Algeria: The closure of Liberté is a big loss for media freedom

Algeria: The closure of Liberté is a big loss for media freedom - Media

Journal Liberté

ARTICLE 19 expresses concerns for pluralism of the media in Algeria, following the closure of the daily newspaper Liberté. We call the Algerian authorities to adopt a legal framework that enables a free, pluralistic and independent media landscape, as is their duty under international standards on freedom of expression. 

On 6 April 2022, the Algerian Company of Edition and Culture (SAEC) made a decision to dissolve the Algerian French-language daily newspaper Liberté, a move led by its majority shareholder, businessman Issad Rebrab.

Liberté has been a key player in the Algerian media landscape since its launch in the 1990s. The paper has gained the trust of Algerians, thanks to the impartiality of its reporting and the seriousness of the topics it addressed, including issues relating to human rights and socio-economic and public affairs.

Over the past year, two of Liberté’s journalists have been prosecuted because of the topics they were covering for the paper. Rabeh Karéch was sentenced on 12 August 2021 to one year of imprisonment and Mohamed Mouloudj has been kept in provisional detention since September 2021. Defamation[mfn] See A19’s principles on defamation: https://www.article19.org/data/files/medialibrary/38641/Defamation-Principles-(online)-.pdf [/mfn] lawsuits have also been filed against the newspaper by big corporations including Sonatrach, the hydrocarbon company providing most of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

As SAEC was a profitable business which was not making losses, there are suspicions that the decision to close it may have been dictated by political motives or pressures.

The newspaper’s closure draws attention to the  issue of state aid to media in Algeria and the importance of  diversification of funding sources in order to immunise media outlets from being subject to the unilateral decisions of business companies.  Financial support provided by public authorities to media companies can contribute to maintaining or reinforcing pluralism and independence of media.

ARTICLE 19 reminds Algeria of its commitments to preserve media freedom. Article 54 of the Algerian Constitution guarantees freedom of the press. Additionally, the UNHRC stressed in its general comment n° 34 the role of states in promoting plurality of the media. Under international standards on freedom of expression, States have a positive obligation to adopt a legal and regulatory framework that enables the development of free, independent and pluralistic media landscapes.

Such legal framework, where necessary, can include the allocation of state subsidies to support pluralism and diversity. It is of the utmost importance that state support to media is not abused as a means to undermine the independence of media companies: the allocation of state subsidies should be organised in a law that includes all appropriate safeguards for freedom of expression and media freedom.

The obligation to provide state aid to media is enshrined in the Article 127 of the Information Law n°12-05 which provides that ”The State shall grant aid for the promotion of freedom of expression”.

With the draft law on freedom of information currently being considered, ARTICLE 19 calls on the Algerian authorities to ensure that the allocation of state subsidies to media is clearly and transparently organised in a legal framework that safeguards the media independence. The law should include:

  • clear and precise allocation criteria ;
  • the allocation to be implemented by an independent body. 

The legal framework and media policy should aim to enable media pluralism and diversity in the media landscape.

ARTICLE 19 calls for a collective solution to ensure the survival and continuation of Liberté newspaper. We also urge the Algerian authorities to ensure that the law on freedom of information fully complies with international standards on freedom of expression and supports the development of pluralistic, free and diverse media landscapes. We urge the authorities to ensure that the allocation of state subsidies is organised in a clear and transparent manner that includes all criteria mentioned above.  We remain committed to supporting the reform process through constructive engagement.