Algeria protests loosen stranglehold on media

Algerians walk past newspapers reading "Bouteflika leaves" the day after Algeria's veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika informed the Constitutional Council that he was resigning, in Algiers on April 3, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2019
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Algeria protests loosen stranglehold on media

  • A small revolt has been brewing within the public sector media, with many journalists saying they refuse to be silenced

ALGIERS: Weeks of anti-government protests have helped Algerian journalists shake off the chokehold of state-imposed censorship but their work remains complicated and is often contested by demonstrators.
After the first protests erupted in February, journalists working for state media complained that their bosses had imposed a news blackout on the rallies against Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid to seek a fifth presidential term.
The protests have since become headline news on both private and public television channels, with live footage of nationwide demonstrations.
On a recent Friday, the main day of protests, however, television crews were shouted down and cursed by demonstrators as “arse kissers.”
“It reflects the hatred” protesters feel for the main private television channels because they totally ignored the first rallies, said Khaled Drareni of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The lack of coverage triggered shock in Algeria where private channels are usually quick off the mark and often run live reports.
But they are mostly owned by businessmen close to Bouteflika.
These media outlets “have tried to redeem themselves” by zooming in on the protests, said Drareni, who himself is a journalist, but they also report on alleged “manipulation” of the protest movement.
A small revolt has been brewing within the public sector media, with many journalists saying they refuse to be silenced.
Over the past week, dozens of journalists employed by state radio and television have staged their own sit-in demanding more freedom.
Journalists from EPTV, the public television company, gather weekly, chanting “free television” or covering their mouths with their hands to denounce censorship.

“There has been change, there are small windows that have opened,” said Imene Khemici of EPTV at a protest.
“We now have two specialized programs where we can invite people from different political persuasions, people from the opposition who can speak openly.”
Opposition figures and former officials who had been banned for the past quarter of a century are back on the airwaves.
“The most striking thing is how the public media have evolved, especially radio,” said Omar Belhouchet, director of the private newspaper El Watan.
As an example, the French-language radio station Chaine 3 now broadcasts live debates several times a week, a feature that was previously banned.

In the late 1980s, Algeria saw the emergence of dozens of privately-owned media outlets but their freedoms were quickly stifled by the outbreak of the country’s bloody civil war in 1992.
Several journalists were killed by Islamist groups during the decade of conflict, and the army imposed strict censorship on the media.
During Bouteflika’s 20-year rule, Algeria’s ranking on the press freedom index deteriorated dramatically.
In its latest report, the media watchdog RSF ranked Algeria in 136th place out of 180 countries, mainly due to “political and financial pressure” imposed by the authorities.
Newspapers in Algeria largely depend for their survival on revenues from state-funded advertising.
Private advertising comes mostly from businesses linked to stalwarts of the regime, said media sociologist Redouane Boudjemaa.
The media “reflect the diversity of the clans within the political system rather than the diversity of the Algerian population,” said Boudjemaa.
He cautioned that the changes in Algeria will not necessarily pave the way for greater media independence.
“In some ways we’ve moved from censorship to disinformation, especially on private channels,” he said.
But a group of journalists from state media are trying to build on the gains they have made in recent weeks.
They have drafted a charter consisting of 40 articles defining rules and regulations and have submitted the text to the new head of national television hoping it will be adopted.
Communication Minister Hassane Rahebi, for his part, has set up a committee to ensure “transparency” in state-funded advertising to avoid its use to exert pressure.
“This popular movement will open up new perspectives, including for freedom of the press,” said El Watan’s Belhouchet.


Qatari network Al Jazeera slammed over ‘Holocaust denial’ film

Updated 19 May 2019
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Qatari network Al Jazeera slammed over ‘Holocaust denial’ film

  • Video on AJ+ Arabic channel claimed Israel was the genocide’s ‘greatest beneficiary’
  • Network suspends two journalists over ‘violation of editorial guidelines’

LONDON: Al Jazeera’s youth channel AJ+ Arabic has drawn widespread condemnation over a video that was branded “Holocaust denial” for claiming the Jews exaggerated the scale of the genocide to help establish Israel.
After widespread public anger, the Qatar-owned network was forced to delete the video, suspending two of its journalists over its broadcast.
The video in question, while not disputing the Holocaust took place, suggested the Jews had skewed facts about the genocide, and that Israel was the “biggest winner” from it.

“Denouncing the Holocaust is a moral obligation, but Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust,” the presenter said.
“And it uses the same Nazi justifications as a launching pad for the racial cleansing and annihilation of the Palestinians.”
Many took to Twitter in outrage about the video, with one commentator pointing out the difference between AJ+ in Arabic, and its English output.
Al Jazeera has long been accused of broadcasting extreme material in Arabic, but churning out seemingly more balanced material in English, aimed at a Western audience.

In a statement on Sunday, the network said it had suspended two journalists over “violation of its editorial guidelines.”
“The video content and accompanying posts were swiftly deleted by AJ+ senior management from all AJ+ pages and accounts on social media, as it contravened the Network’s editorial standards,” it said.
The network has also said a “mandatory bias training and awareness program” was required for its staff.