Despite boasting about democracy and freedom of expression, the Algerian state continues to control the country's heavy media, radio and television, on which no dissenting voice is allowed expression. This has led many Algerians to desert the country's TV - which they dub the "orphan one" - and to opt for the myriad of Arab and French satellite channels in search for credible information and entertainment.
Despite the introduction of the private and "free" press in early 1990s, Algerian journalists are restrained from reporting freely for fear of being exposed to charges of insult and defamation against the country's officials, particularly when it concerns the military institution.
Meanwhile, despite the absence of direct censorship laws, the state of emergency, which was introduced in February 1992, continues to shackle the freedom of the press.
Prior to the 1990 government decree liberalizing the press, there were six government dailies: El Moudjahid, Ech-Chaab, An-Nasr, El Massa, Horizons and El Djamhouria, with a total circulation of 69.000 copies.
The origin of the birth of the private press in Algeria was the 13 February 1990 Council of Ministers' meeting which accepted the principle of providing aid to the press and to journalists of the public sector who wished to create independent and partisan newspapers. This led the then prime minister, Mouloud Hamrouche, to issue a decree on 20 March 1990, giving birth to "free and independent" press. This could only have been achieved with the consensus and means distributed by the source of the authority which claimed paternity over the move to introduce "free" press.
The decree offered the possibility of setting up professional bodies to create "! independent papers, magazines or periodicals". For its part, the state would provide journalists with a two-year salary and would help to facilitate bank loans.
Hamrouche's objective was to break the hegemony of the FLN's conservative current which controlled the existing newspapers and to establish a press which would help him carry out his reform programme.
The parallel between the "free" written press and the newly created political parties is striking. Everything indicates that the nerve centre of the parties and of the newspapers is in fact somewhere else rather than at the headquarters of the one or the other.
As from 1992, the fate of the press and that of journalists has been linked to a pre-conceived vision of society and of authority. The French-language dailies El Watan, Le Matin and, later, Liberte and La Tribune joined a clan of the army and of the regime which! supported an all out repression and which made of Islamism a leitmoti v through which the country's political life was conditioned.
Meanwhile, most journalists who are in charge of well established newspapers had held major senior editorial posts in the pre-liberalization state-owned media. Thus, the El Watan director, Omar Belhouchet, was the El Moudjahid's correspondent in Vienna for over 10 years. The Le Matin director, Mohamed Benchicou, was the El Moudjahid's chief-editor before taking up the post of a reporter for Algeria's official news agency', APS, from 1985 to 1990. Kheireddine Amyar moved from his post of editorialist in El Moudjahid to that of director of La Tribune. Ahmed Fattani, who is now the chief editor of L'Expression, was chief editor of the El Moudjahid's international section. He also worked as head of the APS office in Tunis. Fattani launched the daily Liberte in June 1992 an! d was its director until 1994.
On 6 June 2007, The Guardian published a summary of the Freedom House report - categorizing countries into free, partly free and not free - which classified Algeria in the last category.
Reporters Without Borders continue to urge Algeria to change its laws in order to provide guarantees for journalists to carry out their professional duties without being exposed to "unwarranted prison sentences". Article 46 of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's law on the charter on national reconciliation stipulates that: "Will be sentenced to three to five-year prison sentence and fined between 250.000 and 500.000 Algerian dinars, every person who uses in his statements or writings the national tragedy to tarnish the institutions of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, to weaken the state, to harm the dignity of state officials or to tarnish Algeria's image abroad."
Shortly after his "election" in April 1999, President Bouteflika b! egan his campaign of intimidation against the press. He declared that the official news agency, APS, was his own. During an address on the civil concord referendum, which he delivered before the population of the eastern city of Bejaia on 12 September 1999, Bouteflika criticized national press' coverage of their country. He said: "I regret to say that using the freedom of the pen, the freedom of the press and the freedom of thinking, the national press had written things that even enemies would not say against one another. It contributed to a great deal, and I regret to have to say it today, in tarnishing Algeria's image and in tarnishing the image of Algerians."
On the occasion of the anniversary of the international press freedom day on 3 May 2007, the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, LADDH, published a statement in which it criticized the authorities for "continuing to "muzzle the freedom of expression". Decriminalization of press offences and the ! lifting of the state of emergency continue to represent pressing deman ds of the LADDH.
On the same occasion, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced years of political and legal harassment of journalists. According to RSF, foreign journalists visiting Algeria are systematically interrogated by the police. They are often asked to provide information about their press organs and the reasons for their presence in Algeria.
Arezki Ait Larbi, a founding member of the LADDH in 1985 and correspondent of two French dailies, Le Figaro and Ouest-France, was questioned at Algiers airport on 26 April 2007, while preparing to leave for France. He was questioned on the basis of an arrest warrant dating back to 1997 on charges of defamation against a former official of the Justice Ministry. The journalist knew about the complaint and the condemnation in May 2006, after his application to renew his passport was rejected. Finally, Ait Larbi was acquitted by the Algiers magistrate court on 30 May 2007.
The Algerian authorities continue to tighten their grip on radio and television. No voices opposing the government or the army hierarchy are allowed expression in the so-called heavy media. This is the case even during election campaigns, when the authorities struggle to convince the outside world of their "democratic" credentials.
Algeria's National Radio Company, Entreprise Nationale de Radiodiffusion Sonore (ENRS) counts three important national channels:
- Radio Chaine I: Arabic Channel.
- Radio Chaine II: Tamazight, or Berber, Channel
- Radio Chaine III: French-language channel.
There are also other radio channels including:
-Radio El Bahdja ("happiness"), a French-language youth and entertainment channel, available on FM in Algiers and via satellite. This is in addition to 37 regional radio stations, such as Radio Adrar, Radio Ahaggar, Radio C! hlef, Radio Essouhoub, Radio Ghardaia, Radio Mascara, Radio Mitidja, Radio Oran, Radio Saoura, Radio Soummam, Radio Tiaret, Radio Tlemcen and Radio El Wahat. Meanwhile, according to a recent statement by the radio director-general, Azeddine Mihoubi, in 2008 there will be a radio station in each of the country's 48 provinces.
On 19 March 2007, the ENRS launched an international radio - Radio Algerie Internationale (RAI). The station began to air 12 hours a day in four languages - Arabic, French, English and Spanish - on Frequency Modulation (FM) and satellite. Inaugurating the station, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem described it as the medium which would "convey Algeria's image, through four languages, to the outside world".
Algerian television continues to be the medium propagating the authorities' views and policies. Easy access to foreign satellite channels, however, has lead an increasing number of Algerian households to desert the Algerian TV which they dub "an orphan".
The state-run domestic TV company - Entreprise Nationale de Television (ENTV) - carries programming in Arabic, Tamazight and French. The station is the mouthpiece of the government and, particularly, of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika since his election in 1999. A live feed of the channel, along with news and information, can be found at http://www.entv.dz. ENTV is available on satellite on NSS7 (22 degrees West) and Intelsat 907 (27.5 degrees West).
The satellite state-controlled Canal Algerie (CA) broadcast on Eutelsat Hotbird (13.0 degrees East) satellite and Astra 1E (19.2 degrees East) to viewers in the Americas and NSS7 (22 degrees West) on a beam w! hich covers Europe and Africa.
Algeria's Channel 3 (Al-Thalithah TV) is a state-controlled general entertainment and news channel which broadcasts on Arabsat, Hotbird and NSS7 to the Arab world and Africa.
The Paris-based BRTV is a privately-owned channel, whose target audience is Berber speakers both in Algeria and diaspora communities. BRTV is available on the Hotbird 6 satellite to subscribers only. The channel also offers a radio station, Berber Radio, via its website at http://www.brtv.fr.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, newspapers appear and disappear quickly for lack of funds or professionalism. Meanwhile, most journalists born of the public sector needed to adapt to the new reality of the market (multi-party politics, economic liberalism and media liberalization, particularly with the spread of satellites). In 1991, there were 113 newspapers but the number was reduced to 38 in 1998. Today, of the more than 50 daily newspapers, half have a readership of more than 10,000. According to recent statistics on circulation (El Youm, 3 May 2007), these include:
A. Arabic newspapers
- El Khabar (News): With a circulation of 459.180 copies, El Khabar is Algeria's biggest selling "independent" newspaper. Its editorials are critical of the government, with a pro-democracy slant. Available on the internet in Arabic, French and English at http://www.elkhabar.com.
- E! ch Chourouk (Sunrise): It has a circulation of 207.920 copies and is the second biggest selling newspaper. Independent with a pan-Arab and pan-Islamist leaning, the newspaper is also critical of government policies.
- An Nasr (Victory): Government daily published in he eastern Constantine City. It has a circulation of 19.000 copies. Website: http://www.an-nasr.dz.
- El Bilad (Country): Independent daily with a circulation of 16.000 copies. Website: http://www.el-bilad.com
- Ech Chaab (People): A nationalist and state-owned daily established in 1962. It reflects government's policies. Its readership has been eclipsed by the "independent" and more credible Arabic newspapers. It has a circulation of 13.800 copies. Website: http://www.ech-chaab.com.
- El Fadjr (Dawn): Independent daily with a circulation of 12.300. Website: http://www.al-fadjr.com.
- Al-Jazair News (Algeria News): Independent daily! with a circulation of 10.900 copies. Website: http://www.djazairnews. info.
- Saout el Ahrar (Voice of the Free): Mouthpiece of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the former single party and current senior partner in the government coalition. It has a circulation of 10.250 copies.
- Akher Saa (Last Hour): Independent newspaper with a circulation of 8.200 copies. Website: http://www.akhersaa-dz.com.
B. French newspapers
- Liberte: Owned by one of the leading Algerian businessmen, Saad Rabrab. The newspaper is anti-Islamist and supports the policies of the Berber-dominated Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD). It has a circulation of 134.240 copies. Website: http://www.liberte-algerie.com.
- El Watan (Homeland): "Independent" newspaper with a circulation of 128.500. The paper is critical of the authorities but has links with the military establishment, making it a good source for information on security matters. Website: http://www.elwatan.com.
- Le Quotidien d'Oran: Published in the western Oran City, the newspaper can be described as one of the most credible and independent dailies in the country. It has a circulation of 109.600 copies. Website: http://www.lequotidien-oran.om.
- Le Soir d'Algerie: Independent popular, tabloid-style daily. Staunchly anti-Islamist, with a circulation of 82.000 copies. Website: http://lesoirdalgerie.com.
- L'Expression: "Independent" daily. Its director, Ahmad Fattani, was editor of the El Moudjahid's international section. He launched the daily Liberte in 1992, and was its director until 1994. L'Expression has a circulation of 29.200 copies. Website: http://www.lexpressiondz.com.
- El Moudjahid: Established in 1956, and was the mouthpiece of the then National Liberation Front (FLN) which was fighting French colonialism. After Algeria's independence in 1962, it continued to reflect the policies of! the FLN and government. El Moudjahid has a circulation of 26 .000 copies. Website: http://www.elmoudjahid-dz.com.
- Le Jour d'Algerie: "Independent" daily with links to the country's secret services (SM). Founded in 2003, by Abderrahmane Mahmoudi, who was previously in charge of a defunct newspaper, L'Hebdo Libere, which was also the unofficial mouthpiece of the SM. Website: http://www.lejourdalgerie.com
- La Tribune: Privately-owned daily. Initially it supported former Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche's reforms. It has a circulation of 16.600 copies. Website: http://www.latribune-online.com
- Le Jeune Independant: "Independent" daily, with a circulation of 14.000 copies. Website: http://www.jeune-independant.com.
- La Nouvelle Republique: Independent and anti-Islamist daily. It has a circulation of 12.400 copies. Website: http://www.lanouvellerepublique.com.
Algerie Presse Service (APS): The official go! vernment news agency was established in 1961. The agency issues bulletins in Arabic, French and English. It is available on the internet at http://www.aps.dz. A full news service is available to subscribers only.
Agence Algerienne d'Information (AAI): Privately-owned news agency launched in 1999. It specializes in economic, financial and technology news. The agency is available on the internet in the French language, with a full news service available to subscribers only. Website: http://www.aai-online.com.
Although Internet access in Algeria is not restricted by filtering, the state controls the Internet infrastructure and regulates content by other means. Internet users and Internet service providers (ISPs) can face criminal penalties for posting or allowing the posting of material deemed contrary to public order or morality, for example, and journalists reports being subjected to government surveillance.
Algeria first gained Internet connectivity in 1994 under the auspices of the Cente for Research on Scientific and Technological Information (CERIST) (1), which by law remained the country's sole ISP until 1998 (2). Though Internet penetration has increased dramatically over the past few years, jumping from approximately 1,500 in 1999 (3) to nearly 850.000 in 2006 (4), this still represents only 2.6 per cent of the population. The government has supported programmes that allow users to access the Internet on a "pay-as-you-go" basis, without requ! iring a monthly subscription (5). Although most ISPs offer broadband, ADSL, or satellite plans, the prices of these services remain prohibitively high for many Algerians (6). Consequently, most Algerian Internet users rely on dialup connections and cybercaf�s for access. All connections between the Algerian network and the Internet at large pass through government-control content caching servers, an arrangement that reduces bandwidth costs but could also facilitate filtering (7).
Among the most sensitive topics in Algeria are criticism of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the military (8), same sex relationships (9) and non-Islamic religious worship (10). Algerians who engage on any of these activities face serious sanctions, including stiff fines and imprisonment. Nonetheless, ONI testing found no evidence that the government filters Internet sites or activity associated with these, or any other, sensitive topics.
(1). Economic Commission for Africa. Algeria: Internet connectivity, http://www.uneca.org/aisi//nici/country profiles/Algeria/algerinter.htm
(2) Economic Commission for Africa. Algeria: NICI policy, htpp://www.uneca.org/aisi.nici./country profiles/Algeria/algerpol.htm
(3) Economic Commission for Africa. Algeria: Internet connectivity, http://www.uneca.org/aisi//nici/country profiles/Algeria/algerinter.htm
(4) Internet World Stats, "Africa Internet usage and population statistics," http://www.internetworldstats.com.africa.htm#dz.
(5) Le 1516, "Comment se connecter," http://www.le 1516.com/index.html.
(6) Djaweb offers 2-megabyte connections for approximately 1.500 dollars per month. See Djaweb, "tariffs," htpp://www.djaweb.dz/tariffs.htm.
(7) Ministre des Postes et Telecommunications, "Configuration des service de la plate-forme Internet des P&T," htpp://www.postelecom.dz/service.htm.
(8) United Nations Commis! sion on Human Rights, 2006, the right to freedom of expression: Report of the Special Rapporteur, Ambehi Ligado, E/CN.4/2006/55/Add.1, March 27.
(9) The International Lesbian and Gay Association, World Legal Survey: Algeria, last updated 31 July, 2000, http://www.ilga.info/Information/Legal survey/Africa/Algeria.htm.
(10) Liberte, "Les nouvelles sanctions concernant l'exercice illegal du culte: Les evangelistes sous haute surveillance," 14 March, 2006, http://www.africatime.com/algerie/nouvelle.asp?no nouvelle=244719&no cat...;Moharram 1427, Official Journal of the Algerian Republic, "Fixing the conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other than Muslim," Ruling no. 06-03 of 29, #12, February 28, 2006, htpp://www.hrwf.net/religiousfreedom/news/2006pDF/Algeria%202006.doc.
Source: BBC Monitoring research 19 Jun 07