Upcoming elections cement media spilt

As final votes are cast tomorrow for the Algerian presidential elections, MENASSAT takes a look at the media rift between official state media and private outlets.

ALGIERS, April 8, 2009 (MENASSAT) - As the campaigning for the Algerian presidential elections came to an end on Monday and the final voting set to take place on April 9, the split between official and private media outlets has become even clearer. 

While official sources towed the line of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is running as an independent candidate, some private media outlet provided an alternative discourse.

(The Republic) and Moujahed (The Struggler), both funded by the government, praised Bouteflika’s accomplishments, describing him as “The right man to rule Algeria,” and stating that his term is considered as one of the best since Algeria gained its independence in 1962.

The newspapers’ election coverage went hand-in-hand with Bouteflika’s campaign. The papers praised him for his achievements regarding youth and said a large number of young Algerians were employed during his term. As part of his campaign, the incumbent president promised to provide employment opportunities to about three million youths if re-elected.

The papers failed to provide sufficient coverage of the other candidates' campaigns, nor did they publish any statements that challenged Bouteflika.

Regarding the constitutional amendment that the president changed last year so he could run for a third five-year term, the papers said it was for the best interest of the people.

Radio and television media outlets affiliated with the Algerian government, spoke highly of Bouteflika’s achievements during his last two terms, and praised the “peace and reconciliation” project that he implemented, which included pardoning terrorists who turn themselves into security authorities, claiming that it cleared Algeria from terrorist attacks.

Private newspapers criticize President

Private Algerian newspapers, namely Al-Khabar (The News), Al-Khabar el-Ousboui (Weekly News) and Al-Nahar played an alternative role, criticizing Bouteflika and opponent's of his regime, who they say were quick to switch sides. 

In a number of articles the papers criticized the amendment of the constitution, stating that it is not an issue that can easily be decided overnight. The outlets also expressed their disappointment in some of the opposition members who supported the amendment. 

Al-Khabar el-Ousboui attacked the policies of Louisa Hanoune in a report that shocked the Algerian street, as the editor-in-chief of the paper, Kamal Zayet, accused her of agreeing to the amendment for personal interests.
The report included Hanoune’s previous statements, “My party doesn’t support those negotiating with the government,” the article quoted her as saying.

Hanoune quickly replied, accusing the newspaper of creating "media chaos," and of working for the Americans. Zayet simply replied, “We will meet in court, Louisa.”

Unlike official media outlets, Al-Khabar covered the campaigns of presidential candidates other than Bouteflika, such as the criticisms of his grip on the state-owned media. Three candidates - Ali Benflis, Said Sadi and Abdallah Djaballah - boycotted an Algerian TV discussion programme, saying its format was biased.

In response, President Bouteflika said the broadcast media are "for the state," and accused the independent press of being both one-sided and "in the pay of foreign masters". 

Candidates should uphold promises

MENASSAT spoke with Al-Khabar editor-in-chief Zayet who refused to comment on the media coverage of the elections, to prevent offending journalists.  

Fadila Zomri, of Al-Nahar, said that the current election is different from those in the past and that the candidates’ campaigns were not convincing.  "This was particularly apparent when the candidates didn’t organize visits to the Algerian cities, which is what usually happens in the electoral campaigns," she said.

She added that the media somewhat ignored the campaigns since candidates make promises while the people are suffering from the continuous increase in costs. "The articles would not be of concern to the citizen."

The editor-in-chief of Al-Ajwa’ newspaper said that people have become indifferent to the campaigns in Algeria.

“But we notice that people are concerned with their living conditions and not interested in the campaigns, for they have heard these false promises many times before. The candidates should fulfill the promises if they want more credibility.”