After the 2011 Tunisian revolution, the country’s population was bombarded with news about corruption in the natural resource sector. (Tunisia produces oil, gas and mainly phosphates as minerals.) However, coverage remained shallow and sometimes politicized.
In 2014, the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) launched a media program in Tunisia, aiming to train journalists to better understand the sector and to provide them with the skills needed to better cover it. Almost two years after the launch, the program is bearing fruit.
Late in December 2015, Article 19 (NRGI’s media partner in Tunisia and an NGO at the forefront of advocacy efforts on access to information) launched a blog in Arabic dedicated to natural resources news and analysis. The page is managed, administered and populated by journalists trained by NRGI and Article 19 on natural resource governance, but the blog welcomes submissions from all journalists.
The page is mainly populated with news and analysis related to Tunisia. The reader can find a monthly survey and quiz; training materials provided by NRGI, Article 19 and experts during the many workshops conducted in Tunis; and useful links to organizations such Article 19 and NRGI, as well as local institutions such as Entreprise Tunisienne d’Activites Petrolieres (ETAP) and the Tunisian open data platform. It helps journalists to deepen their knowledge and gives them a space to upload their articles, radio shows or televised reports even if their media outlets declined to publish them. This page could become the nucleus of a specialized electronic journal on natural resources run totally by journalists.
It does not come as a surprise to see a report on the production of phosphate in Gafsa as the most read on the blog. Gafsa, the phosphate-rich region in the south, suffers from poor environmental, social and economic conditions and has been in the heart of debate on fair distribution of revenues and the resource curse since 2008. Our journalists used their newly acquired skills and knowledge during the training to write about the region’s ills and seized the opportunity to interview experts who attended the workshop.
This blog is a public forum to disseminate information and to encourage natural resource-focused journalism in a place where access to information has been an issue, even after the revolution. Parliamentarians, civil society organizations and journalists complained of difficulties in finding information related to natural resources. The current government has launched its open data platform as part of its commitment to the Open Government Partnership. Today, the launch of the blog by journalists is an additional step toward openness among Tunisian society and evidence of the increasing permissiveness in regard to openness on the government’s part. It shows that Tunisia is becoming more accepting of divergent views and more capable of managing differences.
Laury Haytayan is the MENA senior officer with NRGI.