Journalists leave Algeria for greener pastures

Algerian journalists are increasingly emigrating to foreign countries to make ends meet. Imad Imad probes what happens when journalists are pushed to the limits ā€“ financially and otherwise.
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Cartoon published in Al Watan.

ALGIERS, October 3, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Algerian journalists will readily discuss the harassment they face in their profession, whether it is the difficulty of tracking down reluctant sources or the dangers of being critical of the Algerian government and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Algerian journalists are, however, loathe to discuss that many of their peers are emigrating because they cannot earn enough money.

In an article in the Algerian daily Al-Ajaw’ al-Jazaeeriya, titled The Eyes Monitor the Bellies, Algerian journalist Souwarit discusses the phenomenon of journalists meetinging with influential politicians and businessmen and bartering over money in exchange for a favorable article.

Souwarit won no popularity contests with his article, and he told MENASSAT that many of his colleagues had turned their back on him as a result of it. But Souwarit said he felt compelled to write about the reality of the Algerian media.

Starve or leave

Reporters in Algeria only make a fraction of what their bosses take home, regardless of the risks they might take to get the story.

Journalist F. Z. of the Sawt al-Gharb (Voice of the West) newspaper spoke to MENASSAT about what she went through after publishing an article about smuggling operations on the Algerian-Moroccan borders.

"The smugglers attacked and beat me," she said.

Although the story made a huge splash in the local press, Sawt Al-Gharb's management offered no financial or moral support to the journalist after her assault.

It is common knowledge in Algeria that most journalists and reporters are uninsured, which raises questions about their rights as workers in cases.

F.Z. told MENASSAT that the financial marginalization for journalists in Algeria gives many people little hope for a future in the profession.

She has so far continued working with Sawt Al-Gharb, but she said, “I would like to work for another media outlet in Algeria or better yet leave to work in another country that respects our work and the right to a free press."

Mining the talent pool

The lucky ones get hired by foreign media.

Algerian journalists like Abdul Kader Ayad, Khadija bin Qina, Zayani Fairuz and Abdul Majid Boutmin all string for Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, both inside and outside Algeria. Nadia Bouzidi, a prominent anchorwoman, left to go to work for Morocco's Douzam channel.

Sportscasters have also been lured away from Algeria; Khoder Briah and Hafiz Daraji were two of the best. Both have left Algeria but Daraji actually joined Al-Jazeera Sports because of a dispute with Algerian TV (ENTV) management, although he would not specify what the dispute was about.

MENASSAT also met with journalist Hegira Rahhal, known for her controversial articles and her clash with the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which is strongly and often violently opposed to the Algerian government.

Members associated with the GSPC filed a defamation suit against Rahhal last year, and even though she was acquitted, she was forced to spend much money and energy fighting the case in the Algerian Court of Wahran.

Free press a myth

Rahhal told MENASSAT, "Democracy in Algeria is nothing but a myth. The journalist suffers from different acts of harassment that affect his work. Freedom of the media is difficult to see on the ground in a country which allows diverse political groups yet is united against journalistic criticism."

Algeria's 1990 Information Act bars newspapers from publishing any information about political violence and security issues from any source other than the government. Algerian legal codes forbid criticism against the political system because it is a “crime affecting the state's security.”

Things are made even more difficult for independent newspapers because the government controls the supply of newsprint and owns the printing presses – giving the authorities the power to put economic pressure on the newspapers.

Despite the courage many Algerian newspapers like Al-Shourouq Alyoum (Sunrise Today), Al-Ahkbar (The News) and An-Nahar al-Jadid (The New Day) show in covering political and social issues, their journalists and editors face many problems in doing their jobs.

Omar Belhouchet, the publisher for the daily El Watan and recipient of a World Association of Newspapers’ (WAN) Golden Pen of Freedom award, and Chawki Amari, a columnist, were both sentenced to two months in prison in March because they criticized a local government official.

Reporters like Rahhal tell MENASSAT the problems are not likely to be resolved soon.