El Watan TV closed arbitrarily by the government

Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s closure of pro-Islamist El Watan TV for broadcasting an interview in which Madani Mezrag – the former head of the Islamic Salvation Army, the onetime armed wing of the now-dissolved Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) – was very critical of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

According to the national news agency APS, the authorities accuse El Watan TV, an Arabic-language TV station based in Algiers, of broadcasting “subversive content attacking the symbols of the state.” Mezrag made the offending comments during the “El Hiwar” programme on 5 October. Police raided El Watan TV yesterday, forcing all its personnel to leave and then placing its equipment and studios under seal. “We condemn the abrupt and violent closure of a privately-owned TV station for clearly political reasons,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Middle East and Maghreb desk. “The authorities are punishing the TV station with permanent censorship for broadcasting this interview. When recourse to the courts is available to the authorities, closing down a TV station because of a guest’s comments is arbitrary and a grave violation of freedom of information. We urge the authorities to remove the seals from its studios.” During the interview, Mezrag referred in a threatening manner to the ailing president’s rejection of his plan to form a new political party: “The president’s current condition does not allow him to take decisions (...) if he does not change his position, he will hear from me in a way he hasn’t heard before.” The day after the interview was broadcast, the head of El Watan TV, Djaafar Chali, was summoned to the communication ministry, where he was given a warning. The ministry also filed a complaint accusing the station of “attacking the symbols of the state.” El Watan TV’s staff lost no time in staging a demonstration outside the communication ministry in protest against the closure, while the station’s management is planning to file a legal appeal. Reporters Without Borders has tried without success to talk to the ministry. As additional grounds for closing El Watan TV, the authorities claim that it was violating the broadcasting law by working without accreditation because, technically at least, it is a “foreign” TV station. Most of Algeria’s TV stations are in the same situation, but they are “tolerated” and operate without any problem. El Watan TV is the second privately-owned TV station to be closed by the Algerian authorities since TV broadcasting was opened up to the private sector four years ago. Atlas TV was closed in March 2014 because of its coverage of the wave of opposition to a fourth term for Bouteflika. Algeria is ranked 119th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Publié le 13.10.2015
Mise à jour le 20.01.2016