Bloggers, politicians, activists, and noted French and Tunisian media figures convened at the Golden Tulip Hotel in downtown Tunis today for Tunisia’s first ever international digital journalism forum: the 4M conference.
The event, entitled “Tunisia: Revolution, Transition, and Mutation,” brought together big-ticket names such as Edwy Plenel (former editor-in-chief of Le Monde and founder of Mediapart) and Emna Menif (co-founder of Tunisian political party Afek Tounes) with bloggers, government transparency activists, and local and foreign journalists.
The event was scheduled to roughly coincide with the anniversary of the revolution in Tunisia. However, rather than a jubilant celebration of a new era of freedom of expression, the conference was characterized by a considerable amount of cynicism expressed by the Tunisian speakers at the event.
Sihem Bensedrine, co-founder of Tunisian dissident radio station Radio Kalima, went so far as to accuse major Tunisian media of remaining more or less unchanged since the country’s uprising last January.
“The traditional media in Tunisia has opened up without really changing the mechanisms of censorship,” said Bensedrine.
Other speakers, such as the Tunisian bloggers Nadia Ayadi and Mehdi Lamloum, echoed Bensedrine’s pessimism, saying that local media was in a state of stagnation. The bloggers also asserted that the role of new media and citizen journalism was not as large as it was once thought to have been.
Ayadi was critical of the wild speculation that has circulated on social media in Tunisia since last year’s events. He stated that these platforms for expression have created a sort of “disinformation machine,” which has been exploited by various Tunisian political interests.
After being attributed with an influential role during the revolution, bloggers and citizen journalists found themselves somewhat disappointed by the reality of their reach within Tunisian society.
“We don’t have the weight we thought we had,” said Lamloum, explaining that the online voices that became known the world over after January 14th were not being heard by Tunisia’s more marginalized population.
Lamloum was not without hope however. He described the defeat of secular parties in Tunisia’s October elections as a wakeup call, and urged online activists to change their methods. Lamloum encouraged the creation of more content, for example, in Tunisian Arabic, rather than the French and Standard Arabic content that constitute most of the Tunisian blogosphere today.
Generally, the foreign participants at the conference had a somewhat sunnier vision of the future of Tunisia’s media, and for the role that digital and citizen journalism could play in that future.
Edwy Plenel gave a rousing speech about the potential for democracy to be a radical egalitarian system. He spoke of the liberating role of free information, particularly regarding the access people across the world have had to information via the Internet. He expressed hope that the way new media has been used in the country would promise a future of true, participatory democracy.
Addressing the Tunisian people, the veteran editor said, “You have begun an era of revolution, and it’s in Tunisia that the future of that era will play out.”
The event was organized by CFI, the l’Association Tunisienne des Libertés Numériques (ATLN), l’Association de Multimédia et de l’Audiovisuel (AMAVI), and by Tunisia Live.
Reported by Farah Samti