Training Tunisian journalists on election reporting

Tunisia is feverish with electoral anticipation this mid-October 2014. As elections are quickly approaching, Tunisians must put an end to political uncertainties that have settled since the first free elections three years ago. With the goal of creating the best possible conditions for the upcoming election, UNESCO has organized a training session for journalists from the Tunisian National Radio that will focus on topics such as: equal distribution of speaking time among candidates, female participation, journalistic ethics and violence issues.

Thirty-six media professionals benefited from the training session, which took place from 9 to 17 October 2014 in three stations of the public service network: Radio Sfax, Radio Monastir and Radio Tunis Chaîne Internationale (RTCI).

Throughout the training, participants raised issues related to the practical implementation of journalistic rules. Following are some of the questions posed and issues addressed:  How to grant equal speaking time to several parties running for elections? How to resist more or less direct pressure from candidates and their entourage? How to calculate the time allocated to experts and observers whose analyses seem to be partisan? How to increase female presence on the air while political parties, in most cases, choose male representatives as spokespersons?

Journalist also expressed frustration when reaching out to parties for interviews. “When I call a party to ask for an interview with the number two on the list (normally a woman), I am told that only the number one (always a man) is authorized to speak on behalf of the list,” said one of the participants, discouraged by this experience.

Participants focused on the practical and pressing issues: addressing the risk of violence associated with terrorism, choosing a trustful source of information, communicating on the day of elections, reporting on incidents related to the vote, etc.

The place of public radios in the audiovisual landscape of the country, freedom and responsiveness of private stations and the respect of journalistic ethics are other challenges that Tunisian media are facing.

Journalists working for RTCI sounded confident in applying journalistic rules when reporting on the elections. Their main difficulty was the fact that most radio stations are only French-speaking. Some parties do not have French speakers; making it difficult to vox pop in French only, without discriminating some people and modifying the tone of their responses. “Can we, in this case, simultaneously translate the interview into Arabic?” asked one of the participants.

The result of this training session has been rather encouraging: rules allowing fair coverage of the election campaign have been well integrated by participating journalists even within the challenging Tunisian political landscape. Participants appreciated the opportunity to speak about concrete problems that occur in their daily work and the ways to address them. “This training will enable us to cover the upcoming presidential and municipal elections in a more confident way,” participants said.

This project, aimed at training Tunisian public media during the election period, has been supported by the Republic of Finland.