and to report professionally on the goals of the individual political parties and candidates. That will be followed by training for television editors. We’re also planning workshops that look not just at journalistic skills but also at how to approach specific topics in a target-oriented way. In the final analysis, this is all to support the Tunisian democratization process. It's important to remember that Tunisian society is in transition and that an entirely new political culture is emerging.

How were you able to get an overview of the media landscape and to find partners to work with in the future?
We went from station to station and spoke with those in charge. At the end of February we also held a workshop in Tunis together with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. High-ranking participants attended - representatives from the state-controlled and private media as well as from civil society - in other words various key figures from the Tunisian media world. Jointly they developed the minimum requirements which the state has to secure in the constitution so that the media can report freely and independently. These are things that we as journalists take for granted in a Western democracy. We're also in contact with the state-controlled broadcasting corporation. If this is to be restructured and become a public broadcaster, we'll stand by them as consultants.

After a political overthrow of this kind should DW Akademie not be distancing itself from the state-controlled broadcaster?
I'm sure there are still people working there who represented the former regime, just as there are people there who want to reform the structure. At the same time, one has to remember that even the private stations which were licensed during the Ben Ali era were not free and independent. If they had been, they wouldn't have received their broadcasting licenses. The daughter of the overthrown president Ben Ali was still conducting business in one of the stations and went in and out on a daily basis back in March. That means we need to look closely at each station and decide how strong the desire for change is. There can be situations where we might not be able to get past the supporters of the old regime. But if they were all fired, there could be a vacuum in the administration structure for example, making it difficult to continue working at all. What makes me optimistic is that Tunisia has a very young population. There's a strong desire for change. The old notions won't survive in the long run.

The problems in the Middle East and North Africa are similar. Is DW Akademie reacting with similar projects?
To some extent they are very different countries with very different development patterns. There have, of course, been revolutions and there will be elections, but the results can vary from country to country. We won't be working with the same concepts throughout the region. One of DW Akademie's strengths is that we say: "We will help, but the partners have to say what it is they want and what it is they need." Then we can react accordingly. That’s why DW Akademie's work in Tunisia or Morocco is different than our work in Egypt, Yemen or Syria.

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