Algeria’s senate urged to reject new media law’s draconian provisions
Drafted without prior consultation with journalists, Algeria’s proposed new media law, introduces new offences and tough new penalties, and reflects a desire on the part of the government to tighten its grip on the media, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
A vote on the new law, which was already approved on 28 March by the People’s National Assembly, the lower house of Algeria’s parliament, is expected today (13 April) in the Council of the Nation (the senate).
The proposed law’s 55 articles have the merit of sweeping away many provisions concerning the status of journalists, media funding, and regulatory and ethics bodies, but there is much concern about a requirement for journalists working for foreign media to obtain prior accreditation, and about a new battery of penalties.
“We were entitled to expect the Algerian authorities to engage in real consultation with media professionals when drafting this media bill. But, by restricting the way journalists work and, in particular, penalising certain forms of media funding, this new legislation is ultimately content to give a legal character to a political desire to muzzle the press. We call on the Council of the Nation to ensure respect for the constitution’s provisions onfreedom of expression and the protection of journalists by rejecting this bill’s draconian provisions.
Some of the bill’s provisions are positive. It simplifiesprocedures for creating newspapers and magazines) and it says the print and electronic media regulator would be an“independent authority endowed with legal personality and administrative and financial autonomy.” But other provisions are more controversial.
It prohibits the Algerian media from receiving any “funding or direct and indirect material assistance from any foreign party” under penalty of “criminal sanctions provided for by law,” a fine of up to 2 million dinars (13,500 euros) and even the “confiscation of property involved in the offence.”
Under another provision, insulting foreign heads of state and diplomats accredited in Algeria, would be punishable by a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 dinars (670 to 3,300 euros). On journalists’ sources, the bill says that “professional secrecy constitutes a right for the journalist in accordance with the legislation and regulations in force,” but it would force journalists to reveal their sources to the courts when asked. This violates the principle of the protection of sources.
The ban on Algerians with a second nationality from owning or being shareholders in media outlets in Algeria is another source of concern. This provision which, according to some jurists, introduces an inequality between citizens that violates the constitution, was maintained despite criticism and although amember of the lower house proposed an amendment.
The Algerian news site Interlignes has pointed out that all substantive amendments were rejected in the lower house. For example, some parliamentarians tried without success to modify the provision under which all members of the two regulatory authorities would be appointed by Algeria’s president, whereas seven of the 14 members are currently elected from among journalists.
Legalising oppressive practices
Coming at a time of sustained harassment of the media by the authorities, the new media law is seen by journalists as yet another move towards greater authoritarianism. Referring to the overthrow of Algeria’s one-party system in 1988, one said: “Since 2012, we have seen a succession of challenges to the progress of the 1990 media law implemented in the wake of the events of October 1988 and the democratic hopes that accompanied them. But now, the laws are close to restoring thelevel of media subservience that prevailed under the one-party system.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, another journalist said: “Sadly, this is only too predictable. In response to the multifaceted and often critical expression of society, the authorities believe the remedy lies in more authoritarianism. This new law simply gives a legal veneer to repressive practices that violate provisions in the constitution defending journalists and freedom of expression.”
Algeria is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022World Press Freedom Index.