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University of Cambridge - Al Jazeera Center of Studies Media Research Project

In 2013, Dr. Roxane Farmanfarmaian, Affiliated Lecturer at POLIS and Board Member of CIRMENA, was awarded £150,000 to head up a one-year research project on Media in Political Transition – Focus on Tunisia. The project, which began on August 12, 2013, examines the development of a liberated media within a rapidly changing political environment since the overthrow of Ben Ali’s regime in 2011. Under Ben-Ali, the media was a key instrument of political power; since his ouster, freedom of expression has been publicly viewed as one of the most important and precious of the achievements of what Tunisians call their ‘revolution’. Yet how does a media rebound and develop a public sphere after the stifling of free speech under authoritarian rule, and how do those elected to create a new constitution and new legal fabric for a re-launched nation, ensure that free practices prevail? Critical to both is the ability of the public to be involved in and develop a political narrative and identity within a new Tunisia. For Tunisians, these are significant aspirations. The aims of this research is to investigate all three axes – Structure (the legal and regulatory framework), function (the state of the sector both public and private) and agency (the ability of the media to enable a new public political discourse). All three axes focus on the relationship between the media and politics. Investigation includes print, audio-visual and internet communication, that is, conventional as well as social media.

Based on significant fieldwork in Tunisia – both in Tunis and in the provinces – the analysis drew on over 50 interviews, original documents, and hands-on engagement with those involved in the Constitutional process, regulatory development, the launching of new television and radio stations, audio-visual programming, journalism training, social media experiments, and NGO input. (see people for more)

At a workshop in Doha, Qatar, and hosted by the Al Jazeera Center of Studies, the research team reviewed initial findings in February 2014. Papers were presented by Dr. Roxane Farmanfarmaian, Professor George Joffé, and University of Cambridge PhD Candidate, Zoe Petkanas. In July 2014, a conference to be held at the University of Cambridge will feature papers based on the fieldwork of the project team, as well as presentations by scholars from both Cambridge and other Universities with expertise in the field of Arab media, as well as political transition in Tunisia and the Maghreb more generally. 

A special section on ‘Media in Political Transition – The case of Tunisia’, was published in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of North African Studies; the same section, translated into Arabic, then appeared as an Al Jazeera Research Paper.

For second tranche on Morocco and Turkey, please click here.