Mass media in Algeria: a historical account – Several problems face the researchers in this domain • Lack of documents. • Absence of archives & materials. According to a researcher “the first difficulty that we encountered in our research was the documents and the newspapers collections. The complaints about this problem by the interested researchers are unanimous. The newspaper collections are dispersed, incomplete or do not exist at all, most of the time there are no archives, and if we discover them in official libraries – and also sometimes with some families, scientists, professionals, men of politics- they are not indexed”. History of journalism and mass media in Algeria goes back to 1830 (French colonization). o They introduced press to communicate with the metropolis. o To inform the settlers. o To diffuse their ideology among the Algerians. – Early communication in Algeria was primitive & traditional. • Face to face Made by imams. • Religious sermons tribe chiefs, teachers, merchants…… • Ceremonies. [In mosques, market place, coffee house. ] – Three main forces in Algeria. o French government in France. o The settlers in Algeria. The indigenous population. – The 3 categories led to the immergence of 5 types of press from 1830-1862. The government press. The colonial press The indigenophile press The indigenous press The nationalist press 1- The government press: – French government spokesman – Addressed French soldiers, settlers, Algerian indigenes. – Transmit government decisions, policies law and regulations. 2- the colonial press – addressed to the French settlers, the French civilians in Algeria and the public opinion in the metropolis. – It ignored the “indigenes” population. It down played the religious, cultural, history and patrimony of the Algerians. – It glorified the positive impact of colonization. 3- The Indigenophile Press: made by French people. – It was a mere forum for minor indigenous problems. – It was not nationalist. 4- The indigenous press: used Arabic and French – made by some indigenous population – It’s aim was to mediate between French government and the Algerian masses. -It tried to respect the French existence – It tried to express the needs for equality and justice of the indigenous population. 5- The nationalist press: Appeared by the appearance of the Algerian nationalist movement to serve as a forum for the – Muslim reformists “ Abdulhamid Ibnbadis”. – Anticolonial nationalists “Messali Hadj” – Liberal assimilationalists “ Ferhat Abbas” This press challenged the settlers. It operated under difficult conditions. It faced shut downs, oppression of journalist (jail, exile…) Important periods of Algerian journalism 1- from the conquest to first w. w : 1830-1914 “L’Estafette d’Alger” 1st newspaper in Algeria June 14th 1830 Published by French government disappeared after 2 issues. This period was dominated by government press, colonial press, indigenophile press and at the end the appearance of the Indigenous press. – Nationalist movements was nonexistent, so there was no nationalist press – Press used French and Arabic (mainly dialectical Arabic) to reach the local population. – Very low circulation 1000-2000. – Once a week (publication). – Very high rate of illiteracy. Most important newspapers: l’Akhbar, l’Echo d’Oran, l’Atlas, la France Algerienne, le courrier de Bone, le Journal de Constantine, l’Algerie and in 1847 Al Mubachir-1st Arabic newspaper and 3rd in Arab world. Censorship was abolished in France in 1830 but not in Algeria. – 1848 French government established freedom of press in Algeria but only for government colonial press. – 1893 1st indigenous press “El Hack” with help of oriental press (Egypt; Tunisia, Syria) operated under French government control. 2- Period between two wars 1918-1940 Because of wars the existing press had to face more persecution In 1920 “The Indigenat Act” (le regime de l’indigenat): This measure forced the indigenous press to find another country to carry out its mission. Increase of immigrants to France New wave of workers elped to establish the Indigenous Press in Paris. Eg: L’Ikdam in Algeria was banished and reappeared in Paris: “l’Ikdam de Paris”. – Despite tough conditions Algerian journalism was well established. (More experience and better quality). – Local population was not satisfied with the colonial press and went reading more and more Indigenous press. – Those who did not know reading went to coffees or mosques to get someone read for them. – This press raised the idea of the Algerian Nation & the French Presence. – Algerian Population changed from passive to active militating to change their destiny. This new era gave birth to the nationalist press. – The nationalist movements gave this press power and energy to become more aggressive than its predecessor. – Some say that the press of that time was the best that Algerian press has witnessed until now (writing style, quality of language). 3- from WWII to Algerian liberation war: 1943-1954: In may 8th , 1945 – 45000 Algerians were exterminated by the colonizers because they went on the street claiming for the independence of Algeria which has been promised to them as a reward for serving France during the war. These Killings were a warning to the political parties. – The internal problems between the different parties of Messali Hadj and Ferhat Abbas hindered the development of press. – Despite these problems the press persisted. – 1947 reappearance of “Elbassair” one of the most important newspapers in Algeria. (It has been shut down before the war). The Indigenes became more literate and devoted themselves to journalism and nationalistic claims. – The new wave of newspapers questioned the French presence in Algeria (l’Egatite, La Republique Algerienne, Al Watan). Facing this new wave of newspapers the settlers had to rely on their press to convey the message of not giving single parcel of Algeria back (l’Echo d’Alger, l’Echo d’Oran, la Depeche Quotidienne) . – The French press was financed mainly by rich land –owners, bourgeois and businessmen. – The nationalist press had problems of funds, equipment, segregation, oppression… – 1951 French government censored the press and it was forced to disappear –but it was too late the FLN immerged. The different parties put an end to their disagreements and unified to declare war to colonizer in November 1st 1954. 4- The press during the war of liberation: 1954-1962 Peaceful and diplomatic methods failed to gain Algeria independence, so political leaders entered a bloody war. By November 1954 all nationalist press was banned. Oppression did not concern only the Indigenous press but also the Settlers Press because they were not happy with how the French government treated the Indigenous.
During the two first years FLN did not have necessary communication means because it was preoccupied with war and military operations. At the Soummam congress in August 1956 FLN leaders expressed the need for a communication network to reach national and international audience. This led to the immergence of “El Moudjahid” in summer 1956 (l’Ouvrier Algerien, la Jeunesse Algerienne). The most important communication medium was “la Voix de l’Algerie Combatante” in 1956 in Tunis using Arabic, French and Kabyle – a strong catalyst of liberation to say no to French occupation. FLN also used cinema. – Soon after 1962 all French newspapers disappeared. 5- Algerian press under FLN 1962 – 1965: July 5th; 1962 was the end of an era and the beginning of another. – The new independent country faced problems. – Conflicts and divergences in politics mainly in the media system: – Lack of competent personnel. – Lack of equipment. – Absence of a representative journalists’ union. – No respect to journalist and profession. – Lack of cooperation of administrations and public institutions. The non existence until 1968 of a status of the profession. – Lack of contacts between political leaders and journalists. – 1963 was the year of algerianization of the press the last few French newspapers disappeared or were nationalized by September 18th. Oran Republicain – La Republique. La depeche de Constantine – An Nasr. 6- The Algerian media from 1965 to the present: – With the “Historic Redressing” of Boumedienne June 19, 1965 – Algerian press witnessed major changes. – FLN lost its control over press and the ministry of information became the leader. FLN became an institution of administration and was neutralized as a strong political institution — this had repercussions on the media — Press has no legal framework and its role wasn’t clearly defined. – This confusion has killed in Algerian Press the sense of criticism, investigation and development of journalism. The needs of the Algerian society in the field of information: – Algeria needs a strong & effective communication sector for national and international levels. – International: Algeria is engaged in variety of movements (the group of 77, OPEC, African Unity…) supporter of liberation movements. National: Political, economic, social & cultural. The conception of information in Algeria: In the Algerian context the functions of the media should consist of the following: • Criticism & self criticism: Constructive criticism shows weaknesses, denounces mismanagement & promotes the amelioration, improvement and functioning of various institutions. • Education, formation & orientation: According to FLN the media should create a new way of thinking among Algerians in order to develop the socio-economy of society. Mobilization & Politicization mass media are the linking point between the masses & political leaders. • Control: media have the task to control the political leadership (derivations, errors, opportunism, corruption…). • Counterattacking cultural invasion: media have the role of preventing Algerians from alienation to foreign culture & information. Problems & contradiction of the Algerian mass media system: The sector faces many problems as explained by an Algerian journalist: “The media system reflects the political system in which it operates.
Don’t expect investigative journalism, development journalism and criticism of high officials if you are not even protected and you don’t have the indispensable democratic institutions that facilitate your work and appreciate it”. 1. Shortage of personnel: this affects quality of news. 2. Scarcity of workshops & training: no evolution in the field. 3. Lack of documentation & libraries: journalists need background information for their stories. 4. Poor distribution of the print Media: some communes are not covered. 5. Lack of a clear communication policy: journalists face intimidation, pressure & menace when they investigate. . Lack of a clear & precise communication law: the Algerian journalist is not protected until 1982 there was no press law in Algeria. 7. Self censorship: unprotected, journalists prefer to censor. 8. Lack of credibility: due to the previous reasons, Algerian media loose their credibility & people turn to foreign broadcasting to answer their questions. 9. Poor equipment & infrastructure. 10. Redundancy, Routine & superficiality: lack of background, thorough analysis, investigation & criticism. 11. Absence of statutes for profession & journalist: journalists are not welcomed in administration / Audience does not trust them. 2. Lack of research: to know the audience & readership studies. To conclude we can say that: The road is long & full of obstacles to have a true press that reflects the needs of the masses. Algerian contemporary press We can not talk about the Algerian contemporary press from the 1990’s until now without remembering the black decade of civil war and terrorism. This article reflects the opinion of Omar Belhouchet, publisher of El Watan, a leading French-language newspaper in Algeria. The private press in Algeria was born in difficult times.
During a decade of a long civil war in the 1990s, journalists were seen as the enemy by two warring factions: Islamic groups and a military-backed government. Over the course of a prolonged war, more than 60 journalists were killed and the independent media was severely stunted. Today, violence against the media has subdued, but journalists remain either the foe or captive of political leaders, generals and influential individuals. During the civil war, journalists were specifically targeted and many were murdered,” said Omar Belhouchet, “Our newspaper was one of struggle and resistance.
Islamic groups were trying to kill as many journalists as possible and to have newspapers closing down, while the government was trying to censor them so as to hide the reality. The time for professionalism and traditional forms of news treatment came at a later point, as of the year 2000. Belhouchet, the 1994 laureate of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) Golden Pen of Freedom, has pushed forward a democratic agenda that has upset both the ruling authoritarian regime and militant Islamic fundamentalists.
Despite two assassination attempts, more than a hundred death threats, countless court trials, sentences and five suspensions, he has succeeded in sustaining and strengthening his newspaper. To secure the independence of El Watan, we had to struggle on more than one front and build capacities that are directly linked to our industry – distribution, printing and advertising, said Belhouchet. Editorial independence could only be guaranteed by financial independence and the ability to print and distribute El Watan outside state-controlled printing and distribution facilities.
We started by investing into distribution networks and later into printing facilities. Every dime we earned was reinvested in our company. This strategy was successful and the newspaper has grown in terms of content, launched thematic supplements, introduced colours and a new layout. Journalists in Algeria continue to work under the sword of Damocles, said Belhouchet. The penal code includes prison sentences ranging from three to five years for journalists and publishers in cases of defamation. That has led certain newspapers to practice self-censorship, he said.
On 23 December 2008, Belhouchet was sentenced to three months in prison by an Algiers court, along with journalist and colleague Salima Tlemsani, for defamation. In a separate case, Belhouchet was sentenced on 4 March 2008 to two months in prison along with Chawki Amari, a prominent columnist and cartoonist at El Watan, also on charges of defamation. According to Amari, the only way they can now avoid spending time behind bars is if the Supreme Court decides that there was a procedural error during the trial.
Ahmed Ancer, columnist at El Watan and member of the Algerian Centre for the Defence of Press Freedom, concurred that courts do no hesitate to hand down hefty fines and prison sentences to journalists in defamation cases. Repressive measures introduced in the penal code in 2000 must be repealed to put an end to abuses, especially in defamation cases. These court cases don’t aim at rendering justice, but at limiting freedoms, he said. Regarding the position of the press in Algeria, Ancer warned that the impressive number of titles on the market is unfortunately not an indicator of freedom of expression or of pluralism.
Out of the 67 daily newspapers published in Algeria, 60 are legally linked to the state and adhere to an editorial line defined by the government. Why do public authorities fund so many titles? To limit the audience of newspapers that stand for fundamental rights. From the distance, one would think that the Algerian press is diverse and vibrant, but the reality is that it is mainly under the orders of the authorities and dependent of public subsidies, Ancer stressed. A report issued by the Communication Minister in May 2006 estimated the circulation of all daily newspapers at 1,376,950 copies.
The Arabic-language daily El Khabar leads with 430,000 copies a day, whereas Le Quotidien d’Oran and El Watan are the leading French-language dailies with respectively 149,900 and 126,000 copies. The circulation of weekly publications reached 1,850,000 copies per week in 2006. Ancer asked how newspapers with very small newsrooms, no local correspondents in the country and a distribution limited to Algiers and large cities could claim to be national publications. All these titles have as their sole objective the restriction of freedom of expression by jeopardising fair competition, he added.
The shortcomings of professional training are also detrimental to the quality and plurality of information published in a country where access to information held by public institutions is almost non-existent. Ancer called for urgent reforms that would enable the development of independent media, both print and broadcast, allow for a fair and healthy competition, as well as higher salaries and better social coverage. Until the end of the 1990s, state advertisements dominated the market. When private companies started to purchase most of newspapers’ advertising space, there was hope that this would free newspapers from state influence and thus trengthen freedom of the press. In 2004, in the wake of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s re-election, Mohamed Benchicou, publisher of the independent daily Le Matin, was jailed for two years in retaliation for critical stands he took against the president. The signal to other publishers and journalists was clear and obeyed by many. I think press freedom has lost ground in Algeria over the past years. The authorities are continuously resorting to economic pressure and judicial harassment to silence independent newspapers. In Algeria and Morocco, journalists are fighting hard to defend freedom of expression.
It still exists, even if it is restricted and constantly threatened. In Tunisia though, there is no freedom of the press whatsoever. The repression there is terrible, Belhouchet concluded. Algerian broadcasting Concerning broadcasting, the existence of the Algerian Radio diffusion Television RTA goes back to the colonial period, this one was a regional station depending on the French Radio Television Office ORTF. La Voix de l’Algerie, diffusing from Tunis, which the RTA has taken the succession just after 1962, became in only few months after its creation an efficient instrument for mobilising the national and international public opinion.
Despite very dense interference networks, this one has been able to canalize an important favourable trend to the independence of the country. Television appeared in December 1956, it was a restricted service that worked according to the French norms, because the colonial pact excluded all the Algerians from any type of profit (cultural, economic, social, scientific and technical). The diffused programs were imported from France and served to reproduce the cultural domination instituted by the colonisation.
This is why after the independence; the Algerian government has taken the necessary dispositions to give to the development of the radio diffusion and television an important impulse in order to redistribute this sector to all the citizens and all the Algerian areas. In an application of this orientation, the executives, the technicians and the Algerian workers engaged themselves, in a patriotic spirit, to ensure the continuity and functioning of the radio diffusion and television that the French technicians expected, when leaving, hinder for a long time.
In the 1st August 1963, the Algerian Radio diffusion and Television was created. The start was given then to an enormous building site for the reconstruction of the Algerian communication system, this is why the government has devoted during the period of 1967 – 1979 more than 310 000 000 DA to the equipment budget of the RTA. This investment realised in a relatively short time entrained the extension and modernisation of the national networks, the covering of the south of the country by satellite transmission, the equipment of the centres of production with modern material and then the introduction of the colour to the television.
The accumulation of many skills has certainly entrained a qualitative and quantitative development of the national production of the programs in order to satisfy the citizens. According to the law 91/100 of 24 April 1991 the ENTV is erected as an industrial and commercial institution, administered by an administration council and compelled to requirements.