- The Algerian authorities have decided to "temporarily freeze" the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera's activities in the country. The decision comes shortly after the popular Qatari broadcasted aired a debate programme where Algerian opposition member strongly criticised the government.
On Wednesday, the Algerian Culture and Communications Ministry told Mohamed Daho, Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Algiers, that his activities were frozen "until further notice". The official reason given was that a reorganisation of the work of foreign correspondents was in progress.
To Al-Jazeera's surprise, however, the popular and outspoken Qatar-based broadcaster turned out to be the only foreign media affected by this "reorganisation". This has led media organisations in Algeria speculate in the real causes behind this controversial decision by the Communications Ministry.
A number of sources in Algeria agreed that the government measure was probably taken in reprisal for a broadcast the previous week of a debate on the political situation in Algeria on the channel's popular programme "El-Itidjah el-Mouakass". The programme, in line with Al-Jazeera's general policy, doesn't censor any opinion.
Opposition figures spoke during the debate, openly criticising Algerian generals and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's national reconciliation policy. The programme also aired the results of a poll conducted by the channel, in which 72 percent of viewers said there had been no improvement in the situation in Algeria.
Al-Jazeera is highly regarded by satellite viewers in Algeria, along with other Arabic and French stations. In stark contrast to traditional broadcasters in the Arab world, the Qatari media allows differing viewpoints and political debates to take place - thus revolutionising the media landscape in the region during the last years.
Algeria during the last years has been one of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa where local and foreign media have been let operating relatively freely. This, according to press freedom organisations, however is about to change dramatically.
The Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) - which today "strongly condemned" the Algerian authorities' decision to "temporarily freeze" Al-Jazeera's activities - sees that decision in the context of increasing media suppression in the country. RSF holds that the decision is in line with growing censorship after the recent re-election of President Bouteflika.
- This latest attack on press freedom is extremely worrying and appears to sound a warning to all foreign media in Algeria, particularly in light of the conflict between the authorities and Algeria's privately-owned press, which has been going on for months, the media watchdogs said in a statement. "This latest escalation raises fears of a further drift towards repression by the government following the re-election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika," RSF added.
In February this year, the French group had expressed concern over the Algiers Culture and Communications Ministry's refusal to renew press accreditations for several Algerian journalists working for foreign media outlets on the pretext that in the future working for several media outlets would be prohibited. Several correspondents for international media outlets are still awaiting their accreditation.
Regarding the suspension of Al-Jazeera's activities in Algeria yesterday, RSF today said it called for "an immediate lifting" of the ban. "This unfair decision amounts to nothing more than censorship," the group said. "This is the first time for more than ten years that a foreign television channel in Algeria has been banned from covering news in this way."
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