During the last few years, a transformation process has started in Algeria that is far less obvious than the turning points that characterize most Western Arab countries after the Arab Spring in 2011. Algeria finds itself in a dichotomy of modernization and religious values, openness and tradition, as well as the ongoing love-hate relationship with France (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, pp. 74-75). The FLN (Front de Libération Nationale), who rules Algeria since the independence in 1962, and president Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika try to manage these developments in a continuum of deregulation and maintenance of the status quo (Mostefaoui, 2013). Huber, Dennison and Sueur (2014, p. 15) describe Algeria as a “stagnant but elastic security state”. In this essay, I aim to analyse one part of this transformation with regard to the Algerian media system in order to assess possible future developments. Therefore, I address the following research question: Is the private broadcasting in Algeria a step to more pluralism?
The introduction of private broadcasting in Algeria is due to the latest reform of the press law in 2012 in the aftermath of the Arab Spring (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 64). The protests in 2011 died down soon after president Bouteflika promised the suspension of the emergency law, under which the country was ruled for 19 years, and further reforms (Auswärtiges Amt, 2017). Although the media landscape flourished after the introduction of the private broadcasting (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 65), Algeria was ranked place 134 of 180 on the Reporters without Borders list of Press Freedom in 2017 (Reporters without Borders, 2017). At the same time television is the most important medium for information and entertainment in Algeria and by 2010 60 percent of the Algerian households were able to receive several broadcasting channels via satellite (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 63). In the light of those developments, the private broadcasting in Algeria is a good example study the transformation process within Algeria’s media system.
For answering the research question, I rely on Sieberts, Petersons and Schramms (1963) authoritarian theory of the press and additionally the more recent approach of the political economy of media which I summarize in chapter two. In chapter three I locate Algeria within that theoretical background by outlining milestones in the country’s media history. The main analysis in chapter four focuses four main aspects: The legal frame, the economic situation of private broadcasters, professional factors of journalists and the role of the private broadcasting in the media system. Finally, I summarise my findings in chapter five in order to answer the research question.
2 Theoretical Background
In this chapter, I present the theoretical background that my analysis of the private broadcasting in Algeria is based on. As said in the introduction I use The Four Theories of the Press by Siebert, Peterson and Schramm who ask the simple questions “why is the press as it is? Why does it apparently serve different purposes and appear in widely different forms in different countries?” (Siebert et al., 1963, p. 1). Although the book was written under different sociohistorical circumstances compared to today, these questions are still relevant for a structural media analysis. Starting from these questions the scholars postulate one basic assumption that led to the Four Theories of the Press. This is that the form of the press in a country always depends on the form of the social and political structures within which it is embedded. Following that thesis, they name four aspects along which press systems differentiate from each other: 1) the nature of man, 2) the nature of the society and the state, 3) the relation of man and state, 4) the nature of knowledge and truth. Regarding these aspects, the relationship of the social systems to the press becomes clearer (Siebert et al., 1963, pp. 1-2).
In the following, I shed a light on the characteristics of the authoritarian theory of the press with regard to the four main aspects mentioned above. 1) Concerning the nature of man in the authoritarian theory man can only achieve their full potential as a member of the society, since “his sphere of activity was extremely limited” as an individual but set free in the group. (Siebert et al., 1963, p. 10). 2) Regarding the nature of the society and the state, the state can be seen as the society’s peak as it is “the highest expression of group organization” (Siebert et al., 1963, p. 11). 3) In the relation of state and man the man is dependent of the state with respect to his development, because “the state became the summation of all desirable attributes” (Siebert et al., 1963, p. 11). 4) Talking about the nature of knowledge and truth in the authoritarian theory the truth is a product of a few wise men and centred near the power (Siebert et al., 1963, p. 2), since knowledge affords mental effort and not all man are able to exert that effort (Siebert et al., 1963, p. 11). Furthermore, the intellectual activity has to be consistent, because “only through unity could the state operate successfully for the good of all.” Therefore, the state uses surveillance and control (Siebert et al., 1963, p. 11). To sum up, in the authoritarian theory the state is the absolute centre of power and knowledge as leader of a society in which the individual fully depends on the group and as such on the state. As a consequence, the press in authoritarian states works “from the top down” meaning that the rulers can use the press to inform the people, just what they want them to know, though (Siebert et al., 1963, p. 2, emphasis in original). This centre of control impedes a media pluralism understood as the diversity of opinions and value-based decisions (Noelle-Neumann, Schulz, & Wilke, 2009, p. 126).
In order to control the information published by the media, authoritarian states used different methods of censorship starting with the strict control newspaper by granting patents of monopoly in the sixteenth century (Siebert et al., 1963, p. 19). New businesses and the increasing quantity of media challenged a direct censorship so that the rulers had to find new ways to control the developing mass media (Siebert et al., 1963, pp. 20-21). Another method is the Anglo-American legal tradition. Here censorship meant the licencing of individual works and later in a broader sense other legal requirements that the media have to meet. The third instrument of press control was the prosecution before the courts, because of treason and sedition. As treason counted every attempt to weaken the state or to threaten the ruler which would shatter the foundation of the states, whereas sedition was used for getting non-conformists back in line (Siebert et al., 1963, pp. 22-23). At least, a less obvious form of control is the financial support of privately owned and managed newspapers which Siebert et al. (1963, p. 25) outline as a method that is still used by modern authoritarian rulers.
Ostini and Fung (2002, pp. 45-46) criticize that Siebert, Peterson and Schramm (1963) were constrained by ideology and the historical circumstances of the Cold War. Moreover, they would prescribe a linear development from an authoritarian to a social responsible press system (compare Siebert et al., 1963, pp. 3-6). Therefore, Ostini and Fung suggest a revision of the Four Theories of the Press in form of a new model with two dimensions. One dimension is about structural, the other about professional factors and both have two opponent characteristics. Structural factors concern the main system of government with its economic, political and cultural subsystems. On one side of the scale, there is democracy characterised by political freedom of the media without governmental control in a free marketplace of ideas. Whereas at the other end of the scale authoritarianism stands for dutifulness of the media to political authorities, because of political or economic constraints. The media stand under a strict regime of control by the government and the free expression of opinion is restricted (Ostini & Fung, 2002, pp. 46-47). Here, the opponent interests between the media control in authoritarian states and pluralism in the form of free expression of competitive ideas become more clear. The other dimension in the model concerns professional factors “such as individual journalistic values and the autonomy of individual journalists within media institutions.“ (Ostini & Fung, 2002, p. 47). Within that dimension, the scale ranges from conservatism on one side to liberalism on the other. Ostini and Fung (2002, pp. 47-48) operationalise conservatism as journalists being suspicious to rapid change and as such supporting the status quo. In contrast, Liberalism is characterised by competition and free speech so that journalists are rather in favour of social reforms. If one combines the two dimensions in the model, there is two manifestations of the authoritarian political system. First, the authoritarian-conservative system officially controls the press what is accepted by the journalists. Second, in the authoritarian-liberal system journalists support social reforms although criticism of the political system is not allowed (Ostini & Fung, 2002, p. 48). Due to this classification of media systems, one can differentiate between countries which would otherwise belong to the same category, because of structural factors (Ostini & Fung, 2002, p. 55). With regard to this essay, this is an advantage in analysing rather reserve changes within the Algerian media system.
Both Siebert et al. (1963) and Ostini and Fung (2002) mention economic constraints under which media have to operate in authoritarian states in means of a governmental method to control or pressure the media. Siebert et al. even emphasise this aspect as an instrument of censorship of modern authoritarian rulers. Therefore, I introduce the political economy of media as additional perspective, since the “interconnection of political and economic – both understood as practices that shape structures that shape practices – may not determine but strongly influence national media systems” (Richter & Gräf, 2015, p. 25).
For scholars, the political economy of media became more important in the light of new media technologies as well as corporatization, commercialization, commodification and concentration of media (Wasko, 2014, p. 260). Vincent Mosco defined political economy as “the study of social relation, particularly power relations, that constitute the production, distribution and consumption of resources” (Mosco, 1996; quoted by Wasko, 2014, p. 261). Asking the question how far political and economic structures influence media institutions and media production gives us a better understanding why some themes appear on the media agenda and others do not (Richter & Gräf, 2015, p. 25). This approach is especially interesting for studying Arab media systems, since most Arab countries undertook neo-liberal marketing openings in the media systems since the late 1990’s (Richter & Gräf, 2015, p. 30). That is why it is short-sighted to speak of purely political controlled media, though, authoritarian elites still exert the power. Instead, in order to discover the liberal façade, it is crucial to look at the influence the authoritarian rulers have on the media via regime loyal businessman or other economic constraints (Richter & Gräf, 2015, p. 32). Thus, the political economy offers an approach for studying new methods of media control in authoritarian regimes that are related to the economic system within which the media operate.
To sum up, Siebert et al. (1963) made clear that in an authoritarian system the ruling elite exerts the power while the individual is expected to subordinate itself as a group member. As the truth and knowledge are located next to the powerful elites, the flow of information via media communication goes top-down. Therefore, in authoritarian systems, the control of the media is a central instrument for the exertion and maintenance of power. That is why authoritarian rulers used a different method of censorship and media control over the time. The demonstrations during the Arab Spring in 2011led to an opening of the media market in Algeria. However, the question remains to what extent this was rather a pseudo-liberalisation or a serious reform towards more pluralism. With reference to the three different theoretical perspectives, that I outlined in this chapter, the following aspects are central to the analysis in that essay: 1) The legal frame within which the media operate. 2) The political influence on media through the economy. 3) The attitude of journalists in favour of the status quo or social reforms. In the following chapter, I delineate milestones in the media history of Algeria in order to describe how far the country can be seen as an authoritarian system.
3 Algerian media history
In the following, I summarize the media history in Algeria by naming four main periods starting with the independence in 1962. I do not aim to give an in-depth introduction but to answer the question why it is appropriate to analyse the Algerian media system within the framework of an authoritarian theory of the press. Furthermore, it is important to consider the evolution of the media in a country in order to assess their current and future role (Guaaybess, 2013, p. 7).
The first phase of Algeria’s media history as an independent state is characterised by a close relationship of political elites and the media. In the independence war, the unity party FLN used the newspaper Al-Moudjahid as a tool for propaganda and mobilization for strengthening the internal cohesion and appealing to the solidarity of socialists in France. Additionally, the newspaper served as an instrument for diplomacy in the underground what makes the intertwining of the political power with the media even clearer (Gerlach, 2016, pp. 168-169). After Algeria gained independence from France in 1962 the FLN basically kept the colonial law for regulating the press and continued the tradition of journalism as an instrument to control the public opinion and to protect the country against internal and external enemies. In 1973 the law was extended by an amendment that the national sovereignty is not allowed to be harmed (Gafaiti, 1999, p. 51). Moreover, the press fully depended on the state, since it “was owned and organized and its members chosen and paid by the all-powerful central government” (Gafaiti, 1999, p. 52). The first TV channel in Algeria ENTV (Entreprise Nationale de Télévision), which was created in 1986, operated under the surveillance of the Ministry of Information and thus stood under the direct control of the FLN (Mostefaoui, 2013, p. 168). The government upheld that policy until it was forced to undertake reform in the late 1980’s (Gafaiti, 1999, p. 52).
In the mid-eighties, a phase of liberalisation arose initiated by the possibility to receive satellite television in Algeria so that the first French channel started airing in 1985. As a consequence, the Algerian public gained an alternative perspective on the world and due to the lack of national competitors, the French satellite channels were successful in both the provision of news and entertainment. Nevertheless, the public relation to the French channels was shaped by ambivalence, because they seemed like a remake of the old conflictual relation in post-colonial Algeria (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, pp. 60-61). The FLN perceived the new external media pluralism as “‘waves of cultural invasion’” that had to be met with new regulatory bodies and regulatory norms (Mostefaoui, 2013, p. 168). In 1984 the High Information Council was created which should protect particularly the youth against wrong assertions about the national identity and values (Mostefaoui, 2013, p. 168). The strict control that the state exerted on the media ended under the pressure of demonstrations of the youth due to social upheavals (Gafaiti, 1999, p. 53). In 1989 the government undertook reform towards a liberalization of the newspaper sector that led to the flourishing of an independent press. Notwithstanding, the state still held the monopoly over paper and advertisement and kept the broadcasting under direct control (Gafaiti, 1999, pp. 54-55). Nevertheless, el-Issawi describes the years between 1990 and 1992 and the “‘Golden Age’” of the Algerian press, since fundamental rights like the freedom of expression and association and the right to own publications were granted (el-Issawi, 2015, pp. 7-8).
The period of liberalization did not last for long, as Algeria found itself in a civil war shortly after the first free election in 1992: On one side the Islamic fundamentalists of the FIS (Front Islamique du Salut) who were about to win the election and planned to establish an Islamic republic in Algeria. On the other side, the authoritarian FLN regime accompanied by the power of the military who organized a coup against the Islamists. This phase interrupted the reform process and forced the journalists once again to ignore professional ethics and be ideological in favour of one of the opponents (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 7; Gafaiti, 1999, p. 56). The FIS assassinated journalists systematically, because they did not support or openly oppose the movement so that Algeria became one of the most dangerous countries for journalists (Gafaiti, 1999, p. 57). At the same time, the government shifted towards a strict control and repression of the press by introducing a law on terrorism and subversion in 1992. According to that, the Ministry of Interior could arrest journalists and suspense newspapers for security reasons at any time. Furthermore, the government established ‘reading committees’ that had to verify every article concerning security issues before the publication (Gafaiti, 1999, p. 58).
After the civil war ended in 1999 (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 7) Algeria entered a phase of normalization, the emergency law of the civil war stayed intact, though (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 63). In that period, the Algerian media landscape was mainly influenced by pan-Arabic broadcasting channels which presented an alternative for the French satellite channels (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 61). Since the end of the 1990’s, the Gulf states became important players as a provider of pan-Arabic broadcasting and particularly the Qatari channel Al-Jazeera attracted political and academic interest (Guaaybess, 2013, p. 5). As a result, external satellite channels threatened the states sovereignty over its territory (Guaaybess, 2013, p. 6) and the and the governmental capacity to restrict information (Anas, 2012-2013, p. 28). In addition, the choice between different channels and languages supported the diversification of the audience which enforced the Arabophone-Francophone divide in the Algerian society (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 62). Although the foreign satellite channels brought more pluralism into the Algerian media system, the FLN regime still had the monopoly over the national broadcasting and still used it to influence the public opinion. Especially during election time, the bias in the information about the political parties became obvious. First, the presidents got much more air time than other candidates, if they got a chance at all. Second, the president was filmed from a low-angle perspective which underlined his sacredness and power (Mostefaoui, 2013, pp. 174-175).
In summary, Algeria went through different periods of media regulations but since the independence one aspect was central: The FLN, that holds the power since almost 60 years, always secured its influence on the media. In the course of this, protecting the national sovereignty, security and values against internal and external enemies were essential. This mirrors the behaviour of rulers in an authoritarian system where the truth is determined by the political elites. Even in the period of liberalization, when the press was considered as mostly free, the state secured the monopoly over paper and advertisement to exert power. Since the turn of millennium pan-Arabic satellite channels gained importance and challenged the Algerian government. On the other side, the national broadcasting was still under the control of the state. That is why the new law, which was introduced in 2012, marked a turning point in Algeria’s media history. After a phase without pluralism in the aftermath of the independence, a pluralistic newspaper landscape in the late eighties and foremost external media pluralism during the last decade – is the national private broadcasting in Algeria a step to more pluralism
4 Private Broadcasting in Algeria
The following pages are about an in-depth analysis of the structural context within which the private broadcasting in Algeria operates. Therefore, I rely on the theoretical and historical background of the two previous chapters. First, I refer to the legal frame, second, to the economic situation of the private broadcasting and third, to professional factors. The question that lies on the bottom of all aspects is how far the authoritarian government and elites are successful in exerting political influence on the broadcasters. Finally, I want to address the role of private broadcasting within Algeria’s broadcasting landscape under the given circumstances.
Today there is a public disenchantment with the status quo in Algeria but after the civil war, the people are tired of further violent conflicts (Huber et al., 2014, p. 15). That is why the population was willing to accept the reforms which president Bouteflika suggested in the course of the demonstration in the Arab Spring (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 59). In this manner, Bouteflika was able to stay in power that he exerts as president of the country since 1999. Apart from the repeal of the emergency law (Anas, 2012-2013, p. 33), a new media law was introduced in 2012. One of the major aspects of that law was the permission of privately run broadcasting funded through the capital of a legal or physical body of Algerian nationality (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 64). However, the law on the regulation of the audiovisual sector was not adopted until 2014 (Gerlach, 2016, p. 175).
4.1 Legal Frame of Private Broadcasting
In the following, I take a deeper look at the legal conditions of the private broadcasting in Algeria. First, private broadcasters are asked to deliver only thematic programs, for example, sports, culture, shopping or women’s issues. Channels which existed before like Al-Naher TV, Echourouk TV and Al-Djaza’iriya were asked to redefine their profile towards thematic programming (Gerlach, 2016, p. 175). In 2015 there was six private channels of importance: Echouruk TV and Ennahar TV provided news, Al-Djaza’iriya was the only channel left which aired a general program, Samira TV was specialized on cooking and housekeeping and Dzair TV mainly dealt with sports and talk shows. Additionally, Al Adala was the only channel supporting a single political figure namely the Islamist Abdallah Djaballah (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 65).
Second, private broadcasters need a licence from the Audiovisual Regulation Authority (see below) to feed their programs into the terrestrial net in Algeria (Freedom House, 2016; Gerlach, 2016, p. 175). The eligibility of shareholders to receive a licence depends on having the Algerian nationality, no criminal records and not being opponent to the 1954 revolution. Moreover, private broadcasters cannot issue a complaint if the licence is granted with a delay or even denied (Freedom House, 2016). Although a multitude of private channels was founded after 2012, only five of them are officially licenced by the Audiovisual Regulation Authority for a one-year period with the requirement of continuous renewal. Most of the private channels operate from inside the country but actually, they are registered as foreign media institutions (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 10).
Third, the private broadcasters have to meet certain requirements with regard to the aired content. In principle, the Algerian constitution guarantees the freedom of expression (Freedom House, 2016) but there are several red lines which cannot be exceeded without expecting a penalty. First of all, the private audiovisual sector has the duty to spread ‘messages for general interest for the public authorities and official statements aiming to maintain the public order’ (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 9). Furthermore, media freedom should be exerted “‘under the law with respect of the religious, moral and cultural constants and values of the nation’” (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 9). Beyond duties of the media, there is legal restraints concerning the content. The most severe restrictions of the press freedom are in respect of the president and the institutions he represents as well as the broad area of national security (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 11; Gerlach, 2016, p. 177). In addition, there is limitations regarding issues of national economic interests and national history (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 64), whereby the latter is related to the FLN’s heroic struggle for independence and the prohibition of any apology for the colonialism (Gerlach, 2016, p. 172).
Fourth, the access for journalists to information is restricted, since ‘the private life, person’s rights, legitimate interest of enterprises and the requirements of national security’ are under special protection of the law (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 9). The access to information, especially on security issues, is one of the major challenges for Algerian journalists, as they totally depend on the government’s willingness to share information and are not able to verify the information given (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 16).
Fifth, in 2016 the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (Autorité de Régulation de L’Audiovisual, ARAV) was established as control institution with far-reaching competences. It oversees both the private and the state broadcasting via all platforms – satellite, cable and terrestrial – with regard to three aspects: “regulation (giving permission to use TV frequencies), control (ensuring adherence to all regulations) and advice (on all related laws)” (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 9). The ARAV consists of nine members nominated by the president who does not have to consider any criteria for his selective process. That is why doubts have arisen about the independence of the ARAV from the government (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 9). Another instrument for the implementation of the law are heavy fines that journalists have to expect for the violation of the red lines mentioned above. Those who cannot pay the fines of up to 500.000 dinars may go to jail (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 8; Freedom House, 2016).
As a consequence of the five points discussed, private broadcasting channels can be closed abruptly if they are not in line with the strict rules which massively limit the press freedom in terms of coverage about the president and the national security. For example, in 2016 the satirical television program Weekend stopped broadcasting, because it “received a directive to overhaul the program’s format after airing a segment that referred to Algerian official’s property assets in France” (Freedom House, 2016). Especially during and after the presidential election in 2014 the pressure on and intimidation of private broadcasters increased. In March 2014 the channel Al Atlas was ordered to stop its program, because of ‘incitement’ and ‘a lack of professionalism’. Another channel Al Watan had to stop, since it was “accused of ‘offence against symbols of the state and the republic’”. Both channels had in common that they gave air time to a content opponent to the president (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 13). Moreover, el-Issawi (2015, p. 12) interviewed journalists who perceived the accusation for defamation as an instrument of the state “to drain their financial resources and to delegitimise them”.
To sum up, the private broadcasting in Algeria is limited to thematic programs which legally need a licence although many broadcasters operate without one. Furthermore, the constitutionally guaranteed press freedom is limited by several red lines and the right of journalists to access information is restricted. Additionally, the independent Audiovisual Regulatory Authority, who oversees the private broadcasting, is in fact influenced by the president. Journalists operate in foggy conditions, since the red lines of reporting concern broad areas like the public order or national security. If private broadcasters exceed the lines, they can face legal charges or the order to stop the program. As a result, the government uses legal instruments to limit the press freedom on those topics which journalists could use to challenge its power. Although the topics, that get addressed by private broadcasters, are more diverse, there is no media pluralism in a normative way, since the press freedom is restricted in several ways that I mentioned above.
4.2 The Economic Situation of Private Broadcasting
In the next chapter, I analyse the economic situation in order to assess the influence of the government.
First, with regard to the ownership of the private broadcasting channels, there is one faction which is loyal to the president and another which is rather critical. Ennahar TV is owned by the former journalist Anis Rhamani who is known for his support of president Bouteflika in the 2014 campaign. Al-Djaza’iriya belongs to businessmen close to the regime and Dzair TV is owned by Ali Haddad who is loyal to the president and an “economic baron” in Algeria (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 11). On the other side, Echouruk TV is owned by the former journalist Ali Fadil who is critical to the government but does not attack the president in person or his policies. In addition, KBC TV, which is run by a collective of journalists who publish El Khabar newspaper, is rather critical as well. (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 11).
Although loyal owners can be useful for the government in preventing disenchanting reports and programs, the influence that it exerts through advertising seems to be more efficient in terms of media control. The state-owned National Institute for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP), which has a de-facto monopoly over the advertising market, tends to favour media that rather support the government (Freedom House, 2016; Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 64). Journalists perceive economic pressures – apart from legal instruments – as the most effective for punishing public expressed dissent against the government. The business model of national media lacks economic independence, since they build on governmental subsidies and advertising (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 13). Private advertising has increased but either they have been pressured to refrain from supporting critical media (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 14) or they follow their own policy. For example, in 2015 a Qatari mobile phone operator stated to stop the advertising to Algeria media if they attack Algeria or Qatar (Freedom House, 2016).
To summarize, with regard to the economic conditions the private broadcasting cannot be seen as independent from the government. On one side, several owners are loyal to the government or the president an even if the publisher’s line is more critical, the channels operate within the legal frame. On the other side, the government can exert financial pressure on critical broadcasters, since they rely on the advertising revenues of the state-owned ANEP. In conclusion – considering both aspects the legal frame and the economic situation – the new information management of the government seems to work in a more subtle way which can be described as ‘neo-authoritarian’ (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 64). Economic dependencies from the state prevent a critical coverage and thus a pluralistic marketplace of ideas.
4.3 Professional Factors of Journalists in the Private Broadcasting
In this chapter, I outline the professional attitude of journalists who work for private broadcasting channels. Ostini and Fung (2002) suggested a dimension for professional factors which reaches from conservatism in support of the status quo on one side and liberalism in support of social reforms on the other side.
The backbone of the new private broadcasting is foremost younger journalists who are “largely perceived as less resilient to directives and red lines compared to their older colleagues“ (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 18). The journalists of the printed press, socialized in the “Golden Age” of an independent press, understand themselves as activists whereas the new generation draws journalism rather as a “patriotic duty” (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 18). In an interview, the Editor-in-chief of the Ennahar media group underlined that the program is in defence of the country and every position in threat of the country’s stability is avoided (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 18). This attitude reflects the advent of private broadcasting in the aftermath of a football match between Algeria and Egypt. After the Algerians were insulted by Egyptian fans and media, the Ministry for Communication concluded that Algeria needs channels to defend itself (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 11). Thus, there was a strong relationship between a patriotism and private broadcasting from the very beginning. Also, self-censorship is common, because journalists fear defamation charges or the denial of advertising revenues if they take critical positions (Freedom House, 2016). In this light, the indictment of journalists can be seen either as consequences of the foggy legal conditions or as increasing break of taboos (Gerlach, 2016, p. 177). This is aggravated by the fact that there is a lack of a professional organisation of journalists within a representative body (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 19; Freedom House, 2016).
Although private broadcasting journalists follow a predisposed obedience towards the government due to a patriotic duty or self-censorship, they seem to pursue professional independence and freedom if possible. For example, Kada Benamar from Echouruk TV:
‘Security changes in recent years allowed us to cover topics we would never have dared to tackle before. We reported on trials of generals, talked about corruption, the role of money in politics, and the influence of generals in choosing presidents. However, this move was allowed and encouraged by the regime; the real margin of manoeuvre is usually the fruit of friction between the regime’s wings.’ (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 19)
Furthermore, journalists of the private broadcasting have more flexibility in reporting compared to their colleagues in the state broadcasting (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 19). Nevertheless, their professional attitude to defend the country’s stability and as a result, to respect the red lines limiting the press freedom rather supports the status quo and hinder pluralism.
4.4 The Role of Private Broadcasting within the Media Landscape
In this chapter, I address the question how far private broadcasting impacts the audiovisual media landscape in Algeria under the given circumstances described above.
One year after the launch of the first private broadcasting channels they already reached twice as much Algerians as the state channels. According to Media Market Research, by the end of 2013 Ennahar TV and Samira TV had the greatest range with 27 percent of audience share each, followed by Echouruk TV with 17 percent. One year later, according to the Tunisian company Sigma Conseil, the third Algerian state channel A3 was the most popular one with 15 percent of audience share, followed by Ennahar TV and Echouruk TV with 13 percent (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 65). Although these statistics should be watched cautiously, since the independence lacks a proof, they give a first impression of the popularity of the new private broadcasting channels.
The study of Sarnelli and Kobibi (2017) among 226 university student of five different faculties reflects the trends that the nation-wide surveys show. In 2014 the students answered questionnaires about the importance of the different broadcasting channels in their daily lives (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, pp. 66-68). Students from Arabic-speaking and French-speaking faculties voted Echouruk TV and Ennahar TV under the top three channels that are the most important. Other Algerian private channels like KBC, Al-Djaza’iriya and Samira TV appeared in the top 20 list in both groups but on different positions. The state channel A3 was popular as well: it was number one in the Francophone group and number ten in the Arabophone group. The authors explain the channel’s success with the modernisations the government undertook in the face of the more competitive market through private broadcasters (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, pp. 68-69). While the national private news channels gained importance, the foreign news channels like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya disappeared. Instead, the pan-Arabic entertainment networks could consolidate their influence (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 68).
The semi-structured group discussions with 41 students, which Sarnellin and Kobibi (2017, p. 71) did in the second part of their study, give a closer look at the viewer’s motives. The success of Echouruk TV and Ennahar TV came along with the emergence of trust in the private broadcasters with regard to information on current national affairs. Compared to the state channels the national private broadcasting was perceived as more independent from the state and more modern in its appearance (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 77). Albeit the persisting linguistic, cultural and ethnic divide in Algeria (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 60), for the first time different parts of the country watched the same news channels (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 78)
The orientation towards pan-Arabic entertainment channels was driven by the wish to see something new, that is why Turkish drama series are popular among the Algerian youth (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 73). At the same time several students, especially all girls, saw a moral duty to resist the influences of foreign programs which present a new behaviour. It is perceived as conflictual to the national culture that seems to be partly synonymous with religious values (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 75).
To sum up, Algeria finds itself in a dichotomy between modernity and foreign influences on one side and a more conservative, religious national identity on the other side. Here the new private broadcasting introduces a national perspective that can bridge differences and strengthen the self-confidence of Algeria as one nation. After the fragmentation in Francophone and Arabophone groups in the aftermath of the colonial time and the bloody fights during the civil war the private broadcasting could have a unifying effect. On the other hand, social problems like youth unemployment, the economy’s dependence on gas and oil, corruption (Sarnelli & Kobibi, 2017, p. 60) and the repression of the media could increase if private broadcasting journalists do not challenge the government and at the same time foreign news channels lose their influence as corrective (compare Mostefaoui, 2013, p. 184).
In this essay, I addressed the research question if private broadcasting in Algeria can be seen as a step to more pluralism regarding the latest development of a flourishing press in the audiovisual sector.
Therefore, I introduced the authoritarian theory of the press of Siebert, Peterson and Schramm who outline the operation of media in authoritarian systems as top-down-flow of information, since the truth is located next to the ruling elites. That is why the control of the media is central to the exertion and maintenance of power. In Algeria, there was a strong relationship between the media and the government from the very beginning, as newspapers served as a propaganda tool in the FLN’s fight for independence. In the phase of liberalisation during the eighties and early nineties, the government tried to save its influence through regulatory bodies in order to protect the national identity. After the repression of the media during the civil war, the first decade of the new century was characterized by media pluralism through foreign satellite channels. Nevertheless, the government kept its influence with the monopoly over the national broadcasting.
With the introduction of the private broadcasting in Algeria, the government continues its ambiguous policy of media liberalisation and maintenance of media control at the same time. Thus, the answer to the research question is: The private broadcasting is rather a façade of media pluralism in respect of the diversity of opinions and value-based decisions (Noelle-Neumann, Schulz, & Wilke, 2009, p. 126). Though, the private broadcasting had an impact that could be fruitful in the future. First, it is notable that the number of private broadcasting channels indicates more media pluralism. However, the channels are legally limited to a topic and need to be licenced although only five channels actually have a licence. Even though the freedom of expression is granted by the constitution, it is limited foremost regarding the coverage on the president and the national security as well as the access to information in those areas. Furthermore, the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority, which can be doubted to be independent of the president, oversees the implementation of the law. As a consequence, private broadcasting channels can be closed abruptly if they are not in line with the strict but unclear law, because of the broad areas that limit the press freedom. Second, beyond government-loyal owners of private channels, the government pressures critical programs through the state-owned advertising institute. On one side, journalists fear defamation charges, on the other side, they perceive the dependence on advertising revenues as an effective tool of the government to punish critical channels. Both lead to self-censorship which is widespread. As third aspect the professional attitude of private broadcasting journalists matters. They regard journalism as a patriotic duty in order to stabilise the country which is why they respect the red lines drawn by the government. Notwithstanding the legal, economic and professional obstacles of a critical press, the introduction of the private broadcasting led to more competition and a stronger national perspective in the Algerian media landscape. In the light of the persisting linguistic, cultural and ethnic divide it is a positive sign that the country watches the same news channels for the first time. Moreover, private broadcasting journalists have more flexibility than their colleagues of the state channels and they seem to be open for reports on controversial issues like corruption. As a conclusion, I suggest three points beneficial to those cautiously positive developments: First, private broadcasters should become more economically independent of the government. Second, journalists need representative bodies to refuse political influence and pressure. Third, journalists need a professionalization towards a patriotic but reflective relationship to the state.
Finally, I want to refer to the limits of that essay. I did not consider the role of the internet as another important part of the Algerian media landscape. Several examples indicate that it is used as a platform for a critical expression and discussion. For instance, the blogger Mohamed Tamalt who got arrested, because of ‘defaming a public authority’ and ‘offending’ the president in a Facebook post. He died of the medical complication of a hunger strike to protest against his arrest (el-Issawi, 2015, p. 12). Another example is the online television ENTVrai which serves as a platform for the discussion of social problems (Mostefaoui, 2013, p. 181). Therefore, future research should analyse the impact of critical opinions expressed online on the government and the media landscape.
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