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Government and Politics


The lessons of elections for our Tunisian journalist
A Tunisian journalist stationed in Ohio for the 2012 elections reflects on the role of media in U.S. elections, and hope for democracy in his country
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
Tarek M'rad is a journalist with Express fm in Tunisia. He covered the U.S. election with WKSU as one of 50 foreign journalists in the Internation Center for Journalist exchange program.
Courtesy of Tarek M'rad
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Ohio was at the center of the 2012 election, and America closely watched the race in the Buckeye state.   But the world was also watching. 

The International Center for Journalists sent 50 foreign journalists to observe the U.S. election, most of them stationed in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida.

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair reports that a Tunisian journalist stationed at WKSU encountered a very different  America than he imagined.

The lessons of elections

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Tarek M’rad is a veteran radio broadcaster from Tunisia, the first country to throw out an autocratic ruler in last year’s Arab Spring uprisings.  He arrived in Ohio on the heels of super-storm Sandy, and for the last ten days, M’rad also encountered a political storm whipping the airwaves in Ohio.

“I wasn’t expecting so many ads in TV and radio stations... and maybe it’s something coming in the future in Tunisia.”

Media fact-checking of candidates is another American election tool that M’rad would like to see adopted by his native country.

“In Tunisia so many politicians are saying so many false claims, but we don’t get back to them to say they were misleading public opinion.”

M’rad says the political parties in Tunisia’s fledgling democracy rarely hold American style campaign rallies, and rarely meet face to face.

“The best thing to get in Tunisia is to get the debates…”

Tarek M’rad worked alongside reporters here at WKSU, witnessing political rallies and other events.  He tried to tell the story of the chaotic lead-up to the U.S. election to a Tunisian public, only just learning the mechanisms of functional democracy.

As a journalist, M’rad observed the power of American media to shape public opinion.  He says he noticed that subtle shifts in news coverage can expose or support political half-truths, and how media can be the guardians of the democratic process. 

“Democracy is always fragile even in the United States, even in the biggest democracy in the world.  Media would have to play that role of educating people, of giving the information to them, and separating the false claims from the truth.  And this is the way that could help the population accept democracy, learn democracy, and appreciate democracy.

Tunisia is scheduled to hold its first free elections in March.  One thing Tunisian journalist Tarek M’rad does not expect his country to adopt, and politely suggests America could safely abandon, is a system he simply describes as ‘weird’: the Electoral College.

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