Algerian press battles with market forces
The privately owned Algerian media, born in the blood of murdered journalists and raised in an era of Islamic violence, now finds it must survive the difficulties of the 21st century market-place. After Algeria became a multi-party nation in 1989, the state's media monopoly broke down and journalist collectives began to create the first independent newspapers, El Khabar editor Ali Djerri explained.
The journalists used money from their severance packages when leaving such public media outlets as El Moudjahid, the newspaper of the national liberation Front (FLN) that exclusively ruled Algeria from its independence in 1962 until the nation became pluralistic.
"The private press is a great achievement for freedom in Algeria," Djerri said. And being financially independent is key. Now those same journalists recognize that financial pressures can pose as much of a threat to a newspaper as political pressures.
"Our freedom of expression and judgment is one of the only achievements of the last few years. We must not let it go," said one journalist from Le Matin, criticizing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Bouteflika never misses an opportunity to bash the private press. "Our capital is held exclusively by journalists who still act as journalists," said Nacer Belhadjoudja, one of five founders of the independent newspaper Doyen.
El Khabar and El Watan recently bought their own rotary press together in order not to use the state's press, which prints all other Algerian publications. "This (state printing) monopoly ensures a lot of pressure," Djerri said.
Not all the Algerian private press is independent. The industrial company Rebrab controls the newspaper Liberte with 142,000 circulation. The newspaper is, however, liberal and its cartoons lampoon generals and others in power.
The Algerian private press bought its freedom with blood. Between 1993 and 1998, 70 journalists were murdered IN an attempt to stifle criticism. "The price we paid was high, in particular between 1992 and 1998. We ask ourselves how we managed to persist despite the assassinations (and) pressure from authorities," said Omar Belhouchet, editor or the francophone El Watan.
His newspaper recently celebrated its tenth birthday, as did Soir d'Algerie and the Arabic El Khabar, which has the highest circulation at 400,000. The three newspapers are housed in the Tahar Djaout press building, named for the first of the 70 murdered journalist, in Algiers.
These newspapers opened the path for an established private press in Algiers, which now counts at least 30 titles, two thirds of them francophone, with a total circulation of 1.2 million. "We faced enormous difficulties, pressure in all forms. They tried to smother us by restricting advertisements of state companies. We held on," Djerri said. — (AFP, Algiers)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)