Covering local democracy in Tunisia: the Mourasiloun program

Written by Samer Elchahabi, Deputy Country Director, Tunisia

A free press fueled by expert journalism is the backbone of any democracy. Journalists hold those in power to account, expose wrongdoing and provide citizens with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. Likewise, local stories cover local public affairs, hold local elites accountable, provide a forum for discussion, and connect communities by giving them meaning 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 the capital, Tunis and in remote areas, where journalists have little financial and professional capacity.

With funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the UK Foreign Commonwealth Department Office (FCDO), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has set up a program called 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 citizen and professional media. 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; fact-checking, data journalism and visualization tools; and the safety and security of journalists.

Applying their new skills and knowledge, the Mourasilouns collectively produced 128 media pieces. As a final project, each reporter produced a long-running, professional-quality report covering a local story from their municipality. Among other things, the articles covered topics such as campaign promises made by city councilors to provide basic services to their constituents once elected; the criminalization and social exclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community from local government positions; evaluation of the participatory approach to governance in the municipality of Utique (Bizerte); the political participation of minority communities, such as Tunisian Jews and Amazighs, in the municipal works of Djerba; the role of municipalities in eliminating industrial pollution in Gabes; and the evaluation of municipal works and the implementation of electoral promises in the commune of Zanoush (Gafsa Governorate).

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

As part of this project, IFES has also developed a guide for Mourasiloun that complements the trainings and serves as a resource when conducting fieldwork. The printed guide, designed to fit easily into 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 Mourasiloun with all the tools needed to improve the quality of “on-the-go reporting” and mobile journalism, which included a microphone, smartphone stabilizer and LED light. The results of the training were evident in the final media articles produced by the Mourasilouns, which were praised by the media coaches for their professional-level quality.

Geographic representation of local democracy reporters

Projector: Fadia is a journalist from the town of Msaken in the governorate of Sousse. His participation in the IFES Local Democracy Reporters (LDR) program was not only an opportunity to learn how to report more accurately and reliably on local governance issues, but also to change his mindset. towards the LGBTQIA+ community. “The training was a unique opportunity to learn more about the [LGBTQIA+] community. Their struggles are not brought to light in our society, steeped in prejudice and inherited beliefs. I grew up as a journalist as a result of this training and saw these issues as intrinsically linked to all individuals deprived of their human rights.”

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

Posted April 11, 2022.

About Wesley V. Finley

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