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Covering Local Democracy in Tunisia: The Mourasiloun Program

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Written by Samer Elchahabi, Deputy Country Director, Tunisia

A free press fueled by expert journalism is the backbone of any democracy. Journalists hold people in power to account, expose wrongdoing and provide citizens with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. Similarly, local reporting covers local public affairs, holds local elites accountable, provides a forum for discussion and ties communities together by giving them a sense of purpose and civic engagement within their localities. However, when local media professionals lack the necessary resources, knowledge and tools, they struggle to play this role. This is especially true outside of the capital, Tunis and in remote regional areas, where journalists have little financial and professional capacity.

With funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the United Kingdom Foreign Commonwealth Department Office (FCDO), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) implemented a program entitled Local Democracy Reporters (LDRs), or Mourasiloun (“Reporters” in Arabic). Through a competitive selection process that garnered more than 200 applications, IFES identified 24 motivated Mourasiloun (17 women and seven men from 16 different governorates) from both citizen and professional media outlets. Through a series of workshops, IFES trained the Mourasiloun on issues related to the legal framework for decentralization and local governance; journalistic genres; journalism ethics; inclusive journalism; Mobile Journalism (MoJo) and photojournalism; how to effectively produce stories for the web and social media; tools for fact-checking, data journalism and visualization; and safety and security for journalists.

Applying their new skills and knowledge, the Mourasiloun collectively produced 128 media pieces. As a final project, each journalist produced a professional-quality, long-form news report covering a local story from their municipality. Among others, the pieces covered topics such as campaign promises made by municipal councilors about providing basic services to their constituencies once elected; the criminalization and social exclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community from local government positions; evaluation of the Utique municipality’s (Bizerte) participatory approach to governance; political participation of minority communities, such as Tunisian Jews and Amazigh, in municipal work in Djerba; the role of municipalities in eliminating industrial pollution in Gabes; and the evaluation of municipal work and the implementation of electoral promises in the municipality of Zanoush (Gafsa Governorate).

“I gained a lot of knowledge in fields of decentralization and investigative journalism by participating in Mourasiloun. I used these skills in my reporting when I conducted a survey through an e-questionnaire, in which they evaluated the municipal work and their vision of local journalism while presenting them with practical suggestions to improve municipal work.” -- Slah Eddine Krimi, a journalist with Al-Sabah newspaper for two and a half years and a former correspondent for Forbes Middle East

Under this project, IFES also developed a guide for the Mourasiloun that complements the trainings and serves as a resource when conducting fieldwork. The printed guide, designed to fit easily in a bag or briefcase, includes 10 detailed chapters on journalism and local governance topics as well as practical information on local reporting. IFES also provided the Mourasiloun with all the necessary tools to improve the quality of “on-the-go reporting” and mobile journalism, which included a microphone, a smartphone stabilizer and LED light. The results of the training were evident in the final media pieces produced by the Mourasiloun, which were commended by media coaches for their professional-level quality.

 

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geographic map of Tunisia with location markers
Geographic Representation of Local Democracy Reporters

 

Spotlight: Fadia is a journalist from the town of Msaken in the Sousse Governorate. Her participation in IFES’ Local Democracy Reporters (LDRs) program was not only an opportunity to learn how to more accurately and reliably report on local governance issues, but also to change her mindset regarding the LGBTQIA+ community. “The training was a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about the [LGBTQIA+] community. Their struggles are not highlighted in our society, which is rooted in prejudices and inherited beliefs. I grew as a journalist as a result of this training, and saw these issues as being inherently linked to all individuals deprived of their human rights."

As local and global journalism evolves in tandem with broader structural transformations of the media ecosystem, driven in large part by the rise of digital media, the Mourasiloun program’s mission is to ensure that Tunisians have access to, and are represented by, democracy and governance issues that impact their communities. Trainings on the use of digital media provided new ways for journalists to access, find and share media content that challenge the inherited business models and journalistic routines of conventional news media. This makes the Mourasiloun civic educators, able to hold accountable those with power in their communities. In addition, the Mourasiloun program provides local Tunisian journalists with the tools and information to continue to report on local democracy issues long after the end of the project.

Published on April 11, 2022.