Leaderless Algeria Introduces 'Freedom Killing' Limits on Online News

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Rabat – Online news sources in Algeria have spoken out in despair after the government introduced an executive decree limiting digital media. The government yesterday published its executive decree that sets strict conditions for the operation of online news publications in Algeria. With these new regulations, the Algerian regime appears to be aiming at reasserting its authority, while the country’s president remains incapacitated in Germany.

WIthout President at the Mouradia palace in Algiers, the government’s messaging has become increasingly combative. The government’s spokesman and minister of communication Ammar Belhimer lashed out at undefined “enemies and haters” on December 5. He insisted that the government had been transparent about Tebboune’s diagnosis all along.

Algerian officials’ increasingly feisty stance is now paired with direct measures aimed at curtailing online voices. While Algeria is fortunate to have many excellent journalists who work through online news publications, the government appears to want to severely limit their impact on society. For the regime, the dynamism and creativity that online news sources provide is a serious threat. 

Algeria’s press responds

Algerian publication Liberte Algerie described the new decree as “freedom killing.” Djaffar Saïd, editor at online news source 24dhz, said the language included in Algeria’s new executive decree reeks of authoritarianism, or even totalitarianism. Hamid Guemache, co-founder of Tout sur l’Algerie (TSA) said there is “no doubt” that authorities are trying to “prevent the development of the electronic press in Algeria.”

The new executive decree is likely to slow the transition from print media to online news, Aïssa Merah of the University of Béjaïa told Liberte Algerie. Merah described the changes as motivated by a desire to “exactly reproduce Bouteflika’s system.” It would limit Algerian news sources who provide a valuable contribution to Algeria’s media landscape.

Similar to publications like Morocco World News in Morocco, Algeria has a variety of dynamic online news sources. But the ability to rapidly publish news and provide video commentary to reach broader audiences is now under threat as Algeria’s government aims to stamp out foreign and local dissent. It aims to “slow down the activity of electronic sites,” Merah concluded

Oppressive decree

Algeria’s new executive decree on online news sources gives news sites 12 months to comply with its new rules. Any news source that uses an Algerian “.dz” domain will have to comply with the new dictates. 

Through its financial stipulations, the decree also aims to actively limit the growth of online media. No Algerian can legally own more than one online news source, and all sources of financing will have to be constantly reported to the government. All funding will have to be “declared and justified” to the government, severely hampering investment in online news.

Also included in the decree is the demand that new outlets “declare” their registration to the government, with a 60-day waiting period before they can start publishing. 

Read also: International SOS Labels Algeria ‘High Risk’ as Security Concerns Spiral

For critics, however, this only aims to discourage the growth of Algeria’s online news community.

They say the regime  wants to create an atmosphere of fear for Algeria’s online news sources. Non-compliance with the new decree will result in receiving “formal notice” to comply. Media professionals and critics see the decree as a sword of damocles that would likely influence the freedom normally enjoyed in online publishing. 

Furthermore, the decree aims to limit Algerian reporting to domestic audiences by curtailing what languages online news sites are “allowed” to use. Only the two national languages will be permitted for publication, unless the government gives its blessing beforehand. These edicts will be enforced by the “online audiovisual service,” a body that does not yet exist.

Curtailing online news in Algeria could become a severe threat to the country’s press. Morocco World News can attest to the freedom that online news provides to writers, editors and new media creators. Limiting the ability of our Algerian colleagues to speak truth to power and highlight problematic government actions is bad for Algeria, and bad for Algerians alike.

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