Promoting a journalism that is useful to citizens

The first edition of the Tunis International Journalism Convention (Assises Internationales du Journalisme de Tunis) was held from 15 to 17 November 2018. It focused on the theme “A journalism that is useful to citizens?”, and gathered more than 800 participants from over 30 countries.

Tunisia’s Prime Minister, Youssef Chahed, formally inaugurated the event at the Cité de la Culture, the largest cultural complex in the country. “There is no democracy without media. To be a free and modern country, one must believe in an independent press”, he stated, “We want a journalism that is multiple and varied, which orients itself towards citizens and serves them. For that, the State must take responsibility by creating laws that guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of the press”.

“It is the start of a beautiful adventure,” said Jerome Bouvier, President of the association Journalisme & Citoyenneté, which organizes the Assises Internationales du Journalisme de Tours each spring “We had more and more demands from our Tunisian friends to have this exceptional meeting that would allow us to have a foot on each side of the Mediterranean.” To put together this first edition of the convention in Tunis, Journalisme & Citoyenneté worked with the Tunisian Committee of the Assises, which brought together key professional organizations, as well as the EU-funded Open Media Hub project and numerous other partners. These included UNESCO, which supported the Assises through the EU-funded NET-MED Youth project and the project “Prevention of Violent Extremism through Youth Empowerment in Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia”, launched in tandem with the United Nations Office of Counterterrorism (UNOCT) and co-financed by Canada. UNESCO’s contribution to the Assises Internationales du Journalisme de Tunis was conceived as part of the celebration of Global Media and Information Week 2018.

UNESCO (through NET-MED Youth), CFI and IREX Europe (in the framework of the D-Jil project, also funded by the EU) and Globe Reporters co-organized a debate on Media and Information Literacy (MIL) featuring speakers from Southern Mediterranean countries and Europe. “The professional journalist should seriously engage in the major work that is media literacy”, noted Jamal Eddine Naji, Director General of the Moroccan High Authority for Audiovisual Communication and President of ORBICOM; in an intervention that analyzed the relationship between professional journalism and the hyper connected “e-citizen” in face of false news, content manipulation, the viral spread of online rumors and hate speech, etc. As explained by Palestinian panelist Hadil Taher, a young MIL trainer and coordinator at PYALARA, the ensuing debate allowed for sharing experiences, including on how to work with important actors such as schools and universities, and discussing possibilities for collaboration. An MIL toolkit developed by Kerim Bouzouita under NET-MED Youth was also presented during the debate, and was one of the resources that a MIL workshop later drew from - along with manuals by IREX Europe/ATMA and Article 19 MENA.  UNESCO was associated to this separate 2-day training that benefitted Tunisian students, which was organized by IREX Europe, Article 19 MENA , the D-Jil project, and the Association Savoir*Devenir.

Moreover, an atelier coordinated by UNESCO facilitated a technical discussion on the role of MIL in preventing and countering hate speech and violent extremism. Anoud Al-Zoubi, one of the panelists, later reflected:  “It was truly inspiring to listen to regional and international experiences, and I was so excited to share my own with MIL in my country, Jordan. I believe that nothing can be more useful and motivational than sharing real life experiences; and that was the spirit of the conference in Tunisia”.

A workshop to build skills on conflict sensitive reporting among Libyan journalists was also delivered by UNESCO in the framework of the project “Prevention of Violent Extremism through Youth Empowerment in Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia”, which was opened by Ambassador or Canada to Libya, Ms Hilary Childs-Adams. Following the end of the Assises Internationales du Journalisme, the group of Libyan trainees also took part of workshop focused on combatting disinformation and misinformation through MIL.

The Assises provided an opportunity to display the “Tsawar M3aya / Imagine with me” cartoon exposition that was produced jointly under NET-MED Youth Morocco and another EU-funded project implemented by Cartooning for Peace (“Dessinons la paix et la démocratie”). NEEDALL, a Tunisian cartoonist who took part of the development of “Tsawar M3aya”, and Hicham Houdaifa, the Moroccan author who wrote the texts for the exposition, met the public during a vernissage at the Cité de la Culture.

Radio FM-Air des Assises was also set up with the support of UNESCO, NET-MED Youth and key partners, including the Tunisian National Journalists’ Union, CFI, International Media Support, Community Media Solutions, IREX Europe, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, and several associative radios. This mobile associative radio was led by young journalists from several Arab countries and produced live coverage of the event in French and Arabic, which was temporarily broadcast through 102.3 FM (the frequency of associative radio Amal) in the Grand Tunis area. Content was also disseminated online and through other associative, public and private radios in different Tunisian regions, as well as by associative radios from Algeria and Morocco. Members of “Radio FM-Air” also had the chance of taking part of a workshop equipping them to help prevent and counter hate speech, delivered by media expert and coordinator of Radio FM-Air des Assises, Mohamed Al Hani, based on a manual developed by NET-MED Youth in Morocco.

Referring to the ambitious programme of the Assises, Hassana Rachid, Media Studies professor at the Lebanese University, said “The topics addressed allowed us to develop our scientific curiosity, increase our general culture and use the knowledge gained in our own media projects”. Kayssar Yaacoub, a Lebanese journalism student also welcomed the opportunity to become familiar with the latest trends in the media field, including fact-checking approaches, innovative techniques and challenges in the region.

 “Independent media providing good quality information is indispensable for the development of resilient societies”, stressed Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, on his speech during the event’s closing session. Expressing concern about the growing number of attacks against journalists, he stated, “We are on a joint mission to continue to promote and protect the fundamental right of freedom of media”.

The second edition of the Assises Internationales du Journalisme de Tunis is planned for fall 2020, on occasion of the Summit of the Francophone countries’ Heads of State and in connection to the 49th Assises of the Francophone press.

Read more about the Assises Internationales du Journalisme de Tunis here.