A new media bill in Algeria that would place curbs on media ownership rules and force journalists to give up their sources has raised alarms among rights groups.
On March 28, the lower house of Parliament overwhelmingly approved the proposed law, while a vote in the upper house is expected on Thursday.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
According to media outlet Jeune Afrique, a new “independent” regulatory authority will be created to oversee the media, both print and electronic.
The authority will be made up of 12 people, of whom six will be selected by the president, Jeune Afrique reported.
Moreover, the proposed bill also bans any media outlet in Algeria from receiving direct or indirect “material aid” from foreign sources. Any violation of the law could lead to a fine of one to two million dinars ($7,400-$14,739), according to the report.
Khaled Drareni, North Africa representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said the effect of the laws will “not be positive” on journalism in the country.
“Behind this law, there is a clear desire to further control the world of media and information in Algeria,” he told Al Jazeera from the capital Algiers.
Draneni said the bill’s attempt to define and place restrictions on who qualifies as a journalist was also problematic.
The bill also bars dual nationals from investing in all or part of a media organisation, while any journalist working in the country for a foreign publication or outlet without proper accreditation will be fined between 500,000 to one million dinars ($3,700-$7,400).
Journalists are also warned to not indulge in “apologism for racism, terrorism, intolerance and violence”, or participate in anything that brings into disrepute “the symbols of the war of national liberation”.
According to RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, the North African country ranked 134 out of 180 countries and territories.
Drareni from RSF believed it would have been beneficial for the Algerian authorities to consult with “professionals who have useful and relevant things to say”.
“This code [proposed bill] gives legal character to a political will to impose a kind of total media silence which contravenes … the provisions of the Constitution on the right to expression and protection of journalists,” he said.
The Algerian government’s policies towards journalists have come under growing scrutiny after the arrest of prominent journalist Ihsane El Kadi, who has been sentenced to three years for “foreign financing of his business”.
El Kadi is the owner of the independent media group Interface Media, which operates the Maghreb Emergent new website and Radio M.
He was first arrested in December and detained under a security law that prohibits the acceptance of foreign funds that endanger Algeria’s “national unity”.
In June 2021, Algeria cancelled the accreditation of France 24, accusing the Paris-based outlet of “clear and repeated hostility towards our country and its institutions”.
Draneni claimed there was “obviously” a link between the proposed bill and the popular anti-government Hirak movement protests.
The movement was launched in 2019 after former longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s announced a bid for a fifth term in office, forcing the late leader to step down weeks later.
However, the protests have continued with people demanding an overhaul of the current system.