Executive Summary

Although the present government is successor to the one party that has dominated the country since independence, Algeria is not a totalitarian state. Both an opposition and a private press are sanctioned, although every effort is made to muzzle them. As a result, the press is caught between limited areas of possibility for action and freedom. If Algeria is to become a democracy, which officially it claims to be, it is imperative that these areas be extended. Their development depends mainly on the following four actors.

• The National Assembly, where all political opinions within Algerian society are represented (with the exception of the Front Islamic du Salut, or FIS) and where the major differences dividing that society are expressed and debated: between support for Islam or for a secular society; for an authoritarian regime or a democracy; for Arab, Berber or French culture; in favour of confrontation or dialogue with the FIS, etc.

• The justice system, which is far from independent of the government; if "terrorists" are put on trial in Algeria, there are insufficient guarantees that justice will prevail.

• Civil society represented by thousands of citizen-based organisations that have started up since the beginning of the 90s. However, their development is hampered by inappropriate legislation, financial difficulties and practices inherited from the single party system.

• The private press, which is the subject of this report.

In Algeria, privately run newspapers constitute the only organisations with any degree of power and autonomy, fragile though this may be. For hundreds of thousands of Algerians, this private press represents the only possibility of access to information other than that presented by the government-controlled audio-visual media. To a greater extent than the National Assembly elected in June 1997, the private press offers a real scope for freedom of expression within Algerian civil society, although some within the regime itself would prefer its silence and others would like to see it controlled under Islamic law. Together with the National Assembly and the country's civil society, in the short term this media outlet constitutes the best investment and the greatest hope for the democratisation process in Algeria. It is these private newspapers that have held out against official versions of the events of past months and revealed to the world the large-scale massacres that have taken place and the tragic fate of their victims. The private press often constitutes the main, or indeed the only source of credible information on these events; without it, the Algerian tragedy would largely have remained hidden. Algerian journalists have paid a high price for their search for freedom. Sixty of them have been killed since 1993 and Islamist groups have directly or indirectly claimed responsibility for most of these assassinations. The last one was carried out in summer 1996, implying that these armed groups have now changed their strategy. In theory, Algeria's press is free: the Information Law of 1990 ended state monopoly of the press. However, the State of Emergency declared in 1992 and measures in regard to information 'relating to national security', as well as the use of various forms of censorship, have placed serious limits on press freedom. In addition, the State has retained a monopoly of both paper supplies and the printing industry, as well as a near-monopoly of advertising through its ownership of public advertising companies. Press freedom is further limited by the necessity for press chiefs to live under the protection of the security forces. Overall, despite these constraints the press displays a great degree of independence in regard to the authorities and a great deal of freedom of expression, notably in its editorials. This is demonstrated by press coverage of recent events such as local elections and the criticism of political leaders, and even in the handling of information relating to national security. On the other hand, human rights violations committed by the State are still not sufficiently covered by the press. This is the main problem. Although representative of different political and economic opinions, the six independent newspapers with the largest distributions (El Khabar, El Watan, Liberté, Le Soir d'Algérie, La Tribune and Le Matin) have all tried to promote a political model based on the separation of state and religion, and reject any attempt at dialogue with the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut, or FIS). The private press has survived the attempts by Islamic fundamentalists' to destroy it and has resisted pressures by the government to reduce its independence. Indeed, it acts as an indicator of the degree of political openness in Algeria. The press is currently engaged in a battle for economic independence, as well as for access to information on the conflict and the violence. To a greater extent than the work of the parliamentary assemblies that are accused of not being genuinely representative, especially the Senate, and which are controlled by President Zeroual's party, the autonomy and freedom granted to the Algerian press constitute a barometer of the political will for democratisation, which the Algerian authorities claim to pursue. The extent to which newspapers are able to cover information relating to national security and to criticise extortion and human rights violations by the security forces, will be important tests for the future. Finally, this independent press, born in 1990 in a country without a democratic tradition, is already probably the freest press in the Arab world. However, television and radio, which play a fundamental role in a country with a strong oral tradition, remain entirely in the hands of the State, although this monopoly is offset to a certain extent by the proliferation of satellite dishes that allow people to receive foreign channels, particularly French ones. Recommendations The International Crisis Group makes the following recommendations to governments and international organisations.

1. To support the existence and development of the private press, protesting against all censorship or attempts at intimidation. Furthermore, any co-operation agreement with Algeria should be dependent on the ending of the state monopoly of paper and printing companies.

2. To promote the education of Algerian journalists and encourage contacts with journalists from democratic countries.

3. To request that Algeria open up the audio-visual sector and lift all restrictions on the freedom of movement of both Algerian and foreign journalists in Algeria.

4. To support those civilian-based organisations that are independent of both the State and the Islamic parties. These organisations are often totally impoverished, but are indispensable in consolidating the opening up to democracy.


The current conflict in Algeria is often presented as a struggle between the government (dominated by the military) and Islamic fundamentalist organisations. This analysis ignores the role of other actors, notably the existence of organisations emanating from civil society and a private written press that demands its independence. Despite the various elections that have been held since 1995 (presidential, legislative and municipal), the majority of which were tainted by fraud, Algeria is largely bereft of the institutions and organisations that characterise a democracy: an independent justice system, fundamental guarantees in respect to individual rights and freedoms, independent unions, etc. However, Algeria does possess a private press born in 1990 under the presidency of Chadli Bendjedid during the rush to bring in democracy. And in the midst of extreme difficulties - death threats from Islamic fundamentalists, violence, economic asphyxia, state censorship and banning orders - this press has survived. Despite its limitations, it constitutes the most tangible sign of the opening up to the democratisation process. These newspapers, which attract hundreds of thousands of readers every day, constitute a real scope for freedom and expression within Algerian civil society, which certain elements would rather see silenced while others would prefer them to be governed exclusively by Islamic law. This first report on Algeria by the International Crisis Group (ICG) analyses the situation of the private press that coexists alongside the official press and examines:

• the conditions under which journalists work;

• the legislation governing the press;

• the attitude of Islamic fundamentalist towards the press;

• the State's attitude towards the press;

• the political position and editorial lines taken by the press;

• the independence of the press and its margin of manoeuvre with regard to the authorities.

The audio-visual sector, currently a State monopoly, is also discussed briefly. It may be asked why the private press was chosen as the theme for a first ICG report on Algeria. First of all, because today the press is evidence, to an even greater extent than the National Assembly (elected during contested elections in 1996), of a political opening up that needs to be encouraged. Secondly, because the existence and independence of this press remains under constant threat and the international community, in particular the European Union and the United States, can contribute towards guaranteeing its survival and development. Finally, as the Algerian authorities restrict access to information for international organisations and journalists, ICG has not yet been able to make a general analysis of the political situation, particularly the violence, on the basis of a long-term and permanent presence in the field, although this is our primary objective. This report is based on a series of interviews that took place in Algeria during a series of four visits between January and March 1998, totalling 28 days in the field, as well as the analysis of six private newspapers between November 1995 and March 1998. The newspapers were: El Khabar, Liberté, El Watan, Le Matin, La Tribune and Le Soir d'Algérie. This work was carried out under difficult conditions. If free access to Algerian territory can be obtained, ICG will continue to monitor the situation and propose concrete recommendations aimed at helping the country to finally emerge from the extreme violence which characterises it today.

Working As A Journalist In Algeria

Since the beginning of 1993, journalists have been the target of threats from Islamist armed groups. These threats rapidly turned to action. These Islamist armed groups have been responsible for the murder of most of the journalists killed, and have often claimed responsibility for them. However, the complicity of the authorities in some of these acts cannot be totally excluded; although this has not been proved owing to the lack of independent investigations. Algerian journalists claim that they must regularly fight against two redoubtable enemies: "those that want to kill them - the Islamic fundamentalists- and those that want to silence them - the authorities". Even if journalists recognise that they are threatened from two sides, the vast majority amongst them still refuse to unite to deal with both their adversaries at the same time. Lazari Labten, representative of the Centre for Solidarity with the Media in Algeria 1, explains: "a journalist can always be returned from prison, but nobody can bring a murdered journalist back to life. That is what makes the difference between those who want to gag the press and those who want to slit the throats of the journalists."

From threats to action

"You will die, if not today it will certainly be tomorrow! And your death will be written in the glorious pages of the Islamic movement" Signed: Islamic Armed Movement (Mouvement Islamique Armée or MIA). Threats of this type have been sent to Algerian journalists since the beginning of 1993. Indiscriminately, these letters accused journalists of being "ungodly", "Francophiles", "supporters of the State" or "enemies of Islam" and announce that they will be "executed to save Algeria". These threats were confirmed, for the first time, on 26 May 1993, when the journalist and writer Tahar Djaout2 was shot twice in the head while getting into his car. A few days earlier, on 17 May 1993, Omar Belhouchet, the editor of the daily newspaper "El Watan" escaped a similar attempt when two men tried to shoot him as he dropped his children at their school3 . From that moment on, media professionals understood that they had become the direct targets of these armed groups. It is probably because national television represented a symbol of power for the armed groups that the second victim was an ENTV journalist4 , Rabah Zenati, who was killed on 4 August 1993. The spiral of murder was underway: on 14 of October 1993, Mustapha Abada, the former general director of Algerian national television, was shot in the back of the neck in broad daylight in the suburbs of Algiers. The journalists living in the working class neighbourhoods were the easiest targets. On 30 November 1994, Ahmed Isaad (also a television journalist) and Nassereddine Lekhal (reporter for the daily Arabic newspaper "El Massa") were shot and then beheaded. On 3 December 1994, Said Mekbel, editorial director of the French newspaper "Le Matin", was shot twice in the head while in a restaurant with a colleague. Although he had already escaped two attempted murders, Said Mekbel had refused to leave Algeria. By targeting Journalists, the objective of the killers is to silence the press, accused of being "on the State's pay role". By the same token, the aim was to reduce the ability of the press to investigate effectively. The strategy of the armed groups was to focus on crimes that would reach the media and have the maximum impact in the international scene while terrorising the profession. This doubtless why, in addition to the actual assassination, their actions are particularly cruel. On 3 December 1995, Hamid Mahiout from the newspaper "Liberté" and his driver had their throats cut. Their heads were mounted on the gates of the cultural centre of the city in which Hamid Mahiout had lived. On 11 February 1996, a new development took place: a car bomb, containing 300 kg of explosives, was parked against a wall on the "Maison de la Presse"5 . The explosion completely destroyed the premises of the "Soir d'Algérie" and damaged the headquarters of the newspapers "Le Matin" and "L'Opinion". The Chief Editor, Alloua Ait Meberek, and two journalists from "Soir d'Algérie" were killed6 . Last in a long list is Boussaad Abdiche, from the pro-government newspaper "El Moudjahid", killed on 27 December 1996 .7 From 1993 to the present day, the Algerian press has paid heavily: 60 journalists and 13 employees8 have paid with their lives for exercising their profession.

Who is killing journalists?

Tahar Djaout "has received two bullets courtesy of the moudjahidin". This sentence is an extract from an Islamist paper, "Le Critère", distributed in France9 . On 14 June 1993, only a few days after the murder of the writer-journalist, his friends formed a "committee for truth" launched an appeal: "too many political crimes remain unpunished in our country. Pictures of the henchmen displayed on television10 cannot shield the commanders who hide in the shadows". The following day, the famous psychiatrist and president of the committee, Mahfoud Boucebi, was murdered in Algiers. In August 1994, Brahim Touchichet, editor of the magazine "Horoscope/Mystères" was kidnapped and brought before an Islamic court. Without proof of any "involvement in the press campaign against the moudjahidin", he was released. The Islamic Salvation Army (Armée Islamique du Salut or AIS), the armed faction of the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut or FIS)11 , give him a message for journalists: "no excuse will be acceptable after this last warning: repent or you will only have yourselves to blame". At the end of 1994, the AIS admitted to the murders of the media professionals in "Al Wassat", the weekly Saudi newspaper published in London12 . The AIS justified these murders by stating: "Yes, we have killed some journalists because they had accused us, they were spreading lies about us and used the government media to harm us (...) Many murders are committed by groups controlled by the government, in order to harm our campaign (...)" In January 1995, in a statement now made famous, the Islamic Armed Faction (le Groupe Islamique Armé or GIA) claimed that it would continue to attack journalists that did not obey their orders: "The Moudjahidin consider that every reporter and journalist working for radio and televisions is nothing but a renegade (...). The GIA calls on all journalists to stop working immediately. The group will continue to attack those who do not obey (...). Those that fight us with words will die by the sword". On 16 February 1996, "Al Ansar", the GIA newsletter published in Stockholm, claimed responsibility for the attack against the "Maison de la Presse". According to "Le Soir d'Algérié", it was the work of two GIA leaders killed some months later by the security services13 . According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ)14 , the Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria claimed responsibility for most of journalists murdered since 1993. Nevertheless, the circumstances that surround some murders remain unclear. The ambiguity is even greater because one woman reporter among journalists that have managed to escape assassination attempts said that she recognised two agents of the security forces amongst her attackers. In October 1995, during an interview given to two French television channels, TF1 and Canal +, Omar Belhouchet, the editor of the daily newspaper "El Watan" declared: "There are journalists that embarrass the authorities. I would not be surprised if tomorrow I found out that some of my colleagues were murdered by men in power"15 . This statement resulted in his prosecution for "insulting organs of the State" and he was sentenced to one year's imprisonment. Omar Belhouchet has appealed and awaits the court's decision. In December 1996, the AIS stated that "The Islamic Salvation Army disowns all murders those who carry the free pen, which is put to the service to the principles of our Algerian and Muslim people, be they in the media or other" 16. Whether or not by coincidence, after that statement, no other journalist has been killed. According to International Federation of Journalists17 , 40 journalists were killed throughout the world during 1997. For the first time since the first killing in 1993, Algeria was spared and not one journalists was hurt. This does not, of course, mean that the threat and danger have completely disappeared.

Journalism under maximum protection

Because 'working with fear in their stomachs' became impossible, from 1993 some 200 Algerian journalists chose to live in exile. Most of these found refuge in France or Belgium. Those that chose to remain in Algeria have had to adapt their way of life. Most press editors live in the "Club des Pins", twenty kilometres from Algiers, in a protected compound, where high ranking officials of the political regime have their villas. Several hundreds journalists live in hotel rooms, put at their disposal by the authorities. These hotels are protected by security services. Others, fewer in number, have continued to live in their homes, making sure they hide the nature of their profession. The physical dangers have forced some to live a semi-clandestine life: often moving from house to house, squatting in friends' apartments. Wigs and other means of disguise are part of the wardrobe of certain women journalists. During the black period, from 1993 to the end of 1996, they all lived in fear, jumping in alarm at the slightest noise. Since then many journalists have returned to their old neighbourhoods, but vigilance is necessary and most still refuse to sign their articles. Countless articles are acknowledged by initials and pseudonyms. Only some dare sign their real names in the pages of the newspapers. Photos of editors and reporters have also disappeared from their columns, apart from one of the "Liberté" reporter where part of his face is hidden by a scarf so as not to be recognised18 . However, all agree that they do not feel directly targeted any longer. It seems that the armed groups have now changed their strategy19 and it is the Algerian population which is targeted.

The Legislative Arsenal

In an attempt to silence the press, the authorities have established a legislative arsenal (the law regarding information, the state of emergency, the decree on information relating to national security, etc.) that allows them to control all information. These powers authorise the State to censor writings that criticise or question the State's policies.

The law on information

The Algerian press is governed by law no. 90-07 which "is intended to fix the rules and principles governing the exercise of the right to information". Brought into effect on 3 April 1990, this law 'revolutionises' the Algerian press, as it put an end to the State monopoly over the written media. In article 4, the law stipulates that the exercise of the right to information is ensured entirely by "the publications and organisms that belong to or have been created by politically motivated associations" and by "the publications and organs established by individuals or bodies legally constituted under Algerian law". Article 14 states that "the publication of all regular publications is free" once a simple declaration has been made to a tribunal. Article 9 states that "the government programmes and broadcasts to the public, at any time, declarations and written statements, spoken or televised, that it considers necessary". However, "this right cannot, in any case, constitute a limit to the freedom of expression of the editorial committees and the organs concerned". The arrest of journalists is covered by article 86: "Whoever publishes or deliberately spreads information that is erroneous or tendentious, of a nature to undermine state security and national unity may be punished by a term of imprisonment of 5 to 10 years". Article 87: "Incitement, by any form of information, to crimes and offences against state security and national unity, when acted upon, renders the director of the publication and the writer of the article in the case liable to prosecution as accomplices to the crimes and offences provoked". The penalty is "imprisonment from one to five years and a fine of 10.000 to 100.000 DA20 , or one of the two punishments only". Article 97: "Whosoever deliberately offends (...) the head of state in office may be punished by imprisonment for at least one year and a fine of 3.000 to 30.000 DA, or one of the two punishments only". In theory, article 78 protects journalists: "Whosoever offends by gestures, remarks or menaces a professional journalist during the exercise of his profession is liable to a term of imprisonment lasting 10 days to 2 months and a fine of 1.000 to 5.000 DA, or one of the two punishments only". Article 56 does not explicitly refer to the state monopoly of radio and television. However, it does state that the distribution of radio or television programmes by cable, as well as the use of radio and television frequencies, must be receive authorisation. In essence, this means that, contrary to the situation regarding the written media, the State does not allow the creation of private television and radio chanels.

The state of emergency

A state of emergency was declared on 9 February 1992 following several violent acts carried out by FIS (Front Islamique du Salut) sympathisers. "Considering the grave and repeated acts against public order carried out over the last few days at several points across national territory, and the threats against institutional stability, and the grave and repeated attacks on the security of the population and the civil peace (...), a state of emergency is declared for a duration of twelve months". Six years later, the state of emergency is still in place and constitutes a sword of Damocles hanging over press freedom.

"Terrorism and subversion"

The state of emergency was complemented by the decree of 30 September 1992, concerning terrorism and subversion.. This decree defines terrorism as "all acts committed against individuals, (...) and all symbols of the Republic that aim to threaten life, security or property (...), or the encouragement of such acts, especially by the reproduction or dissemination of documents or recordings". In other words, this decree allows for the arrest of journalists and/or the suspension of newspapers.

"Information relating to national security"

In a statement dated 5 January 1993, the Algerian government announced: "We are going, against our will, to take statutory measures so that only the competent services may provide information on anything regarding matters of security". A year and a half later, the measure took shape. The inter-ministerial decree of 7 June 1994 legalised censorship. However, the decree was never published. Instead, it was classified 'confidential' and was sent to the media by the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Communications. The document specifies that from now on "with regard to information linked to acts of terrorism and subversion, all types of media must transmit only official statements". These will reach them "exclusively by means of APS (the official Algerian Press Agency)" or directly via the "communications unit" of the Ministry of the Interior. Falling within the scope of 'information relating to national security' are attempted murder, police operations against armed groups, numbers of victims. In particular, it is strictly forbidden to report on the human losses sustained by the security forces or the army. In parallel with this, the Ministry of the Interior addressed a series of 'recommendations' to those responsible for the press on how to treat this type of information, in order to "reduce the psychological impact anticipated by the masterminds of terrorism". Furthermore, it advised them to avoid "terminology that favours the ideology and propaganda of the enemy" and to deal with the issue of "information relating to national security in inside pages or in small print". On the other hand, those responsible for the press are invited to "publicise atrocities committed by the Islamists", as well as "the tricks and fraud of those who, in the name of religion (...), undertake criminal acts". In order to ensure respect for this "phantom" law, 'reading committees' were set up inside printing firms. The civil servants responsible for censorship were also put in charge of reading the proofs before the paper is printed. Certain articles were to disappear as well as the proofs, or the whole newspaper would simply be suspended. The first version of the 'reading committee' was rapidly shelved for more than two years.

The censorship committees

After a period of non-activity the Interior Ministry reinstated the reading committees in the printing companies on 11 February 1996. The civil servants in charge of censorship are to systematically control newspaper contents and avoid printing of any information relating to national security and not in conformity with the official version of events. As from 1992, having eliminated the newspapers close to FIS, the authorities attempted to control the private press. Their objective was clear: to enforce silence regarding attacks carried out by armed groups so that the authorities could continue to state, as did the politicians, that the "situation is under control and terrorism is no more than a residual phenomenon"21 . However, as we shall see in Chapter 5 on "The Private Press", the journalists succeeded in winning the battle against the 'reading committees', which were abolished on 30 December 1997.

The Three State Monopolies

Even though the 'reading committees' disappeared, the Algerian State still retains particularly impressive and effective means for controlling the press; a monopoly in regard to printing companies and the buying of the paper, as well as a near-monopoly over advertising. The State uses these monopolies at will, as instruments of economic pressure, in order to censor information against its interests. Mohammed Benchicou, editor of the daily newspaper "Le Matin" states that "as long as the State controls the means of production, we will remain at its mercy".

Printing presses

The State owns the 4 printing companies in Algeria: the "Société d'Impression d'Alger (SIA)", the company printing the daily government newspaper 'El Moudjahid' (both situated in Algiers), the "Société d'Impression de l'Est (SIE)" in Constantine, and the "Société d'Impression de l'Ouest" in Oran.

Paper supplies

The "Société d'impression d'Alger" is also in charge of paper imports. In 1995, the State took advantage of the large increase in the price of paper on the world market to try to stifle newspapers that it saw as too independent. Several titles were forced to reduce their circulation because of decisions made by the authorities. A reduction in circulation means a reduction in sales, which therefore puts a newspaper in financial danger. Before the increase in the cost of paper on the world market, the Algerian State had refused to keep paper stocks, despite demands from newspapers. This situation forced newspapers to increase their sale prices from 4 DA to 7 DA, and then to 10 DA, which remains the current price. In Algeria, 10 DA is expensive; it is the price of a loaf of bread or half a litre of milk. Given the economic and social context of the country this means that numerous people simply cannot afford to buy a newspaper. In this way, the Algerian State has probably managed to reach its goal of controlling and reducing the circulation of the private newspapers that bother it. Today, the editors of several publications claim that they could increase their circulation because demand is increasing. But the issue of the management of paper stocks remains, as this is still a state monopoly. However, it must be noted that all private newspapers have increased their circulation considerably in the last two years. Printing and paper costs, which are totally independent of any fluctuations in the market, account for over 50% of the total sale price of a newspaper.


As with printing and paper, advertising is managed by a state-controlled company, the National Agency of Publishing and Advertising (ANEP). According to newspaper editors, ANEP controls 85% of the market. According to a survey carried out among printing companies in 1997 by the Algerian press agency APS, the advertising market stood at 854.000.000 DA: a figure which is constantly increasing. In 1996 it stood at 713.000.000 DA, in 1995 it stood at 650.000.000 DA and in 1994 it stood at 350.000.000 DA. ANEP is in charge of publishing publicity for both companies and public administrations, which are obliged to go through them for placing their advertisements.22 Any breach of this requirement can have serious consequences for the advertiser, including legal action for squandering the State's assets, which is severely punished by law. The State remains the biggest advertiser. Normally, advertising from public companies must be shared equitably amongst the different press organs. In practice that is not the case. Only ANEP knows how the State's advertising is shared out and why some newspapers receive several pages of advertising, while others receive only half a page. According to the daily newspaper "La Tribune": "the advertising market of the public sector, distributed across newspapers, cannot hide the existence of a wish at the heart of the authorities, put down those publications which refuse to summit to its orders".23 Although still pertinent, this analysis must be complemented by the arrival of foreign companies in Algeria, which is changing the situation. Today, a newspaper such as "El Watan" is in a position to refuse advertising from ANEP and works only with private companies that negotiate directly with the newspaper24 . According to newspaper editors, a newspaper's finances balance out when it sells around 700.000 copies. This means that newspapers could survive off their sales, and could do without official advertisements. However, investments, notably in the purchasing of materials, means that they are largely reliant on this source of revenue.

The Private Press

The birth

Between 1989 and February 1992, Algeria experienced a period of democracy. The 1989 constitution introduced multi-partism and recognised press freedom. A year later, the Information Law of 3 April 1990 (enacted by the reformist government of Prime Minister Miloud Hamrouche), gave the green light to the creation of private newspapers. The first was "Le Soir d'Algérie" (20 September 1990). This was created on the initiative of five journalists who left "Horizon", a weekly government newspaper, to launch themselves into the private sector. The founders of private newspaper were journalists, brought up in a one-party state, but with a thirst for freedom and keen to pursue their profession independently. Paradoxically, the private press could never have seen the light of day without the help of the government. Journalists that wished to leave the public sector and launch new publications were offered 30 months salary by the State. It was these "redundancy schemes" that allowed journalists to set up the private newspapers. To help them take off, the State granted further favours: premises, reduced printing costs, preferential rates for paper. But this 'honeymoon' period was of short duration. From 1992, the first imprisonment of journalists and the first suspensions of newspapers were a reminder that the press and the of authorities have different objectives. Fouad Bouchanem, one of the founders of "Le Soir d'Algérie" summed up the situation in this way: "the problems started when they realised we were escaping from their control"


In the absence of any viable body responsible for controlling the printing and circulation of newspapers, the only available information is that provided by a survey carried out amongst the printing companies in 199725 . According to this survey, the press covered 32 titles26 . Among these, 18 are published daily: 6 in Arabic, 12 in French. Six belong to the public sector and the other 12 are privately owned. Their circulation is 775.000 copies per day, of which 648.000 were attributed to the 18 daily newspapers. This survey estimated total readership at approximately three million. All the papers belonged to journalists' collectives, although the "Liberté" is co-owned by a business man27 . The private newspapers have had a real success, even if they are only read by a small part of the population28 (mainly in urban areas). The illiteracy rate in Algeria is almost 40% and the majority of Algerians no longer speak French. Furthermore, the circulation of newspapers outside the major towns is often sporadic due to security problems. It should also be noted that those who buy newspapers are looking for information through channels other than the official ones. Amongst the 18 daily newspapers, at least six are noted for wide circulation, their open manner, their criticisms of the authorities and their fight for freedom of expression. Apart from the main newspaper29 "El Khabar", which is published in Arabic, the rest are all published in French 30.

• El Khabar: Circulation: 200.000 copies31
Set up: November 1990
Director: Cherif Rezki
Ownership: Initially by 26 journalists of whom 18 have now formed a joint stock company (SPA).

• Liberté:
Circulation: 150.000 copies
Set up: June 1992
Director: Toudert Abrous
Ownership: a business man and three journalists, who formed a limited company (SARL).

• El Watan:
Circulation: 90.000 copies
Set up: November 1990
Director: Omar Belhouchet
Ownership: 18 journalists (SPA).

• Le Matin:
Circulation: 90.000 copies
Set up: September 1991
Director: Mohamed Benchicou
Ownership: seven journalists (SARL).

• Le Soir d'Algérie:
Circulation: 80.000 copies
Set up: September 1990
Director: Zoubir Souissi
Ownership: five journalists

• La Tribune:
Circulation: 45.000 copies
Set up: October 1994
Director: Kheireddine Ameyar
Ownership: two editors hold majority ownership, and nine journalists (SARL).

The editorial line

Despite their diversity, these newspapers have a common denominator: they are "militant" newspapers, "fighting" newspapers, opposed to the Islamic fundamentalists that dream of imposing an Islamic republic on Algeria. Some of them have a radical anti-Islamist editorial line, others fight fundamentalism with more subtlety. Their model is that the French Republic, based on a secular state; that is, the separation of politics and religion. Their articles express a clear demand for modernity, freedom of commercial enterprise, freedom of expression and political freedom. These freedoms, demanded on an almost daily basis, make the press not only the sworn enemy of Islamic fundamentalists, but also the enemy of the authorities.

Independence of newspapers and their role in society

The Algerian press displays great freedom of opinion towards governmental policies and more generally towards the Algerian authorities32 , which retain direct control over the contents of the audio-visual media, the APS, the official press agency and several newspapers33 . The free tone used in the private Algerian press contrasts with the huge pressure that weighs over the official media, notably in the audio-visual sector. Examples taken from recent events, given below, will demonstrate the degree of this independence.

Criticism of the regime and its leaders

With words verging on defamation; 'incisive', 'cruel', 'violent', some journalists do not hesitate to attack the highest officials of the Algerian State. That is true of Y.B., the "El Watan" columnist. Just after the local elections, in October 1997, Y.B. wrote the following in his column entitled "The people have not abdicated in favour of cheats and assassins": "The question is the following: are we at home in Algeria? Do we live at Zeroual's home, or Betchine's or Tewfik's? The first is the part-time President of the Republic. The second advises the first. The third is aware of what the other two do. Mr. Betchine, Algeria is ours. Mr. Tewfik, Algeria is our home despite your blunders. As long as you continue managing this territory as if it were a cake, you risk getting crumbs risk stuck in your throat (...). Take note that you will never be able to lead a country whose inhabitants vomit on you" 34. A declaration by the Ministry of Communication that "the model of democracy put in place in Algeria bothers (Westerners)" and that "the Algerian police and the Algerian people do not have to take lessons from anyone", had already caused Y.B. to react: "This model of democracy does in fact, bother us (...) Algeria seems to be the new country of human rights. The only reservation is that we still don't have the name of the human in question"35 . Y.B. reacted even more ruthlessly to the remarks made by Mr. Tessier, the Archbishop of Algiers, in an Italian newspaper. The Archbishop declared that "the Algerian people are building a democratic regime". In his article, Y.B. asked of the Archbishop: "can you give us the address of the building site where the democratic regime in question is being built, because we haven't seen it (...) No, Your Grace, Algerians do not build homes, hospitals, dams nor a "democratic regime. On the contrary, they would very much like to destroy the anti-democratic regime in place"36 . Almost every one of his articles is an attack against the current regime: "If there is power in this country, it is the fourth power (the press). It's objective? To reflect reality. If it prevents the other three powers (executive, legislative and judicial) from sleeping, it is simply because these three powers make one: one of repression. The press will not surrender"37 . On 15 November 1997, "Liberté" had as its headline "Algiers under tight control"", following government attempts to prevent a march organised by the opposition parties in protest against electoral fraud. The newspaper echoed the calls of the demonstrators who chanted slogans such as: 'Down with the dictatorship, down with repression'. That day "Liberté" summed-up the two years of President Zeroual's rule: "The period has been marked by a regression in the exercise of freedom and democratic practice"38 . At the beginning of January 1998, the "Liberté" columnist sent good wishes to his readers: "'Happy New Year' sounds bourgeois, as if we were a serious country: no voting fraud, the qualities of citizenship, free television stations, competent ministers, non-religious schooling, emancipated women without family codes, freedom of thought, press freedom (...) 'Happy New Year' has a democratic sound to it so, 'A Bad New Year' to you all" 39. The government and the State are singled out by El Watan for their bad management of social problems: "Misery and famine are within our walls, affecting millions of Algerians, while fantastic profits are made, the results of large-scale corruption, and multiply while the anti-social State consolidate its position.40" The private newspapers point out the authorities as responsible for the negative image which Algeria projects abroad and accuse it of spawning the question "who is killing who?": "The anti-democratic and repressive nature of the authorities, the secretive culture of manipulation and suspicion and arrogance, under the cover of sovereignty, have allowed this tendency to suicide to exist (...) The harassment of the press! The electoral fraud! The diplomatic isolation! The dogmatic stereotypes! Only one television channel! A single press! Only one way of thinking ... all of that has a cost. The authority is the generator of the question "who is killing who?" and its repeated inconsistencies provide the fuel"41 .

Electoral Fraud

Local elections were organised in October 1997. From the moment the results were announced giving victory to the RND presidential party, the opposition and the private press shouted foul. The front pages of the newspapers were covered with headlines such as: "The RND imposes its domination - the political classes shout fraud", "Grave incidents observed in several voting centres, all over the country, show the extreme amplitude of the fraud"42 . "Fraud has never reached such a level", "Fraud in Guelma", "Stitched up in Oran" these were the headlines of "El Watan",43 where its editor, Omar Belhouchet, called out to President Zeroual: "Algeria cannot continue being to be managed as it has over the last few years. The persistence of terrorism is nothing but an excuse. Today Algerians want something else. They are tired of elitism, regionalism and rampant nepotism"44 . Under the headline "On fraud in politics", "Le Soir d'Algérie" wrote: "During these local elections, fraud has been so accepted by the representatives of the party in power that from now on it would be better to debate the issue as if it were a principle witnessed to by the political practices in this country. For all that, what is new is not the falsification itself, but rather the systemisation of fraud and the bold manner in which it is publicly endorsed."45 This same newspaper published a headline entitled "Fraud covered in 20 points"46, which summarised the "non-exhaustive list of all sorts of irregularities and deals" noted by reporters at the voting stations. These criticisms of fraud could be found in the pages of all the private newspapers, which devoted their headlines and their editorials to the issue: "Even though used to electoral fraud, large sections of the population have been profoundly shocked by the extent of the fraud (…) The shared feeling is that Algeria has started out on road towards a long journey in time, but backwards.47" Recalling the mobilisation (called the "contesta") of political parties that demonstrated against fraud, "El Watan" wrote: "The Contesta, born in the aftermath of the electoral fraud, highlighted a bitter truth (…) The obstacles to free expression have increased and "real democracy" is now an empty slogan.48 " The same critical tone was employed to denounce the fraud49 in the elections for the second parliamentary chamber. In the newspaper "Liberté", Dilem, the paper's cartoonist set the tone. Under the title, "Another drama this weekend", the drawing showed two men. One man reading a newspaper tells his neighbour: "The results show that 80 members of the RND were elected"50 . On the same day, "Liberté" opened its pages to Said Sadi, president of the opposition party RCD, to denounce the senate elections: "This is the logical continuation of fraud. (...) It is the final step in the process whose objective is not to get the country out of the crisis, but to restructure the government.51"

The fate of the survivors of the massacres

Since they are not directly targeted, many journalists continue reporting. Without any protection, they go to the most isolated regions when the massacres are heard of. Others focus more particularly on the social distress of the population, systematically pointing out the Government's failings. In an "El Watan" article, entitled "Children with worn-out rubber slippers", Salima Tlemcani ends her article in this way: "Faced with this dramatic situation, we have the right to question the absence of the services of the Solidarity Ministry, whose main mission is to bring aid and assistance to families struck with disaster"52 . When reporters return from their investigations, they all denounce the total neglect of whole regions and of the poorest citizens: "the massacres perpetrated against isolated populations in the deep interior of Algeria have shown their dreadful state of under-development: no water, gas or electricity"53 . The Algerian press was the first to denounce the State's absence from the regions affected by violence. For example, in an editorial entitled "The Absent State", "El Watan" wonders "why the security forces charged with protecting citizens do not intervene in time to limit the losses and damages? Is it a question of incompetence, of inability, or worse - is it a political problem?54"

Information relating to national security

On 7 June 1994 the press was ordered as follows: "Regarding information linked to terrorism and subversive action, all media are required to publish only official statements". That order remains a dead letter, certainly as far as concerns the private newspapers mentioned in this report. The clearest examples, although not the only ones, concern the massacre of civilians. In blatant violation of ministerial orders, it was the private newspapers that revealed to Algeria and to the world the massacres that have been perpetrated against defenceless villagers since last summer. They did not wait for the official statements to describe the atrocities and gave their own accounts, varying sometimes from one newspaper to another, based on interviews carried out by journalists in the field and in hospitals. Risking their lives, journalists crossed the mountains of the Relizane region, as well as the valley of Mitidja, near Algiers, the scene of several massacres. Without the accounts they gathered from survivors, the world would perhaps have continued to be unaware of the drama that hundreds of Algerian families have lived through. This is because it is the private Algerian press that often informs the western media. Without these journalists, without this private press, the international community would perhaps not have found out about the massacres. The newspapers were not content just to bypass the government's prohibition; they also made fun of it: "We would be curious to see the face of the official that really decides to decrease the number of victims of terrorism. The official who ultimately decides to announce only 78 dead in a pathetic statement, when there is a massacre leaving over 400 dead,; (...) Fraudulent figures cannot always be communicated. An announcement of 78 dead mocks the other 322 victims. Their deaths are being denied without their lives being protected.55" A "Liberté" headline exclaimed: "Grenade in a bus. Official count: 13 injured, 2 seriously, while hospital sources claim 21 injured, with 4 in a critical state"56 . "El Whatan" explains: "The official sources always tend to minimise the numbers in massacres, with the obvious aim to avoid increasing the population's fear (...) We can cite the massacres at Bentalha and Ouled Moussa where the number of dead announced by officials was three times lower than the figure gathered on the basis of witness accounts"57 . The "recommendations" made by the authorities in 1994 to "treat information relating to national security on the inside pages and in small print" were also ignored. The private press has always refused to minimise the drama that those in power sought to hide. While national television nearly does not mention a word of these massacres against civilians, or only doing so in a closing statement at the end of the news, the private press places them on the front page: "The year ends with a new horror: 78 dead in Rezilane"58 "Bloody Weekend"59 , "Series of Massacres"60 "Death by axe and pick axe blows"61 . These headlines, sometimes sensationalist, are generally accompanied by large photographs, showing the victims covered by white sheets. To escape the grasp of censorship, that would not normally have let them publish information relating to national security, the heads of the press have devised a common strategy. Before publishing information susceptible to be censored or of resulting in the closure of the newspaper, they meet and decide to publish all together62 .The result is that it is not possible to censor six newspapers in one go, without creating an outcry of national and international protests. Following the setting up of this new strategy, in January 1998, the Government's "reading Committees" set up in the printing companies were cancelled. The private press had won that particular struggle against the State. In the meantime, the war continued amongst the press which battles daily for freedom of expression. The State tries, by any means, to stifle this common stance which constantly questions official statements. This is a situation that the newspaper "Liberté" summarised thus: "It is by reading newspapers such as "Le Matin", "El Watan", "Liberté", "La Tribune", "Le Soir" or "El Khabar" that we have finally realised that terrorism continues to spread death. And between terrorism and the press, there is not enough room for both of them and so one must disappear. But which one? (...) It is true that it is easier to get rid of the press and to live an illusion"63. However, the treatment of information relating to national security by the press remains incomplete, and still comes up against numerous barriers; intimidation of the Algerian journalists at the scenes of massacres, controls, temporary imprisonment, inability to criticise the behaviour of the army, hindrances to the investigations etc. This does not mean that the private press has not managed to lift a veil of silence imposed on it by the authorities. It is thanks to the private press that Algerians, and the international community, have other sources of information other than the State.

Human rights violations

There have sometimes been criticism of the private press for shutting its eyes on the human rights violations of which the authorities are guilty. It is difficult to know if this is a constraint imposed within the control framework of information relating to national security or if it is a deliberate choice. Most of the newspapers accept that the repression of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is necessary and have an anti-Islamic editorial policy. It remains that this is the main weakness of the private press, even though the majority of them do not remain silent to this matter, but refer to them timidly in their pages. For instance, on 3 January 1995, "El Watan" prints a lengthy interview with Ali Yahia Abdenour64 , the President of the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH)65 . He sums up the human rights situation in Algeria: "We are witnessing a hemming in, police control and control of the population, of police searches, arrests and numerous abductions of young people, followed by summary executions (...) Torture, the most extreme form of violence that the State always denies, is common practice, employed systematically"66 . On the 20 of November 1996, under the headline "Human Rights in Algeria - The damning Report of Amnesty International", El Watan dedicated practically a whole page to Amnesty International's report. On the same page was a little insert, entitled "The UN denounces torture in Algeria". Finally at the bottom of the page was a wire from APS, in which the President of the Human Rights Watch in Algeria, (an organisation close to the Presidency of the Republic) claimed that "Amnesty International wants to provide political cover to terrorism"67 . More recently, the campaign of four organisations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Fédération Internationale des Droits de l'Homme and Reporters sans Frontières) aimed to set up an international commission of enquiry. This attempt was often criticised by the majority of the private press. El Watan is opposed to the idea of an international commission of enquiry. Omar Belhouchet, El Watan's director, states that: "It is unacceptable and intolerable that in Europe they continue to ask who is responsible for the killings in Algeria. Even while one is against the corrupt and authoritarian Government, the responsibility of the Islamic fundamentalist armed forces in the massacres must be recognised and fought." Several independent Algerian journalists explain their distrust of Amnesty International, by the fact that this organisation has decided to call the Islamic fundamentalists claiming responsibility for the massacres against civilians68 "armed groups in opposition"69. For the majority of Algerian journalists, this not an issue of semantics. It "aims to rehabilitate the murderers with whom they are forcing us to talk". Even worse, Amnesty International is accused of not having been balanced; for instance in its 1996 report it spent only a few lines to the violence of the armed Islamic forces, while it concentrated its criticisms exclusively on the Government. This does not prevent the private press from demanding greater transparency from the Government and its editorial of 26 February 1998 "Le Matin" writes: "In the sphere of respect for human rights (…), if police errors have been committed (which the National Human Rights' Observatory admits), the State must end them, if we want to end terrorism and if we want the State based on the rule of law for all" 70.

Conclusion: an emerging press in a country at war

The private press was born a few years ago, in a country with no democratic tradition and without any experience of freedom. From its birth, it was physically attacked by the Islamic fundamentalist groups, in an attempt to annihilation it. It was faced with State censorship, direct or indirect. Yet despite this, the private press aspires to a certain normality. However, the private newspapers acknowledge that: "there is good and bad in this new press, still growing, fragile, often dispossessed but with spirited, energetic participants (...) Over-politicised, and constantly on a state of self-defence, it has become the favourite target of the authorities, as well as terrorists. Both of these groups criticise the press for not being on their side. The newspaper "El Watan" aspires, as does its independent colleagues, to become a newspaper less dragged down by politics and more professional"71 . For the editor of "La Tribune" "Algeria is getting ready to live its sixth year under the State of Emergency (...) We can hope that the apprenticeship of democracy, the respect for human rights and the freedom of expression will increase"72

Harassment, Censorship, Suspensions

The Private Press

The audacity of the private Algerian press does have its limits. While the censors may have disappeared from the printing companies, the printing companies and advertising companies remain in the hands of the State. Both of these are used to pressurise the private press. Taking 1997 as an example: January:

• Without specificitying its reasons, the printing company refused to print the weekly national Arabic newspapers "El Maoued" and "El Kilaa".


• Algeria's main printing company, Sodipresse, which prints the newspaper "El Ouma" is closed down by the State.

• The State printing companies refuse to print the weekly Arabic newspaper "Echourouk".


• According to Human Rights Watch, Aziz Bouabdallah, a journalist of the daily newspaper Al-Alam al-Siyassi, is arrested by the security forces. At the end of 1997 his family had still had no news of him73 .


• Ghania Oukazi, the journalist of the national French daily newspaper "El Watan", is summoned by the security forces and interrogated for three hours over an article published on the massacre of Sidi-Youcef.

• The Algerian authorities confiscate the accreditation from one of the four journalists of the "Agence France Presse" office in Algiers.

• On 3 September the French daily newspaper "La Tribune" was suspended for publishing a cartoon strip.74 The Cartoonist, Chwaki Amari, was accused of having "offended the State" and was imprisoned for 28 days in July 1997. The newspaper's Director, Khaireddine Ameyar, and its Editor, Baya Gacemi, were condemned to a year of imprisonment and six months bail respectively. The daily French newspaper "La Tribune" has now re-appeared.


• On 5 November, the Director of the national French daily newspaper "El Watan", Omar Belhouchet, was condemned to one year imprisonment for statements made on two French television channels (TF1 and Canal +), with regards to the identity of the journalist killers.

• The same day, he was detained in a police station for three hours to explain Y.B.'s satirical article "People will not abdicate in the face of cheaters and assassins"75.

• Y.B. was also be detained but was not prosecuted.

• Omar Ourtillane was also summoned by the police. He did not turn up, because he had been murdered in 1995.

According to the Centre of Solidarity with the Media in Algeria, set up in Algiers by the International Journalists Federation (FIJ), the harassment of the press in 1997 was not as bad as previous years. However, as underlined by FIJ, there is reason to believe that the harassment of the French newspaper "El Watan" "was aimed at punishing the private press in general", for their campaign denouncing the fraud in the local elections of 23 October 1997. It is also after these elections that ANEP refused to allow its advertising to appear in the pages of the private press. This was carried out without any justification or written notice on their part. The newspapers have denounced the "terrible blackmail" and the "financial repression" carried out by the official agency. The refusal to advertise lasted three days. The campaign carried out by the private press denouncing the ANEP action forced ANEP reconsider its position. On 11 November 1997 the relationship between journalists and ANEP was re-established. Even "El Watan", which had been deprived of official advertising since August 1996, would have been able to have access to it. However, as we have seen, "El Watan" decided do without such advertising, in order to guarantee its independence. After the incident with ANEP, the private press undertook a sustained campaign against the State's advertising monopoly, qualified as "a political regulator against independent media"76 .

The press which favours dialogue with FIS

Is the State ready to tolerate private newspapers which are favourable to the Islamic arguments, or to see a dialogue with the FIS? The fate of the newspaper "La Nation", which disappeared in December 1996, implies that the State is not. However, in March 1998, the newspaper "Libre Algérie", representing the Socialist Forces Front (Front des Forces Socialistes or FFS)77 was launched. This newspaper favours dialogue. Projects stemming from Islamic parties represented in the National Assembly were also announced. In 1992 "La Nation" was set up as a daily newspaper. Salima Ghezali joined the paper at the end of 1993 and became its Director in November 1994. The daily then became weekly. In December 1996, before disappearing altogether, its circulation ran to 45.000, according to its Director (or 26.000 according to the company in charge of its distribution)78. Like other newspapers, "La Nation" was prevented from printing numerous times; eight between 1992 and 1996. For example, in March 1996, the Printing Company of Algiers (SIA), informed "La Nation" of the seizure of proofs sent for printing. La Nation had been preparing to publish a report on human rights violations in Algeria. No explanation was given to the newspaper. It had to wait for a statement by the official Algerian Press Agency to learn that they had been accused of publishing "erroneous and tendentious information" and of indulging in "the apology of terrorism". This report, which had been censored in Algeria, appeared in France in the pages of "Le Monde Diplomatique"79 . Once again, on 24 December 1996, the printing company refused to print "La Nation" and its Arabic equivalent "El Houriya". According to SIA, this measure was justified due to the delay in payments from both titles. According to Salima Ghezali, her newspaper had a debt of 600.000 FF to the printers but she believes that the financial argument was only a pretext for political censorship.

The Audio-Visual Media

National Television and Radio and Satellite Communications

There are four radio stations in Algeria, all official, and only one television channel80 . According to a survey carried out by the daily Arabic newspaper "El Khabar"81 in March 1997, 62,3% of Algerians listen to the news provided by national television and only 17,5% are able to receive the foreign channels, through satellite dishes. Another study, carried out in October 1997 by the Abassa Institute, confirms that ENTV is the most watched television channel by the Algerians, but it is followed closely by the Anglo-Saudi MBC82 channel (in Arabic), as well as the French channels TF1, A2, M6 and Canal +. According to this survey, if all the channels were equally available, the French channels would be watched as often as the national one. Belkacem Mostefaoui, Researcher in communication sciences, published two articles in "El Watan" that analyse the contents of the televised news, available to the Algerians: "the main motives for listening to foreign news oscillates between the essential need for having access to the news and facts of terrorism, and of getting the positions of political leaders to whom the national channel does refer to sufficiently, or ignores completely"83. The study carried out by the Abassa Institute assesses that 33,5% of the Algerian homes are equipped with a satellite dish. This number should increase annually by 8%. The demand for satellite dishes is increasing in this country, when it is actually decreasing in the rest of the world. Amitronica, a Portuguese satellite dish export company, alone has exported 390,000 satellite dishes to Algeria between 1995 to 199784 . The irruption85 of satellite dishes in the Algerian homes constitutes a real revolution, as it gives access to other sources of information than the stale speech which national television continues to use. Television programmes received through satellite dishes provide to a wide audience, the possibility of listening to opinions that "contradict the unanimous, self-legitimising speeches of the leaders"86 .

The Art of Manipulation

Algerian television and radio faithfully reproduce the official State line. State television has shown on numerous occasions that it creates propaganda and remains silent on the real state of security in Algeria. One of the latest examples dates only back to 26 February 1998, during the congress of the RCA, which is an opposition party drawing its voters from the region of Kabylie. When over 1200 people arrived from all over Algeria to participated in the congress, ENTV television evening news only showed a banner of the police headquarters (wilaya) of Tizi-Ouzou, in order to try to divide the RCD within Kabylie regionalism. A further example of propaganda when Soheib Bencheikh, the Mufti of Marseille (who spoke at the same Congress along with as other foreign personalities) was displayed by ENTV, as the RCD's representative in Marseille (France). All the evidence points to ENTV trying to discredit the speech of Soheib Bencheikh, who promotes the separation of religion and politics. According to him "the principle of secularity is the civil and judicial basis of all modern states"87 . Another significant fact is that national television boycotted the protests denouncing the electoral fraud, organised by several parties in October 1997. The attitude of denying media access to all those who protest against the State has caused the newspaper "La Tribune" say that this medium remains "light years away from reality in Algeria. It is closed to debate and continues to ignore the multiple metamorphosis which Algerian society undergoes"88 . As opposed to the private press ENTV has, until the beginning of this year, faithfully followed the Ministerial Order on information relating to national security. A significant example was revealed by the newspaper "El Watan" on 2 January 1998: "The first time the headlines were read out on the news at 8 o'clock, a report on the recent massacre of Relizanne was mentioned. When the headlines were read out for a second time, half an hour later, the report on the massacre was not there! Neither the TV presenters said a word."89 The same occurred for other large massacres which took place in the country. Apart from pictures of the security forces inflicting losses on the armed groups, or terrorists as they are called by the Algerian authorities90 , civilian victims are ignored by national television. The death of Princess Diana, in August 1997, took up large amounts of television news, despite the fact that the 300 massacre victims of Raïs, who were Algerian, only received a footnote (with little show of sorrow) at the end of the news. This policy of censorship, of lies and manipulation, have pushed many Algerians away from a medium to which they cannot relate. If they do want to relate to it, all they need to do (in the caustic words of an El Watan reporter) is to turn off the television and look at themselves in the screen's reflection"91 .

Signs of Change

Since January 1998, however, many observers agree that there is a light breeze blowing through the Algerian public television92 . Whether this is a re-vamping, as a political reaction or a real change, the private press is in constant debate. The press does note that the Algerian government seems to want to break with the policy of the restriction of the information which had been imposed until now. Three facts corroborate this analysis:

1. On 23 January 1998, television audiences were able, for the first time, to follow a live debate organised at the National Assembly (the Algerian Parliament). The Members of Parliament confronted the Prime Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, and questioned his management of the fight against terrorism. The Members of Parliament asked questions on the Government's policies regarding security matters and demanded explanations on the absence of an armed reaction to help the population of Bentalha, Raïs or Sidi Hamed.

2. On the night of the 6 to the 7 of February 1998, a second debate was organised at the APN and broadcast live by the Algerian television. Once again, the Members of Parliament questioned the Government's policies. The Members of Parliament from parties with a majority even united with the opposition to dispute the management of public affairs and the crisis.

3. On 10 February 1998, a new programme called "Carrefour" (crossroads) was broadcast. The debate differed from those which the Algerian audiences had become accustomed to, as political personalities from different parties and representatives of the civil society were able to discuss the issue of terrorism.

Recalling that programme, the newspaper "El Watan" summarised the general feeling in an article entitled: "TV surprises us"93 . "Liberté" followed by shooting some barbed comments at the Government: "Real programmes (which reflects the State's policy of openness, and of a State removing itself from mediocrity and stupidity) can assist in understanding the real issues that Algeria is confronted to."94 This contentious programme took place during the visit of the European Troika95 and during the visit of the European Parliament delegation in Algeria96 . Was the programme a flash in the pan or does it herald a real change? Is it the start of a real policy of openness or merely a new communications strategy, aimed at addressing the internal and external criticisms that there is a lack of transparency? Many Algerians remain sceptical, even if (as the newspapers note): "issues, which have been taboo until now, are publicly debated: the dissolution of political parties, the role of the APN, the management of security, the origins of the crisis, human rights and several other questions, which have been absent from the media until now, are being tackled"97 . Despite this surprising change, the fact remains that, until proved otherwise, Algerian television is still submitted to the good will of the authorities. For the editorial writer of "El Watan": "the developments made by national television must be highlighted, but to say that it has emerged from following a single party line, does not mean that it now has a blank cheque"98 .

Electronic Media

In order to get up to speed with the global village, the Algerian authorities have promised that all companies wishing to invest in electronic media be able to do so, once the law selecting the Internet Service Provider is published. At the end of March 1998, this was still not the case. For the time being, access to the Internet is controlled by CERIST, the Centre for studies and Information Research, which is an official body. This monopoly and the exorbitant price of 2000 US$ for the connection, are serious obstacles for the development of these and of the contact between Algeria and the outside world. Amongst the private newspapers, only El Watan (http://www.elwatan.com) and Liberté (http:www.liberte-algerie.com) have internet sites.

The Foreign Press

The deaths of 60 Algerian journalists has dissuaded many foreign journalists from coming to Algeria. Even more so since a French reporter, Olivier Quemener, was killed in the Casbah of Algiers at the beginning of 1994. The danger, very real in some places, and the slow trickle of Algerian visas have transformed the Algerian drama into a conflict with no images and practically with no witness accounts. However, the authorities happily provide visas, when it comes to covering specific events, such as elections or the visit of Members of the European Parliament in February 199899 . Once in Algeria, journalists are not free to travel. On arrival, each reporter or television team is taken by a team of plain cloths police or by the gendarmerie. This measure is officially presented as fundamental for the security of foreign reporters, but also serves control the work of the media representatives from all over the world. Despite the relaxation noted since January 1998, this system appears to be one of surveillance. Finally, certain journalists are forbidden to visit Algeria and the international press is still not sold in Algeria.

Future Prospects

In Algeria, 1998 should be a decisive year for the media professionals. Journalists await with anxiety and impatience the new laws on information and on advertising that are to shortly be debated in the National Assembly. Will these laws put an end to monopolies? Will press freedom be recognised? Will the audio-visual sector open up to pluralism? The first version of the latest draft law on information, foresees judicial mechanisms that are more flexible than those in the law of 1990, currently in force. In terms of criminal law, for instance, the draft law proposes considerable reductions, notably for preventive internment for offences committed though the press. The preventive detention , in case of defamation100 is deleted. It is a real improvement for media professionals. However, certain grey areas remain in this draft law: for example, according to "Le Soir d'Algérie": "it retains the same ambiguities, same generic conditions with regards to notions such as the national values, state security, national unit etc"101 . Ahmed Ouyahia, the Algerian Prime Minister has tried to reassure matters: "The new law on information will no longer be a gagging law102. The press freedom is an existing right and, he states "the opening up of television will be achieved". 103The Prime Minister also claimed that the new law on advertising would open concrete opportunities for private agencies to compete with ANEP: "It will bring an end to monopoly"104 With regards to the monopoly of printing companies, Ahmed Ouyahia declared: "Newspapers are free to buy presses and create their own printing companies. They can even organise themselves into paper import companies. The Government does not see this as a problem."105 It is important to point out that in March 1998, the re-appearance of the bi-monthly newspaper "Libre Algérie", which is the newspaper of the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS), which openly questions the legitimacy of the State and favours a national dialogue with the FIS. In its first issue, number 1, new series, from March 9 to 22nd, 1998, we read: "Libre Algérie appears in the midst of a democratic bluff. This latest political fraud. Libre Algérie, will have as its goal to combat it. It is for us a fact that: "the carnations of the democracy will not bloom at the end of kalachnikovs".


Every day the Algerian private press becomes more interested in the management of public affairs and the massacres. That is why it is threatened, prosecuted and constantly harassed by the authorities, which the private press continually questions openly. On the other hand, it is either because the country is in a State of Emergency, or because the press is united in its opposition to Islamic fundamentalists, that the private press' main weakness is in not confronting the State with regards to human rights issues. The independence of the Algerian press will not be real until the day it is allowed to manage the tools of production. However, the freedom that it displays today is significant. It is a permanent battle, against those in two different camps who that try to stifle it. The exercise of independent journalism in Algeria is possible, but it is difficult and dangerous. Despite the massacres, the conflict and the State of Emergency, Algeria is peculiar in being the country in the Arab world were freedom of expression is most accomplished. The private newspapers have opened an space of a pluralist debate. Neither pressures nor censorship have managed to silence them. In the meantime, it is important to bring their impact on the population into context. In a country where 40% of the population is illiterate, the tone of freedom of the private press is also seen by some as a 'democratic alibi'106 . A circulation of maximum 800.000 copies, has a limited impact in a country of 30 million people. Moreover, there is only one independent newspaper in Arabic, El Khabar, that has some influence. And despite the tentative advances recently made by the audio-visual media, these remain to be confirmed and the audio-visual media is still entirely State controlled. "Only images have a real influence over the behaviour of Algerians" admits "La Tribune". As far as that French newspaper is concerned, "so long as this situation lasts, the democratic advancement is artificial" . The fact remains that for hundreds of thousands of Algerians these private newspapers represent the only possibility to have access to information which is not controlled by the State. Furthermore, within the current context, certain newspapers play a decisive role in the democratic development and in the fight for an open and tolerable society. But private newspapers are very conscious that their margin of action is limited by the two opponents, which they must confront: the Islamic fundamentalists that have tried to exterminate them, and the State that tries to control them. Rarely, though, the press has been so free while in a state of siege. ICG considers that there will not be a truly free press until there will be a true democracy in Algeria. However, the fight of private newspapers must be recognised and supported.


For the last few months, Algeria has attracted a level of international attention. It is imperative that this continues. There is no simple or immediate solution to the Algerian crisis. The measures suggested here would make sense if governments and international institutions undertake long-term strategies to favour the development of democratisation in Algeria. Despite their reluctance, the Algerian authorities have recently shown that they cannot remain totally insensitive to international demands. ICG suggests the following measures:

• Highlight the contradictory policies of the Algerian authorities

Algeria states that it has become a democracy. It must therefore be treated by the principles that it claims to be governed by. Within the sphere of the press, democratic governments must protest energetically and publicly every time a measure of censorship or ban is taken against a private Algerian newspaper, or each time a foreign journalist is refused access to the Algerian territory. The liberalisation of the press must also cover the audio-visual press. While waiting for this, the opposition parties and the organisms of the civil society must have access to national radio and television, which is currently almost never the case. The Algerian authorities must carry out the reform of the information law, while guaranteeing the independence and the freedom of the press. The Algerian authorities must equally create a judicial framework, allowing the setting-up of professional and independent organisations. The international community must follow closely its reforms announced for 1998 and consider them as one of the tests of democratic progress. The European Union must link the conclusion of an Association Agreement of with Algeria to end the monopoly over paper supply, the printing companies and access to the Internet. This point must also be raised in the context of negotiations on Algeria's accession to the World Trade Organisation.

• To fight the propaganda from Islamic Fundamentalist armed groups

Democratic countries must fight against the Islamic armed movements' propaganda which seeks to promote violence. The freedom of expression must not become a pretext for condoning violence. An example of this is given in enclosure 3. Those that favour a dialogue with the FIS to renounce violence must be aware of the ideology and the societal structure the FIS favours. In enclosure 2, we include an interview with Belhadj, the number two of the FIS, published in 1989 in the newspaper Horizon. The interview was published within the framework of a series of interviews on the project of a pluralist constitution. At that time the Islamic fundamentalists where almost certain to get into power. This is the reason why the interview displays a certain candour that one does not see today. The totalitarian character of the Islamic fundamentalists' agenda, the ferocious opposition to multi-partism, the legitimacy of the use of violence, as well as the inferior role of women are clearly described.

• The importance of fostering dialogue with Algeria

Algeria has suffered (and still suffers) from being a relatively closed country. This contributes to the misunderstanding of the conflict and assists the opaqueness of the authorities. Dialogue is to be encouraged. It will also have the effect of making the Algerian authorities face their obligation to protect its citizens and respect the democratic principles ascribed to. The International Community must keep the important flow of foreign visitors (Diplomats, Members of Parliament, Journalists, NGOs, students, citizens...) to Algeria and the visits of Algerians to other countries. In particular, Algerian journalists should have the opportunity to visit Europe to learn new techniques and to discuss the situation in Algeria. Foreign journalists should be able to visit Algeria and travel freely. The Algerian authorities should allow Algerian and foreign journalists work freely in the whole Algerian territory. In this context journalists should have the choice of benefiting or not from an escort, which is currently being forced upon them. Countries that give international aid should finance these exchanges through appropriate aid programmes. In particular, there are several civil society organisation (women's associations, terrorism victim's associations, children victims of massacres, support groups etc.) independent from the State and the Islamic fundamentalists, that lack basic facilities; in particular means organisational facilities (offices etc.) and communication facilities (fax, access to the internet etc.). The International community must assist these organisations to communicate their message in Algeria, as well as elsewhere. The International community, in particular the European Commission, should support the initiatives of free radio and independent printing companies. The European Commission should as soon as possible open a Representation in Algeria. Countries which have reduced their diplomatic representation or have closed their embassies, following the upsurge in violence, should reconsider their decision. The number of personnel from some embassies of democratic countries is particularly small. With the exception of France and the United States, the number of Diplomatic personnel is not sufficiently large to allow a serious monitoring of the political situation, the development of an exchange programme or the appropriate treatment of the request for visas. Certain countries do not even consider request for short-stay visas for tourist any more. The visa policy of several countries must be revoked to enable and facilitate such exchanges.


1. The Centre for Solidarity with the Media was opened by the International Federation of Journalists in Algiers

2. Tahar Djaout died of his injuries on 2 June 1993, after having spent a week in a coma. Writer and poet in French , he had worked as a journalist for the newspaper "AlgÉrie-ActualitÉ". In 1993, he had created the weekly newspaper "Ruptures".

3. After that attempted murder, Omar Belhouchet escaped two

4. There is only one television station in Algeria, ENTV, which faithfully follows the official

5. The "Maison de la Presse" was sited in old barracks, where most of the private press is regrouped, as well as the offices of the International Federation of Journalists, photo agencies and video production agencies. Situated near the centre of town, the building looked after by uniformed orderlies.

6. Apart from the three journalists mentioned, the explosion resulted in 21 deaths and more than 80 hurt amongst bystanders.

7. Boussaad Abdiche was killed by a bomb placed in a cultural centre. See the list produced by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Annex No. 1.

8. In 1997, two employees of the ENTV were killed; a camera woman, Louisa Ait Adda (on 26 June 1997) and a technician, Zoubida Barkat (on 30 August 1997).

9. Liberation. 7th June 1993.

10. On 1 June 1993, Abdallah Belabassi, claimed on national television that he had guided the murderers of Tahar Djaout to the scene of the crime.

11. The Islamic Salvation Front is an Islamic group whose objective is the setting up of an Islamic Republic in Algeria. Its two leaders, Abasi Madani and Ali Belhadj were imprisoned in June 1991, following the violence attributed to members of their party. On 26 of December 1991, the FIS won the first round of the legislative elections, 188 of 231 seats claimed and 47% of the votes. The elections were marked by a weak level of turnout of 61%. The second round never took place. The electoral process was stopped by the army and the FIS dissolved.

12. Le Courier International of 13 October 1994.

13. A murder attempt signed by two emirs" in Le Soir d'Algerie" 11th of February 1998.

14. A non-governmental organisation, based in New York.

15. Interview broadcasted by TF1, mentioned in "El Watan" on 6th of November 1998.

16. The statement appeared on December 11th, 1996 in "Al Ribat", a bulletin close to the AIS, circulated in London.

17. International Federation of Journalists, Report 1997: Journalists killed in the struggle for press freedom.

18. His column "From the corner of the eye" is published in the back page of "LibertÉ".

19. The escalation of violence has known several phases: attacks against the security forces, against intellectuals, against journalists and since September 1996, mass murder of civilians.

20. 1$ is worth 58 dinars (rate of February 1997)

21. From January 1998, following several massacres that cast a shadow over the month of Ramadan, the Algerian authorities stop using the argument of "residual terrorism" .

22. Directive 41 of 1996.

23. La Tribune, February 20, 1995.

24. In the beginning newspapers did not have a choice. They were deprived of State advertising in August 96, following a series of articles that were disapproved of at a high level. See section E "Harassment, Pressure and Suspensions".

25. Published by APS (official agency).

26. Two new titles have appeared since January 1998: "La Nouvelle Republic" and "Demain d'AlgÉrie".

27. The main shareholder of "LibertÉ" is Mohand Rabrab.

28. According to a survey carried out by the daily newspaper "El Khabar" on 24 March 1997, only 5% of Algerians read the press.

29. In December 1991, the FIS threatened to hang two French speaking journalists, accused of being Trojan Horses for Colonial France.

30. In absence of an independent organism that checks circulation figures, the numbers are provided by the Directors of these newspapers.

31. Contrary to what is said by the French association "Reporters sans FrontiÈres" for whom the free press is "entirely subject to the central authority", see letter of "Reporters sans FrontiÈres", No. 120, February 1998, page 1.

32. El Moudjahid, El Djoumhouria, Ennasr, Horizon, as well as most provincial newspapers.

33. El Watan, article of Y.B., 29 October 1997, page 24. Mr. Zeroual is the President of the Republic, Mr. Betchnine and Tewfik are his close counsellors, and considered as the most powerful men in Algeria.

34. El Watan, article of Y.B., 3 November 1997, page 24.

35. El Watan, article of Y.B., 23 December 1997, page 24.

36. El Watan, article of Y.B., 14-15 November 1997, page 24.

37. LibertÉ, 15 November, 1997, pages 1 and 3.

38. LibertÉ, Article of SAS, 2-3 January 1998, page 23.

39. El Watan, 31 December, 1997, page 4.

40. LibertÉ, 22 December 1997, page 24.

41. Le Soir d'AlgÉrie, 26 October 1997, pages 1 and 2.

42. El Watan, 24-25 October 1997, pages 1 and 2.

43. El Watan, 24-25 October 1997, pages 1 and 2.

44. Le Soir d'AlgÉrie, 26 October 1997, page 24.

45. Ibidem, p.2.

46. El Watan, 26 October 1997, page 1.

47. 14-15 November 1997, page 1.

48. El Watan, 24-25 October 1997, page 24.

49. LibertÉ, 26-27 December 1997, page 24.

50. Ibidem. Page 3.

51. El Watan, 17 December 1997, page 4.

52. LibertÉ, 3 February.

53. El Watan, 29 July, 1997, page 1.

54. (53) LibertÉ, 5 January 1998, page 24.

55. LibertÉ, February 26, 1998, page 1.

56. El Watan, January 4, 1998, page 1.

57. Le Matin, January 1, 1998, page 1.

58. LibertÉ, December 19-20, 1997, page 1.

59. LibertÉ, December 25, 1997, page 1.

60. LibertÉ, January 4, 1998, page 1.

61. The newspapers referred to are: El Khabar, La Tribune, LibertÉ, Le Soir d'AlgÉrie, El Watan, Le Matin.

62. LibertÉ, December 17, 1997, page 24.

63. Ali Yahia Abdenour is also the lawyer of the two leaders of the FIS, currently in prison. He is one of the most ardent defenders of a political dialogue with the representatives of these parties.

64. There are other Human Rights organisations: the National Observatory of Human Rights (governmental) and the Algerian League of Human Rights (non-governmental).

65. El Watan, January 3, 1995, page 2.

66. El Watan, 20 November 1996, page 5.

67. In a statement made on 26 September, the GIA claimed responsibility for the murderers committed in Algeria, justifying themselves by saying that they consider their victims as "impure tyrants", with the authorities being "their parents, and partisan. That is why [the GIA] hunts these partisans down, in the villages and desserts, eradicates them, destroys their fields, captures their wives and confiscates their goods".

68. The Black Book on Algeria, Amnesty International,1997.

69. Le Matin, February 26, 1998. Page 3.

70. El Watan, 7-8 November, 1997, page 1.

71. La Tribune, December 19-20, 1997, page 1.

72. Human Rights Watch Report, February 1998.

73. The cartoon, published on Algeria's National Day depicted two men in a street, with the Algerian flag flying. The first man asks: "Is it for the 5th of July?". The second replies: "No, they are hanging out the dirty laundry!".

74. See page 19.

75. El Watan, November 11, 1997, page 1.

76. It is Salima Ghezali that was in charge of launching this newspaper.

77. "La Nation" was distributed by the newspaper "LibertÉ" that has its own network.

78. Le Monde Diplomatique, March 1996, pp 17-20.

79. Entreprise Nationale de Television ENTV, owned the State and known as "L'Unique" - the only one.

80. El Khabar, March 24, 1997 pp 2 to 5.

81. Middle East Broadcasting Centre, broadcast from London.

82. El Watan, March 3, 1998.

83. El Watan, November 2, 1997, page 24.

84. Satellite dishes appeared in Algeria in 1997.

85. El Watan, November 17, 1997 page 12.

86. Soheib Bencheickh, Marianne et le ProphÈte, Grasset, Paris 1998. In Algeria, Islam is the State religion (Article 2 of the Constitution).

87. La Tribune, January 23-24, 1998.

88. El Watan, January 4, 1998, page 4.

89. The Algerian authorities refuse to call the Islamic armed forces other than terrorists. This is probably in order to distinguish the moderate Islamic members that are represented in Parliament and in government, where they have 7 Ministers.

90. El Watan, October 30, 1997. Page 24.

91. In Directive No. 17, made public in November 1997, President Zeroual requested the State media to open up to society and correct the image of Algeria in the outside world.

92. El Watan, February 12, 1998, page 1.

93. LibertÉ, February 12, 1998, page 3.

94. The Troika, visited Algeria from 16 to 18 January 1998.

95. Members of the European Parliament visited Algeria on 8 to 12 February 1998.

96. LibertÉ, February 12, 1998, page 3.

97. El Watan, February 12, 1998, page 5.

98. The Algerian authorities delivered 561 visas to foreign journalists in 1997 and 243 during the first three months of 1998.

99. No journalist is currently in prison.

100. Le Soir d'AlgÉrie, March 9, 1998, page 3.

101. Le Matin, February 20-21, 1998, pages 2-3.

102. Ibidem.

103. Ibidem.

104. Ibidem.

105. La Tribune, February 26, 1998, page 8.

106. Ibidem.


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