Podcasting in Tunisia is still young and finding its feet and Raouia Kheder is a key figure moving development forward. That includes organizing December’s Tunisia Podcasts Festival, the first of its kind in the Maghreb.
Raouia Kheder is one of the trailblazers of Tunisia’s young podcasting scene. She’s an independent producer, journalist and a co-founder of Tunisia Podcasts, a platform highlighting shows made in Tunisia and offering services for new and experienced producers.
She studied architecture in Tunisia and France but had always harbored a love of writing. Tunisia’s 2011 revolution gave her the opportunity to start writing about the events in her country and she began penning articles for several magazines. At one point, she found herself behind the mic in the studios of RTCI, Tunisia’s French-language national radio station. The audio bug bit, and she was hooked.
In 2020, during the pandemic lockdown, Raouia’s podcast consumption jumped, and she decided to start producing her own. Then, changes in the media environment in Tunisia led to the launch of own company, RK Voices, out of which came Tunisia Podcasts.
She’s also one of the driving forces behind the Maghreb region’s first podcasting festival, taking place Dec. 7-9. While podcasting is gaining traction in Tunisia, it’s still early days, and the Tunisia Podcasts Festival aims to be a driver taking podcasting to the next level in the country. Raouia took a little time away from her very full schedule of festival organization to talk about what the podcasting scene looks like in Tunisia and where she hopes it’s heading.
DW Akademie: After your transition from architecture, you moved into print journalism, then into the radio studio. Why did you take the further step to podcasting?
Raouia Kheder: There are two main reasons: the first is that in print and classic radio formats I often felt frustrated at not having much time with my guests. Sometimes I'd do hour-long interviews and then I'd have to condense everything down to just two pages. Or on the air you’d have ten minutes and have to race through things. In a podcast, I can stay with people as long as I want and get everything out to the listener. There's this freedom to say what you want, however you want. I could leave behind those rules about word counts and sponsors and advertisers. It was almost complete freedom. And it was a way to reach a new, younger audience.
Is that who is listening to podcasts in Tunisia, young people?
Yes, mainly people between 18 and 30. The listeners are people in cities who are well educated, digitally very connected and always on their phones. Podcasting has not reached, for example, the unemployed and people who haven’t studied. It’s not yet a medium that has become a part of everyone's daily consumption habits.
This lack of knowledge and awareness of podcasting among many, is this a major challenge?
Yes, it’s a problem that needs to be overcome, but I think that it’s just going to take time. It’s in the nature of digital development. Remember that when Facebook was launched, for example, it was the more connected and educated people who started using the platform at first. My parents, for example, had to be taught what it was and how it worked, and I think it’s a similar case with podcasting.
In general, at what stage do you seen podcasting in Tunisia today?
I don't know if it's developing quickly or not, but it's developing well. Compared to 2020, there are a lot of Tunisian podcasts today. There’s been a clear change in the past three years and people actually know the word. We no longer get questions like “what’s a podcast?” Things have been helped along by international institutions and NGOs that have provided momentum. And we’re seeing more and more training taking place here so it’s clear that there’s a demand.
It sounds like it’s still early days, but things are on track.
The current challenge we’re working on is for podcasts to become part of the digital consumer’s habits, like buying a magazine or listening to the radio. We’re not there yet, but it’s happening little by little. But still, the reason podcasts are not yet well established in Tunisia is due to a couple of factors. One of those is radio stations here, who haven’t made a real digital transition yet. On their websites and social media pages, they just replay their broadcasts instead of offering special digital content. I think that is affecting the growth of podcast consumption in Tunisia.
You’re a co-founder of Tunisian Podcasts, a new platform that focuses on Tunisia shows and offers services for podcasters, like training. What is your goal with the site?
The idea was to create a platform specifically for the Tunisian community. Today we still have only a few Tunisian podcasters and they’re drowned out by the millions of podcasts on a platform like Spotify. So, for example, as a Tunisian listener if I want to listen to a podcast on gender issues, but with a Tunisian focus, I can find it on Tunisian Podcasts. I mean, I could listen to a French podcast or an American one that deals with gender parity, but I want the Tunisian position, and it can take me a long time to find that on Spotify.
Secondly, we want to use it to create a community. Today in Tunisia, people interested in podcasting aren’t necessarily in contact with each other. We want to bring this community of podcast enthusiasts and consumers together. It’s one of the goals we have with the Tunisia Podcasts Festival in December.
Raouia Kheder says production workshops offered by groups like Tunisia Podcasts and international agencies have played a key role in establishing podcasting in the country
Goals like raising awareness, connecting people at the festival?
Yes, we want to introduce podcasts to those who don't know them by offering immersive experiences, live music and podcasts, tapings in front of live audiences, etc. For people already involved in podcasting, either as producers or consumers, we've planned roundtables, masterclasses, workshops and speed trainings. It’s all designed to connect them and create business opportunities through networking, collaborations, partnerships, etc. It’s the first podcasting festival in Tunisia and, actually, the whole Maghreb region.
You work in French and the Tunisian dialect of Arabic. Is the French-language podcast scene there vibrant and healthy?
The truth is, in Tunisia, not so much. From what I've seen, newer generations mostly listen to podcasts in English or the Tunisian dialect of Arabic. I'd say that those who consume French-language podcasts are more people of my generation, and I was born in '83. It’s just a part of the general dynamic here. We have to be realistic; the French-speaking world is in retreat. I don't know about other countries, but in North Africa, English is taking over. As a result, the consumption habits of the new generation are similar, not just in terms of podcasts, but with films, books, etc. They're abandoning French in favor of English or the Tunisian dialect of Arabic.
Can you fight against English dominance in the podcasting world?
What you have to remember for countries like Tunisia is that podcasters think about the target audience. If the target is an international, global audience, they'll automatically go for English. If the target is in the Middle East, because there are good business opportunities in the Middle East, they’ll do it in a kind of modified language we call “white Arabic” that uses words that can be understood by all Arabic-speaking countries. For French, like I said, it’s more people of my generation or special target groups, such as people going to French-language schools here. But, that said, it’s still a substantial group.
What are your hopes for the future of podcasting in Tunisia?
I think we’re moving into a new stage of podcasting in Tunisia, and I hope the focus will be on the production of different kinds of shows and formats. Podcasts here are usually centered on interviews or feature very simple narratives. I want to see more fiction, more features, more documentaries, comedy—innovative formats that are relevant to people in Tunisia. That's what I'd like to see.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.