The government has increasingly shown signs that it intends to introduce more liberalisation measures, despite continued concerns over some content constraints. This opening up is coupled with increased competition between new players, which is set to improve national media, diversify viewpoints and deliver on a demand for unbiased news.

PRINT MEDIA: Since the liberalisation of the press in 1986, Algeria has had a flourishing media industry, publishing approximately 300 newspapers with two main reader profiles – Francophone and Arabic-speaking populations. Major French daily newspapers include El Watan, Liberté, Le Soir d’Algérie, L’Expression and Le Quotidien d’Oran, while the most popular daily Arabic print media sources are El Khabar, Echorouk and Ennahar, all of which are privately owned publications. The country has witnessed a steady growth of Arabic-speaking media at the expense of French newspapers, attributed to the country’s Arabisation policy, expanding potential for Arabic newspapers. Of these, Echorouk commands the largest reader following with over 810,000 copies run daily, followed by Ennahar with 401,000 and El Khabar with 376,000 copies. According to Brahim Takheroubt, deputy editorial director with the French-language Journal l’Expression, the French media is dominated by El Watan with 180,000 daily copies, Liberté with 100,000 and Le Soir d’Algérie with 80,000 copies.

Takheroubt asserts that while the abundance of daily newspapers has contributed to the perception of a saturated print market, the opposite is true. “Algeria has a need for credible, serious media that speaks to Algerians about Algerians. A lot of the information provided by local newspapers does not interest many Algerians, and they get much of the same information from the television or the internet. The market is not saturated. It is necessary that the media learns to generate knowledge that cannot be found on the internet or the television about local events in Algeria, for example, through the development of regional newspapers,” Takheroubt told OBG. Additionally, the sheer number of publications available has often had the effect of watering down readership numbers for more serious newspapers.

While daily newspapers have flourished in Algeria, special edition and weekly publications are practically nonexistent, with only a handful of magazines available.

The few magazines published are not very widely circulated and cover specialised subjects, such as a health magazine distributed solely to health care providers.

IMPACT OF ADVERTISING: The growth of public sector advertising has had a critical impact on the development of local media, particularly as concerns the quality and objectivity of print journalism. Takheroubt estimates that approximately 99% of Algeria’s 300 available publications depend on state advertising revenues from ministries, institutions and companies, which necessarily impacts content considerations. Combined with a dependence on state-run printing presses, reliance on government advertising money has led to a certain amount of self-censorship. The founder and editor-in-chief of El Djazaï magazine, Ammar Khelifa, notes that alternative sources of advertising revenues will become more available with the development of local business as an increasing number of mass-media industries, like telecommunications, rely on publicity to garner clientele and boost turnover. However, others like Kamel Haddar, owner of the online newspaper Algérie-Focus, would contend that local publications are equally compromised by private sector investments, demonstrating the need for alternative methods of generating revenues outside of advertising. For example, Algérie-Focus garners funds by selling content to international media outlets that are interested in Algerian markets as well as by organising seminars for local leaders to help them develop the skills needed to run a business.

A NEW MEDIA LAW: The passage of a new media law in late 2011 has placed new restrictions on the publication of articles that discuss 12 issues that are considered to undermine Algeria’s national identity, sovereignty, security and economy. Violations of the law are punishable with fines of up to €3000, and in the event of non-payment jail time. The law has sparked some concern over its vague wording and many worries that it may constrain discussion of controversial or delicate subjects.

However, to complement the new media law, the government has also announced plans to create a new independent commission responsible for regulation of the press. The commission will take over responsibility for the approval of new press licences, a task previously carried out by the Ministry of Justice. The committee will also possess the power to impose fines for libel associated with the new media law, though journalists can no longer be jailed for libel.

BROADCASTING: The broadcasting sector in the country is set for a shake-up in the coming months with the introduction of a new audio-visual law. Expected by the beginning of 2013, the law will permit the operation of private television and radio stations for the first time since Algeria’s independence in 1962. Currently, the sector is monopolised by the state, which broadcasts five television channels and five national radio channels, with 48 local radio stations. There is also discussion of the creation of a regulatory body for audio-visual activities that will introduce various controls on signal diffusion and distribute licences to private broadcasting providers, among other responsibilities.

TELEVISION: Managed by state-run Entreprise Nationale de Télévision (ENTV), public television broadcasting options in Algeria include: ENTV, Algérie 4, Algérie 5, Canal Algérie and Algérie 3. The latter two options are popular satellite channels. Canal Algérie broadcasts programmes tailored towards the Algerian diaspora, including Algerian sports shows, films, documentary series and fiction series, and uses the satellite Eutelsat (Hotbird) to reach Europe, North Africa and a large portion of the Middle East. The Arabic-speaking Algérie 3 is geared towards the Arab world, and uses Hotbird and Nilesat satellites for provision.

Regarding private television operators in the country, the current status of private channels is uncertain. Though several private channels have been launched on a trial basis in the past year, officially speaking, private operators do not have the legal authority to broadcast in Algeria; therefore, the country has no official privately run channels. However, new, experimental channels are still widely accessible via satellite and include the popular Echorouk TV and Ennahar TV, El Djazaïriya TV and the Islamist-inspired Al Maghribia. In particular, El Djazaïriya TV has been noted for its attempts to produce groundbreaking programming that challenges social norms, such as approaching the topic of the role of women in Algerian society. First broadcast in early 2012 and launched by private Algerian agency Full Media, El Djazaïriya TV is available on Nilesat and reaches audiences in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Europe.

While not yet legal broadcasters under the law, new private TV channels are already challenging the monopoly established by state-run television stations. However, though the liberalisation of the sector may mean fewer viewers watch state television channels, ENTV External Relations Director Mustapha Bennabi considers the transition a largely positive change. “We believe that the creation of private Algerian channels will help us improve, as the new law will demand more of an effort from public stations to remain relevant. The law will provide us with a new challenge to increase the quality of our programmes, the quality of our human resources and the quality of our production process. Therefore, we have no reserves about this new law, rather, we welcome. It will push us to present interesting, interactive and well-made programmes that will give Algerians a sense of ownership of this station,” he said.

Plans exist to create several thematic channels, most notably channels for young Algerians, sport fans and other mainstream target audiences. Though officials have yet to establish a fixed date of completion, ENTV also plans on relocating to a purpose-built headquarters in the coming years. The new facility is expected to aid the production of state television programming. With a larger capacity and ample space for filming and production, the new ENTV headquarters would enable the state to lease facilities to the private sector, garnering additional sources of income and contributing to better quality programming, Bennabi told OBG.

SATELLITE PROVISION: Satellite programmes are available to Algerians through the activities of the national broadcasting enterprise Télédiffusion d’ Algérie, which has a number of agreements with various satellite providers to use satellite services. Both French and Arabic programmes are popular, and viewers utilise satellites such as Nilesat and Arabsat, with the former delivering between 100 and 600 clear channels. Another major satellite firm in the country until recently was the French satellite provider Canal+, which announced the withdrawal of its services from Algeria and Morocco in 2011 due to the lack of government action against piracy. Launched in Algeria in 2009, the CEO of Canal+ told the French newspaper Le Monde in 2011 that the access control system, Viaccess, was broken on certain satellites, enabling channels to be viewed using pirated cards. The absence of a concerted local effort to prevent piracy has prompted the provider to cease its activities in Algeria, though subscribers with prepaid cards have said that they were able to receive Canal+ channels until the end of 2011.

RADIO: At the moment, Algeria has five national radio channels with 48 local radio stations installed at the level of each wilaya, or province. Managed by ENTV’s broadcasting counterpart Entreprise Nationale de Radiodiffusion Sonore (ENRS), the sector is also preparing for its expected liberalisation by teaming up with France’s National Audio-Visual Institute, and investing in human resources and technologies to enhance the quality of its services. The ENRS oversees three general-interest radio stations in Arabic, Berber and French, with four radio stations: Radio Koran, Radio Culture, El Bahdja music station, and news station Radio Internationale, which relays information in French, Arabic, Spanish and English.

WEB MEDIA: As internet usage rates continue to increase, Algeria’s online newspapers are receiving a steady boost in readership numbers. With new sites like Algérie-Focus attracting 295,989 unique visitors between September and October 2012, web-based newspapers are expected to ignite competition between print media and online publications. Though internet user numbers only totalled 5.2m in 2012, the potential for web newspapers in Algeria continues to grow as it offers a number of conveniences unavailable to readers of print media. “The electronic press provides a rapidity of information and permanent contact between journalists and readers. Readers also win time and money; they do not have go to a kiosk anymore to buy a newspaper, and the news can accompany us anywhere, in our kitchens, in the metro. It’s practical and accessible 24/7,” said Khelifa, editor-in-chief of El Djazaï magazine. Another unique attribute of online media is the ability to interact with citizens, with sites like Algérie-Focus offering readers the opportunity to propose topics for debate and to vote on the various suggestions, thereby choosing what content they wish to see on the site. Haddar affirms that this model “promotes intellectual production, encourages interactivity, and permits new debates and ideas by informing people, contributing to an open discourse and helping people form their own opinions”.

Although it will be some time before internet-based media impacts print revenues in Algeria, newspapers have already started introducing new measures to counteract the rise of web-only news. Newspapers such as Echorouk and Ennahar have invested in the launching of television channels to enhance their appeal. Additionally, popular newspapers like El Watan and Liberté have tried to sustain print readership by making their news articles only available after 10.00pm. According to Takheroubt, “This is not the appropriate response. It is essential to respond to this challenge with analytical, informative articles that contain more information.”

Demand for internet-based publications is only expected to rise with additional gains in purchasing power. “With increased economic activity, there is a growing need for information and for the ability to communicate. When the economy is working well, you see continual advances in the development of communication,” said Khelifa. Additional improvements in internet provision, particularly the introduction of 3G technologies and the expansion of the use of smartphones, will likely generate a substantial increase in online readership figures. Growing economic power may also entail a diversification of advertising revenues as local enterprises realise the need for publicity, which will provide publications with a means to financial independence, said Takheroubt. The augmentation of Algeria’s youth population is also expected to enhance the popularity of web-based news, with online publications expanding their reach through sites like Facebook.

OUTLOOK: The introduction of the new media law has prompted concerns over content constraints, but it is clear that there is a willingness on the part of the government to relinquish control over the media, notably through plans to liberalise the broadcasting sector. Relative financial isolation also means Algeria felt few of the effects of the economic crisis. Indeed, bolstered by substantial oil revenues, the country has enjoyed a surplus. Improvements in purchasing power and development of mass industries will further enhance potential for investment in the sector. Growing competition between budding web-based news providers and print publications is also expected to improve the quality of national media by diversifying perspectives and increasing efforts to deliver informative and unbiased news.