Algeria: National Press Day marred by private TV station shutdown
The Algerian government must cease its relentless campaign of censorship of private broadcasters if it is going to live up to its pledge to uphold and strengthen media freedoms in the country, said Amnesty International as the country marks National Press Day on 22 October.
Only last week police raided and shut down El Watan TV, confiscating equipment and escorting staff out of the station’s office in the capital Algiers after it broadcast an interview with a controversial government critic.
In 2014 the government introduced restrictive licensing laws which have left many broadcasters in legal limbo operating under the constant threat of censorship.
“The government’s repeated shutdowns of private TV stations that dare to criticize it, such as El Watan TV, is a clear and present danger to the survival of a free media in Algeria,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Director of North Africa and the Middle East.
“The authorities must allow El Watan TV to resume broadcasting, as it must other private TV stations it has shut down which have criticized it. These shutdowns amount to a massive assault on independent broadcast media in Algeria.”
El Watan TV had angered the government after broadcasting an interview with the former chief of the dissolved armed wing of the Islamic Salvation Front, Madani Mesrag.
Mesrag had criticized President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for refusing to allow him to register a new political party and threatened to disclose controversial information, believed to relate to Algeria’s internal armed conflict in the 1990s.
Broadcast licences are difficult to obtain and extra regulations require a broadcaster to ensure the content of its programs abide by “the needs of national security and defence”, “the country’s economic and diplomatic interests”, “conforming to the national religious reference” (Islam), “society’s values” and “national values and State symbols.”
The majority of private channels remain in a legal limbo and attempt to circumvent these obstacles by broadcasting from foreign countries such as Jordan and Cyprus.
They are largely tolerated by the government who crack down selectively on channels featuring views critical of the authorities.
In March 2014, shut down private channel El Atlas TV, in apparent retribution for coverage of protests and criticism of the April 2014 presidential elections.
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Public Statement Algeria: Lift restrictions on El Watan TV and other private broadcasters