Algeria: Pandemic Gives Birth to Radio Corona

Rights groups accuse some authoritarian governments of using the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext to further limit free expression. But in the North African country of Algeria, the trend is partly going the other way.

As brand names go, Radio Corona Internationale or RCI is probably in a league of its own. Launched last month on Facebook and Soundcloud, it offers a mix of music, news and commentary in Arabic and French. Founder Abdallah Benadouda says the idea came during an online get-together with friends.

‘We were talking about music, we were exchanging ideas and I said, ‘my God, this is something we can do. Instead of just streaming music, let’s create a radio show,” he said.

Radio Corona’s tone is light and cynical. Benadouda says it tries not to criticize the government directly, while still addressing sensitive subjects.

“We talk about dictator[ship], we talk about freedom of speech, we talk about people in jail. We criticize the action of the government in other ways,” he said.

The recipe seems to be working. A growing audience of thousands now listens to Radio Corona’s twice-weekly broadcasts — which mirror Algeria’s twice-weekly anti-government street protests during pre-coronavirus days.

The broadcasts are happening as rights groups accuse authorities of censoring some independent media, and arresting several high-profile activists and journalists in recent weeks.