Last month our workshop trainer Veronique Mistiaen travelled to Tunisia to introduce correspondents from Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to constructive journalism. Here, she reflects on a full-on weekend in which participants discussed opportunities for a constructive approach to conflict reporting, political debate and social transformation.
“Wouldn’t constructive stories belittle the problems we are facing?” asked the tall Libyan journalist. “If we write stories with a constructive angle, how can we make sure that they won’t be used as propaganda by the regime?” the thoughtful Egyptian journalist wanted to know.
These were some of the stimulating questions journalists from Libya, Egypt and Tunisia asked during the very first Constructive Journalism Project workshop in the region.
The political and media landscapes in post-revolutionary North Africa are not only very different from those in the UK and EU, where we have been running our workshops – but they are also different in each of these three countries. This led to very interesting, challenging and passionate discussions.
Nineteen journalists participated in a three-day workshop in Tunis on November 25-28 organised by Media in Cooperation in Transition (MICT), a German non-profit organisation that runs media development projects in crisis regions. In addition to working for various media outlets, many journalists also contribute to Correspondents.org, a bilingual digital magazine (Arabic/English) designed by MiCT to cover three countries.
We began the workshop by analysing the various newspapers and media they work for, discussing the balance or imbalance in the news and its impact on the readers and audiences, on major issues such as migration and climate change and on democracy.
Constructive journalism was a new and rather unfamiliar concept to all participants, but they could see the need for a journalism that moves from the crisis rhetoric, trying instead to capture the complexity of social and political life, reconnecting with communities and reinvigorating our profession.
We then explored practical tools the journalists could use in their own reporting in order to produce stories that are more balanced, explore new angles and possibilities and ask different questions to those in power, the experts and those too often referred to as ‘victims’ without much consideration for their well-being, dignity or resilience.
During our last session the journalists pitched constructive-angled story ideas for Correspondents.com. These included stories on a Libyan port city, where the community and police worked together to drive traffickers out; transitional justice in Tunisia; projects to get young people off drugs in deprived areas in Libya and a profile of a young female hero from Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“In our country, more than 90 percent of the news is on war and conflicts – who wins and who loses. Everything else is ignored,” a Libyan journalist said. “Now we can change that.”