Algerian weeklies sidelined by yellow journalism



 
It has become common knowledge in Algeria - the political weeklies are facing a financial crisis that could lead to their bankruptcies in the coming weeks or months. Despite the renowned reporting on local and international affairs and widespread distribution, those in the media scene now believe the only way to save political weeklies is financial support.
 
By IMAD
 
Algeria Newspapers



ALGIERS, July 28, 2009 (MENASSAT) -- Two websites that have been blocked by the authorities, Al Khabar al-Ousboui and Essevir.net, recently declared that they have been affected by the crisis due to the increase in editing and printing costs, as well as the lack of ad revenue, one of the biggest sources of income for newspapers in Algeria.  As a result, newspapers have been forced to raise their prices from 20 to 30 Algerian Dinars (0.42 US Dollars), one of the most significant price increases in the last few years. 

Al-Khabar al-Ousboui (Weekly News) is considered one of the most important media platforms in Algeria. The paper is known for treating heated and sensitive political issues in the country, such as the presidential elections, where it covered the different political personalities in Algeria from a non-traditional, critical point of view. The editorial team, lead by editor-in-chief Kamal Zayet, faced criticism from different parties, including the head of the Labor Party, Louisa Hanoun, who accused the newspaper of working for US intelligence.

Essevir.net  is known for its lenience regarding the coverage of international and regional affairs, having written about issues such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the international reactions, the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon and the political trends of various world leaders. Somehow the website manages to stay far away from political issues related to Algeria.

The first victim in 2009: al-Mohakik

The political weeklies in Algeria started to shut down in May 2009 when al-Mohakik (The Investigator) went bankrupt, unable to reverse its financial deficit.

Although the newspaper had high distribution numbers, published the writings of well-known journalists and dealt with important social problems prevalent in Algeria, linking them to the political rule, it was unable to survive its monetary problems. 

Shortly after editor-in-chief Habet Hanashi declared a state of emergency, most of the journalists who had worked for the newspapers stopped writing and the situation only got worst with time. Hanashi was convicted to four months in prison and fined $4,200, accused of not having a permit to issue a weekly. Surprisingly, it was Hanashi’s colleague Faisal Bakhoush who raised the case against him and the two men competed over the ownership of al-Mohakik, despite the agreement between the two men earlier to try and lift the paper out of its dire financial situation.

Instead it led to the newspaper ceasing to exist, and disappointment among many Algerian readers.

Journalists succumb to dailies

The closure of al-Khabar al-Ousboui and Essevir.net was another harsh blow to Algerian media.

MENASSAT spoke with employees of the two newspapers, who said that the bankruptcy was inevitable, explaining that the future of weeklies in Algeria is clear and that journalists should work for dailies since only 1% were affected by the financial crisis, as opposed to weeklies, which are all suffering from the little ad revenue available.

It is obvious that the tough financial situation the Algerian weeklies are facing, is one of the major reasons that forced Algerian journalists to seek employment at one of the 80 dailies in Algeria, which are much more financially stable and are favored by advertisers who prefer that their ads appear on a daily basis rather than once a week.

Journalist Wassini Souwarit from al-Ajwa daily told MENASSAT that the political weeklies in Algeria are not consistent, and that it is felt on the ground, which is why they don’t attract funders. Although they cover unique issues that interest Algerian society, they are faced with all kinds of problems, which will likely lead to their extinction.

Souwarit added that the nature of advertising is based on profit–– even though some papers are not sold, they are only sustained because their pages are filled with ads.

Media worker Bashir Khalaf believes that it is “unfortunate” that yellow journalism is taking over.  “Yellow media is widespread these days. The weeklies that do survive are those that spread rumors and report scandals, but the truth is that they are a shame for journalism in Algeria. Such weeklies are welcomed and encouraged while the serious media is suffocated and left to struggle to survive until they disappear completely.”

Saved from bankruptcy?

Although some Algerian media personalities are making an effort to save the weeklies, the situation remains the same. The crisis faced by al-Khabar al-Ousboui and Essevir.net is the best example of widespread, well-known media outlets on the verge of collapse - even despite the renowned journalists involved. It has become clear that weeklies in Algeria will not survive unless they are financially backed.