Tunisia/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.1 Main cultural policy issues and priorities

Since 2011, the successive governments have maintained the previous policy and objectives that existed before the period of democratic transition. Accordingly, the same issues and debates have emerged on the cultural scene, especially the call for effective structural reform of the culture sector and its workers, as well as for cultural rights, freedom of expression and freedom of media. The following points summaries major priorities and issues in current cultural policy:

Private investment: Despite the progress made by the government to facilitate and encourage private sector investment in the field of culture, the sector still faces significant challenges, in terms the lack of sustainable funding mechanisms for cultural production, and the absence of distribution channels for cultural products. Cultural funding still relies on public support and the distribution issue keeps major cultural fields such as publishing and cinema struggling to cope with competition, especially abroad.

Quality control: The quality of public television programs in general, and cultural events and production in particular, are highly criticized. There is a general consensus formed by artists, citizens and professionals on the poor quality of popular culture (festivals, television, arts, clubs ...) especially the small number of good productions in theatre and cinema.

Tunisian cinema crises: While Tunisian films are amongst the most award-winning films originating from developing countries, Tunisian filmmakers are facing serious problems: limited production and decreasing attendance in cinemas. The total number of films (short or long) nationally produced has dramatically decreased from 181 films in 1982, to 81 films in 2002 and to 50 in 2008. The total number of supported feature films (long film) by the Ministry of Culture in 2012 was 11 films. Most of this debate focused on the reluctance of the public to attend cinema halls. Critics noted the piracy of video CDs/DVDs; the Internet; the increasing rate of movie watching at home (computer or TV); poor conditions of cinemas and their declining number in the country; and the disappearance of cinema clubs that were effective tools for the dissemination of cinematography culture, have all led to the absence of a film culture amongst Tunisians, especially amongst young people.

Tunisian book crisis: similar to the film sector, the Tunisian ‘cultural book’ (publishing and reading books with cultural subjects) endures a crisis period. Despite the strong support by the government (grants, support for paper, tax breaks, and support for export ...) and increasing private investment, sales remained very limited at national and international levels. The participants in the consultation on the book in 2009 agreed to indicate that the distribution was the main cause for sector devolution. A study funded by UNESCO participation program and elaborated in 2011 concerning the export of Tunisian book showed the causes that are impeding the development of book sector, especially with regard to the existent problems in purchasing publishing rights of foreign books; lost opportunities in the African market as a result of legal barriers; and the absence of sector liberalization in terms of production (monopoly of public sector for publishing school and educational material).

Chapter published: 05-05-2015