The country’s journalists seem to have got a breather in 2007. Prosecutions were fewer and violence less but this did not mean press freedom was any more respected, as the lack of diversity in broadcasting and indirect pressure on journalists demonstrated.
A dozen journalists were brought before courts in 2007, fewer than in previous years, when the Algiers court was nicknamed “the editorial room” because journalists spent so many long hours there each week. But those appearing in 2007 were heard by judges with bad records for independence from the regime. Omar Belhouchet, head of the daily El Watan and an old hand in the courts, and columnist Chawki Amari were given two-month prison sentences on 27 May and fined 1 million dinars (€10,635) for supposedly libelling a prefect by saying he was corrupt. Journalists are often targeted for exposing embezzlement by powerful officials, as was Nureddin Boukraa, of the national daily Ennahar, who was arrested on 14 November and questioned for 24 hours, two days after writing about links between police and local gangsters in Annaba. Two journalists from the daily Ech Chorouk were given suspended six-month prison sentences on 4 April as a result of a 2006 libel suit by Libyan leader Muammar Kadhafi. Arezki Ait-Larbi, a stringer for several French papers, was acquitted after a 10-year libel case brought by a prison official.
Algerian journalists are in a vulnerable position and the authorities continue to ignore their repeated calls for revision of the press law to eliminate prison sentences for press offences. The regime still tries to control the media, including privately-owned outlets. State advertising is a powerful weapon to keep papers in line and the national publishing and advertising agency channels the best part of it to pro-government papers. Broadcasting media are under complete control of the government, which still refuses to open it up to private capital, saying that “foreign competition is increasingly tough.”
Journalists who reported on the 2007 bomb attacks in the country were up against often rough-and-ready security officials. Jamal Belkadi, correspondent for El Watan in Constantine, was manhandled by the prefecture’s head of security official on 16 May as he took photos of the site of the attacks and his equipment was seized. He was charged with “crossing a security barrier” and a month later was given a small fine.
The communications ministry rejected visa demands in 2007 by several foreign TV crews, including the French station M6, which wanted to report on children of terrorists born while in hiding.