Tunisia: UNESCO supports associative radio in Gafsa

Radio Voice of the Mines, Gafsa, Tunisia - Creative Commons, by Bianca Miglioretto

Located in an apartment with hazardous lighting in an unfinished building, the Voix des Mines (Voice of the Mines) radio in Gafsa (350 kilometres south of Tunis) is a new experience in Tunisia. It is one of the few associative radio stations in the country, a type of media that is still struggling to emerge between public and private media.

Gafsa’s Voix des Mines radio ("Sawt al Manajem" in Arabic) started on the Internet in February 2011 with a group of half a dozen citizen journalists, only a few weeks after the revolution that brought down the former regime of President Ben Ali. The radio is now enjoying a new boom with the support of UNESCO and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), which have implemented a five-day radio training course for young journalists on reporting and interviewing techniques, content production, with a particular emphasis on gender, radio management and journalistic ethics. This training was part of UNESCO's participation in the Community Media and the Arab Spring conference, organized by AMARC from 9 to 10 March 2012 in Tunis and from 16 to 18 March in Gafsa.

Fahem Boukkadous, co-founder of Voice of the Mines - © UNESCO

It is difficult to separate Gafsa’s mines radio from one of its co-founders, Fahem Boukkadous. Under the former regime, the four-decade journalist had spent over two years in prison and five years in hiding for his activism in favour of freedom of the press. "Our aim is to broadcast free information for all people in the region of Gafsa. Our editorial policy is to talk about marginalized people and young people, to defend causes that we consider legitimate, such as women’s position in society, the issue of unemployed graduates, the sick and societal outcasts," he says.

About fifteen citizen journalists and technicians, mostly volunteers, work at the Voix des Mines radio. They produce programmes focused on youth, social problems and development in the Gafsa region. The radio is above all intended to be a local medium that allows people in the region, and especially youth, to freely express their concerns, their demands and their dreams. Shortly journalists will also prepare daily newsletters.

The radio is based on the experience of social and labour movements that occurred in the Gafsa mining basin in 2008, marked by demonstrations against unemployment, corruption and high living costs. In some ways, the protests and the fierce repression that followed have forged the soul of a group of citizen journalists and activists. "At that time," says Fahem, "people could not get quality information on the situation. A group of journalists managed to cover the events of the mining basin for an alternative website and an independent Tunisian television station. We wanted to liberate communication, but it was not possible because of the policing context." Indicted by the regime with other movement leaders in 2010 after 16 months in hiding, Fahem Boukadous was sentenced to four years in prison. He was released on 19 January 2011, five days after the fall of Ben Ali’s regime.

Commenting on his experience in hiding and then in prison, Fahem remains philosophical. "The hardest time under Ben Ali," he says, "was not the prison, which I was accustomed to, but when we left and had no way to work. With my wife, who spent two years in prison, we had to open a small grocery store to survive. She is a teacher, but the regime forbade her school to let her work."

Having already broadcast on the Internet for several months (its Facebook group has more than 16,000 fans), Voix des Mines began an experimental broadcast of its programmes on FM radio in March 2012, while waiting for the arrival of some production equipment. Much of the equipment was purchased in Italy by a member of the radio who took a bank loan.

Siwar Ameidia, President of Voice of others - © UNESCO

The journalist Siwar Ameidia is the president of the "Voix des autres" (Voice of others) association, which manages the radio. "We are currently producing recorded programmes. We do tests with the various sound elements and emissions. But we need much more training and internship programmes for hosts and journalists." This is a view shared by Fahem Boukkadous: "Without training, we cannot achieve the professionalism that we want, and for many it is necessary to learn the ABCs of the trade. One thing is also extremely important for us: professional ethics."

According to Siwar Ameidia, the impact of the Voix des Mines radio should be considered in the context of the region. "The Gafsa mining areas suffer from many problems related to development, unemployment, environment and poverty. More than half people here have a miserable life," says Ameidia. "Before 14 January 2011 neither public no private media were taking into account people's problems. Even during the revolution, they were absent. Today people are asking, ‘Where were you before?’ As for the Voix des Mines, it has a real advantage over other media: people’s trust.

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