Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Algeria's constitution guarantees freedom of expression, and the country is home to dozens of French- and Arabic-language newspapers, including a lively, if often partisan, private press. But repressive laws, government dominance of broadcasting, economic constraints, and journalists' lack of access to information limit press freedom. In 2004, the Algerian government intensified its assault on opposition journalists. State of Emergency legislation (in effect since 1992) and restrictive 2001 penal code amendments stipulate jail sentences and fines for journalists who "defame, insult, or injure" government officials or institutions according to very broad criteria. The authorities consider coverage of many security issues and the military off-limits. The judiciary is not independent and often does not fairly adjudicate trials involving journalists.
The print media environment deteriorated in the run-up to the April 2004 presidential elections. Most newspapers lined up editorially behind incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika or his main challenger, Ali Benflis, and mudslinging characterized much of the coverage. Bouteflika accused opposition journalists of being "terrorists of the pen" and "traitors." After Bouteflika's reelection, the government cracked down on opposition journalists who had criticized him or reported on alleged government corruption. Among other examples, in June Le Matin publisher Mohammed Benchichou was sentenced to two years in prison in what press freedom advocates saw as a disproportionate, politically motivated punishment for violating currency laws. Benchichou had waged a harsh campaign against Bouteflika in the pages of Le Matin and in a book published in 2004. In the same month, Ali Djerri, editor of Er-Rai, was sentenced in absentia to two months in prison for defaming a retired general and former Bouteflika adviser, and journalist and human rights activist Hafnaoui Ghoul was sentenced to a total of one year in prison for alleged defamation in his reporting on local government officials' corruption and incompetence. After Ghoul staged a two-week hunger strike in August to protest the over two dozen defamation charges leveled against him, he was released from prison pending appeal. In one 24-hour period in December, 13 editors and journalists from leading national papers were summoned to an Algiers court. Some were sentenced to prison for defaming the president or state institutions, some received suspended sentences, and others faced new defamation charges.
Algerian journalists must also contend with an opaque political system in which obtaining accurate information from state officials is extremely difficult, a situation that contributes to much inaccurate reporting. Although a 1998 amendment to the information code allows private broadcast ownership, the government maintains control over national television and radio, whose coverage remains heavily biased in favor of government policies. Foreign programming, including France-based Berber-language channels critical of the Algerian government, is accessible through satellite dishes, which are widely available in the country. In June 2004, however, the government froze the activities of the Al-Jazeera correspondent in Algiers, the first clampdown on a foreign news outlet in a decade. The move followed the station's broadcast of a debate in which guests criticized Bouteflika and senior army officials. According to the International Press Institute, state-controlled mosques often denounce independent media in sermons, in some cases urging violent action against specific journalists. In 2004, government harassment of journalists working for provincial and local papers increased.
The government also uses powerful economic tools to control the press. The state owns the main printing presses and controls the supply of paper and ink. Agence Nationale d'Edition et de Publicite, the state-owned advertising company, is the main source of advertising revenues on which newspapers rely. Papers often run up government debts, giving the authorities a handy pretext to shut down opposition publications. In 2004, Le Matin and Es-Sabah, both known for their anti-Bouteflika stance, were shut down for alleged financial violations, as were two other dailies, Le Nouvel Algerie Actualite and El Djarida. Since 2001, no censorship of the Internet has been reported. However, according to 2003 statistics, just 2.26 percent of the population, or 500,000 people, had Internet access.