If you mention Tunisia to most people in the UK, they'd probably
think of two very different things: the country which sparked the Arab Spring
after protests in December 2011 and a holiday destination for those eager for winter
sun. On my visit to the country last week, I experienced a combination of both.
While tourists relaxed on the pristine sands of one of Tunisia's
many beach resorts, I met with journalists, academics and policy-makers in
Tunisia's capital to discuss the findings of BBC Media Action's latest
The research surveyed 1000 people across Tunisia to find out how
they use media and their views on governance in Tunisia. It highlighted the
important role that media has in holding government to account in Tunisia and
contrasted this finding with low levels of trust in what the media report.
The launch of the research was timely. It came at the end of a week of protests and
increasing violence marking the second anniversary of Tunisia's post-revolution
elections. Furthermore, it came on the
day the prime minister made a written pledge to step down in a last-ditch
effort to persuade the opposition to take part in negotiations to set a date
for new national elections and to appoint an electoral commission.
Meanwhile, the staff in my hotel refused to acknowledge that any
significant political action had taken place and reassured me that Tunisia is a
stable and safe country.
The Tunisian economy relies on tourism. In 2012, tourism accounted
for 6.5% of Tunisia's gross domestic product and employed around one in five
people directly or indirectly.
Yet in Tunis, one journalist told me that she hadn't slept in
three days because she was so concerned about the current situation.
Tunisia is at a turning point, and the media plays a pivotal role
in whatever happens next – over half of the Tunisians in our survey rated media
more highly than any other institution as a way to hold leaders to account,
with over two thirds saying that if there was a way to question government
officials, they would.
But the overwhelming majority – 93% – also told us they do not
contact the media about issues that matter to them because, as nearly a third
of them thought, it “will not make a difference”. Finding a way to change this
perception is vital if the media is going to represent Tunisians and I hope
that the research that I was able to share last week can help with that
As Patrick Merienne, First Secretary for Development at the British
Embassy in Tunis, explained, "There is progress in the media compared to
pre revolution Tunisia... But it is not perfect. This research can underscore the path that
could be followed to reform state media in Tunisia for the future."