121 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 2,381,740 sq. km.
Languages: Arabic and Tamazight (or the “Berber language”) since 2002.
Head of state: Abdelaziz Bouteflika, since 1999
Algeria’s fragile independent press is nevertheless resolute, resisting the government more effectively than any opposition political party and contributing to the creation of a democratic culture. However the impressive number of titles on the market is no gauge of freedom of expression or of pluralism.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika was re-elected president of Algeria for a third consecutive term on 9 April 2009. Immediately after his first re-election in May 2004, he restated his “determination to ensure freedom of expression”. “We again want to strongly emphasize our determination to ensure an effective use of freedom of expression by everyone, in strict accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, the president said in a message to the press. However, there was very little change, despite these promises on free expression.
Press offences remain punishable by prison sentences and fines. Article 144a of the Algerian criminal code, in force since 2001, provides for jail sentences of two to 12 years and fines for any comments seen as defamatory. The criminalisation of such offences constitutes a veritable Sword of Damocles hanging over Algerian journalists. The courts are kept busy by countless legal proceedings against journalists and their editors.
Moreover, despite lifting its monopoly on the press in 1989, leading to the founding of numbers of newspapers, the Algerian government has kept a stranglehold over printing and distribution. In fact the dailies El Khabar and El Watan did succeed in setting up an independent company that manages two printers (Algérie Diffusion and Impression de presse), but this involves only those two dailies. The other papers still have to rely entirely on state-run printers. The creation by the communications ministry in July 2008 of a holding company of printing houses has only further tightened state control in this area. This reduces any room for manoeuvre for newspapers wanting to cast a critical eye on Algerian society and politics. The same goes for newspaper distribution. Apart from El Khabar and El Watan which have managed to create an independent network, all the other titles remain dependent on the state distribution network.
The Algerian authorities complete their hold over the press with their monopoly on newsprint imports. On top of all this they have yet another financial weapon to wield against any recalcitrant members of the privately-owned press, through their monopoly on advertising. Since April 1968, the national publishing and advertising agency (ANEP), founded in December 1967, has awarded official and company advertising according to the editorial line of publications, with priority going to pro-government newspapers. The state has also kept control over television and radio since 1963.
The Algerian authorities repeatedly block the distribution of international newspapers in the country. Three French newspapers, L’Express, Marianne and le Journal du Dimanche, were censored in this way at the start of April 2009, on the eve of presidential elections. Earlier, on 7 March 2009, the Paris-based Afrique Magazine was banned for “damaging national values”, as was the 30 October 2008 edition of the weekly L’Express for “offence against Islam”. An edition of Paris-based weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique was also banned from Algerian newsstands in May 2008.