By Fidet Mansour
Algerian state-run press used to avoid broadcasting dissident views at all costs, earning a reputation as a mouthpiece for the government. Faced with popular pressure, public media outlets are beginning to allow more space for the opposition.
State-owned channels covered recent Algerian communal guard rallies, trade union protests and student sit-ins. National TV station ENTV has been reporting on the aborted marches of the National Co-ordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), giving voice to those calling for political reforms.
The sudden change puzzled both ordinary citizens and experts.
“State media officials have always brushed aside the principle of public service that allows for objective and comprehensive coverage of events in favour of restricted service based on the exclusion of views contrary to the economic and socio-cultural stance adopted by the government,” said Anis Ourdi, who carried out a study on the subject.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in January invited media officials to lend the opposition more coverage. Therefore, the transition, Ourdi said, came about “at the president’s behest”.
According to doctor of political science Abdenour Rehal, Bouteflika’s decision cannot be dissociated from the political situation in the Arab region. The climate of challenge and revolution fuelled by young people has something to do with it, he said.
“We cannot isolate ourselves from this reality,” he said. “It is impossible for Algeria – and state media in particular – to continue with this policy of exclusion. In addition, the president insists that there is an opportunity to bring about comprehensive political reforms, and the press cannot remain on the side-lines.”
Bouguerra Soltani, chief of the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP) and a member of the ruling coalition, shared this view.
“Despite everything that has been said about the press, 20 years on, we see that it is the private media that has protected Algeria,” he said in his March 22nd interview with L’Expression. “Our country has been rocked and has faced numerous attacks that neither the state-run press nor national television was able to deal with.”
“Why not have the courage necessary to try the same thing in the audio-visual domain, which will allow private radio and television stations to emerge?” he wondered.
Most citizens view the change as an attempt to quell public anger.
Last week, El Moudjahid journalists staged a sit-in outside their publication headquarters. Employees of official press agency APS also held a protest outside the offices of the ministry of communication. Journalists working for both private and state media are planning to hold a strike on May 3rd to demand the adoption of a statute regulating their profession.