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Holding an intensive visual short-term campaign – Experience from Tunisia

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It is not related to LGBT rights, but offers interesting insights into action building


There are growing concerns for freedom of expression even after the Tunisian revolution. Two young Tunisians were sentenced to long prison sentences because of facebook posts. Head of a Tunisian TV channel was fined because of airing a movie deemed blasphemous by court. Amid drafting the new constitution, it was important that the public was made aware of these violations to freedom of expressions immediately in addition to building support for a longer-term strategy of legal reform.

Nawaat is a Tunisian independent collective blog co-founded by Tunisian activists in 2004. The goal of Nawaat’s founders was to provide a public platform for Tunisian dissident voices and debates. Nawaat aggregates articles, visual media, and other data from a variety of sources to provide a forum for citizen journalists to express their opinions on current events.

Nawaat implemented a 2-week campaign to respond to the attacks on freedom of speech and to remind Tunisians that freedom of speech/expression was one of the main demands of the Tunisian revolution. This reminder was especially timely because it was amid drafting of the new constitution. The campaign needed to be nation-wide and intensive so that it can reach a large audience and affect public opinion.

Nawaat used the power of narrative and visuals to get their message heard. Here are four methods used by the campaign to promote their message:

  1. Billboards in many Tunisian cities: A partnership was made with a known advertising agency to be a sponsor in the campaign and at the same time contribute billboards for the period of the campaign all over Tunisia with a very reduced cost.
  2. Inserts in national newspapers: A creative design was created that says in Arabic that the kind of newspapers that are only used to warp stuff is way gone. The picture was a picture of a fish wrapped in a local newspaper. The message was visually strong and mocked the self-censorship and censorship on the press.
  3. A3 posters distributed and hanged in big political events, cultural and youth centers, streets, etc: The poster consisted of a collage of thousands of tiny Twitter profile pictures of Tunisian youth that together comprised a photo of a young lady with a hand on her mouth. The visual message was very clear and strong to draw the attention to censorship of online content especially social media that many youth use to express themselves.
  4. Video clips on YouTube and on national TV:  Famous Tunisian director and actor were recruited to contribute to the video clips as volunteers. The visual message focused on the fact that the real treasure of Tunisia lies in the diverse ideas of its people.

Nawaat found creative ways to get their message out to a large audience by using powerful visuals. They used the power of narrative to tell a story that their audience can identify with: every Tunisian deserves freedom of speech and expression.

Such focused campaign can influence public opinion and draw the attention of public figures, media workers and writers to address the topic in their columns and TV shows, especially when the topic is general enough to be the concern of every citizen. It also serves as an alarm to legislators and politicians and as a reminder that there are people who are observing and won’t accept such violation to pass unnoticed.

This tactic can be used as a part of a long-term strategy or project that works on a certain human right or freedom. The need for this tactic can emerge as a rapid response to recent violations of rights, or as a proactive measure to pave the way in the political environment for an upcoming legal reform or a certain policy that will affect the right. Limiting the time of the campaign and focusing on different visual tools will help convey the message to different segments of the target group and consequently a larger audience.

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