Freedom of the Press
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)
According to Algeria’s constitution, press freedom is a guaranteed right, but this has not stopped authorities from using legal and extralegal methods to harass the independent press. The laws were amended in 2001 to criminalize defamation of the president, the Parliament, the judiciary, and the military. Algerian courts are subject to government pressure when adjudicating cases of libel and related offenses. Free expression was dealt another blow in 2006 as a result of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plan for national reconciliation after the civil conflict of the 1990s. In February, the cabinet passed a decree that granted immunity to perpetrators of violence during the conflict and authorized up to five years’ imprisonment for “anyone who by speech, writing, or any other act uses or exploits the wounds of the National Tragedy…to weaken the state…or to tarnish the image of Algeria internationally,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The pattern of harassment aimed at critical or partisan Algerian journalists over the past several years continued in 2006. Journalists were arrested and charged with criminal violations in February after their newspapers published controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper and sparked riots and demonstrations across the Muslim world. As is often the case in Algeria, the journalists were soon released, but the arrests illustrated the unpredictable nature of the authorities. In January, reporter Bachir Larabi of the independent daily El-Khabar was imprisoned for a month in the southwestern town of El-Bayadh after he was found guilty of defaming a local mayor. In June, journalist Mohamed Benchicou was released from prison after completing his two-year sentence for violating Algerian currency transportation laws. Benchicou’s case was politically motivated—his defunct newspaper, Le Matin, had published harsh criticism of the government, and Benchicou himself had written a book that pilloried the president. Bouteflika issued a pardon for journalists in July—although the pardon applied only to those who had been “definitively” convicted, leaving unpardoned the majority of journalists, who were in the process of appealing their convictions—but the laws used to punish them remained on the books, and several other journalists were charged and sentenced to jail terms for their writing in the months after the pardon. Despite such persistent government harassment, Algeria’s newspapers remained feisty and assertive in their opinions. Columnists and editorial cartoonists skewer the authorities on a regular basis.
Radio and television, two of the main news sources, are largely under government direction and, for the most part, follow the government line. Popular Pan-Arab satellite television stations, like Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, as well as French-based channels provide an alternate source of information. Although the government dominates the broadcast industry, there are more than 100 private daily and weekly newspapers presenting a variety of political perspectives. However, the government uses its control over the country’s printing presses and a state advertising agency to influence the independent print media. Authorities have on several occasions punished critical newspapers by suddenly demanding payment for debts owed to the state printer. Internet penetration is still quite low at only 5 percent of the population, but access is not restricted by the government.