Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Algeria: New media bill still restricts freedoms

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) says Algeria's new legislation does not liberate the media or give it the freedom of expression it deserves. On Monday 3rd October, ANHRI released a statement saying the new media bill endorsed by the Algerian Ministers Council goes some way towards abolishing the imprisonment penalty for journalists, but the wording of the bill itself, along with the severe fines which replace jail time, still restricts freedoms.

The bill was promised by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a measure of reform in order to quell protests against his rule. The protesters called for a number of other things, including the end to the state of emergency, which they've been demanding since the demonstrations began in February.

The media bill also covers the establishment of independent news satellite channels and/or radio stations, which are presently forbidden. Many have hoped that this would prove a step in the right direction. A film consultant at the Ministry of Culture Amed Bedjaoui welcomed the measure saying “for once, Algeria is no longer appearing on the international front pages with news about terrorism. The whole world is seeing this new openness in Algeria in a positive light”.

The new bill, however, stipulates several restrictions in regards to the formation of any independent news channel. Additionally, private newspapers are also expected to now be granted permission by the Authority Control for Publications.

Chairman of the Algerian Human Rights League (LADDH) BoudjemaĆ¢ Ghachir warned people not to be fooled. He said: “Once you get under the rather attractive wrapping, the present itself is poison.”

According to ANHRI, freedom of expression remains tightly controlled, despite the abolishment of imprisonment for any indiscretion or contention. The fines for any such offence range from €300 to €5000, an extortionate sum which the journalist must pay themselves, rather than it be paid by their employers. The salary of the average journalist working in Algeria is about €200, which according to ANHRI is set low so to deter them from writing about controversial issues for fear of having to pay a penalty.

The bill also restricts journalistic freedom in writing about every aspect of life such as state security, economic problems, public service, cultural and so forth. It also grants the authorities the right to “to punish a journalist or a newspaper when they cross the lines.”

ANHRI concluded: “Freedom is indivisible and cannot be granted from someone to another. It is a human right for all. Hence, the Algerian authorities should not provide half-solutions in an attempt to diffuse the revolutionary spirit experienced by the Arab region. Instead, they should provide genuine and complete reform ensuring public freedoms.”

Sources: BM, Reuters, AllAfrica

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

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