The discovery of fire changed the world. It allowed human beings to move to colder regions, cook food to prevent disease, and protected them from wild animals, giving the species a kind of primitive freedom.
On December 17, 2010, fire changed the world again when a frustrated vegetable vendor ignited himself and secured a place in world history books. He was the spark that set the flame that has come to be known as the “Arab Spring.”
The information flow that reached the world during these events is well-documented. Some have referred to a “Facebook Revolution.” Now that the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt have fallen, media outlets in both countries have proliferated. Improving the media environment is vital to establishing stable democracies in these countries.
Asma Ghribi, Dina Sadek, and Magdy Samaan are young journalists who are part of these new media environments. They have just completed fellowships with World Affairs Institute and offered their advice on how international media development organizations can help journalists in Tunisia and Egypt.
Asma Ghribi works for Tunisia Live (http://www.tunisia-live.net), an English-language news website that reports on Tunisia. The site seeks to have Tunisian reporters provide news about the country to the English-speaking world rather than leaving the task to foreign reporters. Asma reports on Tunisian politics, a topic that was taboo under the Ben Ali regime. She would like to see the country address the dearth of quality political reporting that could be remedied with training on how to interview political leaders, investigative reporting, and how to report on politics objectively.
The greatest threat to Tunisia Live is not censorship or harassment, but sustainability of the site. Demand is not high within Tunisia for news in English, which makes advertising sales difficult. Tunisia Live is one of many news outlets that faces the issue of sustainability, an issue with which the fellows would like the international community to help.
Across the Sahara, Dina Sadek works as a freelance journalist in Egypt. The challenges facing journalists in post-Mubarak Egypt have been enormous, as the harassment, arrest, and detention of journalists and bloggers is commonplace. Notable cases are Alaa Abdel Fattah, a well-known blogger and activist, Maikel Nabil, who has been on a hunger strike since August, and most recently, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, who suffered two broken arms at the hands of authorities.
Egyptian journalists face numerous challenges, but freelancers have additional problems. They are not allowed to be members of the Journalists Syndicate, are poorly paid, and receive none of the benefits journalists in the syndicate enjoy. There is not even a word for “freelance” in the Arabic language.
Egyptian journalist Magdy Samaan of Al-Shorouk Al-Jadid (http://www.shorouknews.com) says local media development is vital to the establishment of strong media institutions. Egyptian media is centralized in Cairo, and a dearth of trustworthy local news leaves many without the ability to learn about local issues. Training for local journalists, editors, and managers, especially in radio, is needed.
How can the international donor community help? For starters, journalists in Tunisia and Egypt need training on the role of media in a democratic society. Training can put journalists on the path to professionalism and its components of ethics and objectivity. The three young journalists agree that financial and administrative training, tech training for journalists and media managers, and capacity building for media NGOs and associations are also important.
So what are international media development organizations doing in Egypt and Tunisia? Some examples:
- Institute on War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) provides safety and identity protection training.
- International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) conducts training for local journalists in places like Minia and Alexandria, supports citizen journalists, and has two Knight Fellows working on investigative reporting and Hacks/Hackers projects. The organization also conducts “town hall” trainings but finds it challenging to identify who needs this training.
- Internews conducts capacity building training for media-related NGOs.
- Reporters Without Borders lends helmets and safety equipment, but the costs to ship from Paris are limiting.
- The International Research and Exchange Board’s (IREX) Media Development Program (MDP) works with media outlets and training institutes to improve the professionalism and sustainability of Egypt’s media sector. MDP offers training, consulting, and equipment assistance to Egyptian print and electronic media as well as to universities and other media support organizations.
- The newly launched Journalism Foundation is conducting a media training course for Tunisian journalists.
- For information about NED programs in media development, click here.
These programs are working toward the ultimate goal of the so-called Arab Spring: lighting the flame of liberty. But there is much work to be done. Fortunately, passionate young journalists like Asma, Dina, and Magdy are there to carry the torch.