Mobile Radio Station Reaches Half a Million Tunisian Voters
Traveling Tunisia’s desert highways in a box truck outfitted with a fully functioning radio station is not glamorous. But in Tunisia, where radio is one of voters’ main sources of election information, especially in rural areas with high rates of illiteracy, a mobile radio station dedicated to impartial, accurate, and equitable elections reporting is an effective way to provide voters with the information needed to make informed choices at the ballot box.
In 2017, with support from the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) built one such mobile radio station ahead of Tunisia’s municipal elections on May 6, 2018, and drove it up and down the length of Tunisia, broadcasting radio programs in remote and hard-to-access areas. The radio station is fully equipped with modern radio equipment and a soundproof studio enclosed in glass and open to public view. The studio can host up to six guests and air programs both via FM frequencies and internet streaming.
“This is the first time I [hosted] a radio program from a mobile station. Everything was perfect from sound quality to equipment and the communication between the mobile radio and headquarters. It felt like I was at our studio in Tunis.” – Karim Zoghbi, an anchor who hosted a show from the mobile studio
Since 2016, IFES has worked closely with various media outlets to build radio journalists’ capacity to cover the municipal elections in an impartial and balanced manner. As the mobile radio station traveled the country, IFES invited journalists who received the training to host one of several radio shows to inform voters about the elections.
IFES partnered with the Tunisian Union of Community Media to develop the radio program “Soutkom” (Your Voice), which was broadcast from November to December 2017 and reached over 16,000 listeners through social media networks. The program provided a forum for citizens, local government representatives, and nongovernmental organizations to discuss local communities’ needs and priorities and disseminate information about the municipal elections, particularly in localities with high illiteracy rates.
During the “Soutkom” tour, the mobile radio station stopped in 10 diverse localities, including newly created municipalities in which municipal elections took place for the first time in May. The show revolved around different problems that citizens face in their neighborhoods and how effectively municipal councils could tackle those issues and improve citizens’ living conditions, and it drew enthusiastic interest from radio audiences. One journalist from the radio channel Houna in Kasserine remarked, “The mobile radio station has attracted a lot of attention from citizens who got motivated to participate in the show. After the shows, we got calls from citizens asking when the radio would come back.” “Soutkom,” therefore, is not only a radio show but a bridge between local government and citizens that facilitates communication and open dialogue.
Following the success of “Soutkom,” IFES partnered with the National Radio to broadcast a second radio program called “One Municipality in One Hour” from the mobile radio station in the month leading up to the May 6 elections. The mobile studio traveled to 10 governorates across Tunisia with the show, giving candidate list members the opportunity to present their electoral platforms to voters. Overall, more than half a million Tunisian voters tuned in to the radio show to hear over 240 candidates speak about their lists’ platforms. Nearly 50 radio shows were aired on different national radio channels, including National Radio, Radio Gafsa, Radio Tataouine, Youth Radio, and Cultural Radio.
“I liked the mobile radio experience a lot. [...] I felt closer to the citizens since we drove to their cities. They feel more valued by the national radio. I hope this experience continues and is not only limited to municipal elections. Representatives of candidate lists were very satisfied with being guests on the mobile radio. They were surprised that the radio came to their cities to give them the opportunity to make their voices heard.” – Hedia Jbali, a producer and host of Youth Radio
In early 2018, Radio Nefzawa FM, a popular local radio channel in the governorate of Kebili, used the mobile radio station to mark World Radio Day. From February 17-18, Radio Nefzawa FM aired programs on the mobile radio station featuring local and international guests who discussed the May 6 municipal elections, youth participation, and gender equity in media reporting. In addition, on Tunisian Independence Day on March 20, Radio Djerid aired three shows from the mobile studio on the municipal elections, the role of youth, and the importance of farmers’ participation. Then on March 21, Radio Djerid gathered more than 400 youth to share personal success stories and professional advice and debate election-related topics. The mobile radio station was present at this gathering to broadcast a discussion by citizens on their motivations for voting in the municipal elections and the impact of their participation in strengthening their communities.
In short, by traveling to citizens in remote areas who typically lack access to electoral information, this simple radio station, packed into the back of a truck, played an important role in helping to ensure that the democratic process represents all Tunisians.
This initiative was funded by MEPI.