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Ben Ammar: “We need to create a much more robust domestic market for Arab films”

when the nation rose up in revolt. Just 23 days later president Ben Ali was ousted, ending 23 years of autocratic rule and sparking the Jas- mine Revolution that is reverberating across the Arabic-speaking world. Helping to give voice to that popular uprising

The jasmine media mogul I

n February, Quinta Communications CEO Tarak Ben Ammar was in his native Tunisia, overseeing production on Jean-Jacques Annaud’s $55m Arabian oil epic Black Gold,

people living in the Maghreb — the North Afri- can land mass west of Egypt — are aged 25 or younger, an impressionable demographic whose cultural horizons are largely defined by what they see on the small screen. Ben Ammar, whose uncle, Habib Bourguiba,

was Nessma TV, the satellite broadcast network Ben Ammar co-founded in 2008 with Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset and the Karoui brothers’ advertising agency. Nessma means ‘gentle breeze’ in Arabic, a

name which reflects one of the network’s under- lying missions: to use the gentle power of enter- tainment to help moderate and modernise the hearts and minds of an Arab population which might otherwise gravitate towards closed- minded radicalism. Two thirds of the 90 million

was the architect of Tunisia’s independence and the country’s first president, is now developing a feature about Mohamed Bouazizi, the street vendor whose self-immolation ignited the ini- tial protests.

Q Your Nessma network defied the Tunisian regime by broadcasting protest reports.

What role did Nessma play, both on air and online, in facilitating the uprising? Tarak Ben Ammar “Nessma was the only media outlet that was allowed to go to [the town of] Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi was from and had set fire to himself, and interview his family and the inhabitants of the town. Sidi

n 22 Screen International at the Cannes Film Festival May 18, 2011

‘It has become hip now to be Arab, which, let’s be honest, it hasn’t been

for some time’ Tarak Ben Ammar, Quinta Communications

Quinta Communications chief Tarak Ben Ammar talks to Colin Brown about his role in the recent popular uprising in Tunisia and what he believes are the implications for the Arab entertainment business

Bouzid was where the revolution started. When we aired the programme on December 30, we did so without showing it to the government or the ministry of information, despite their request. Then we put in on Facebook, so that people who had missed it the first time would still be able to see it online. “We were threatened by the government but

by then it was too late. Nessma helped open the door and within two weeks the revolution had spread across the whole country and [then- president Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali fled on Janu- ary 15. Never before in an Arab regime under a dictatorship had you seen a channel such as Nessma air a completely unedited and uncen- sored programme like we did on December 30. Our Facebook site has more than 200,000 friends. “Of course my partners, the Karoui brothers,

and I knew we were taking a risk, but we felt it was a necessary risk to take. The government

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