Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Algerian government’s use of delays in renewing press accreditation to put pressure on reporters employed by foreign media, many of whom have been waiting for months for their 2021 accreditation. The accreditation renewal process should be more transparent, RSF says.
Many journalists working for international media still don’t know whether they will be able to cover the parliamentary elections due to be held on 12 June. The accreditations that allow foreign reporters to work legally in Algeria expired on 31 December, as they do every year, but so far none of them have been renewed this year.
The authorities have usually been late in the renewing them in the past but there has always been a tacit understanding that reporters can continue working pending receipt of their new accreditation. This tacit understanding no longer seems to be in effect.
“We usually wait in a state of complete uncertainty until April or May, or sometimes even August to receive accreditation for the current year,” a reporter for a foreign media outlet told RSF. “Meanwhile we have continued to cover various events including the Hirak [anti-government protests]. Or at least I did until 16 April this year, when plainclothes police arrested me and told me I longer had the right to video reporting.”
Even media that have had their accreditation extended provisionally are feeling the pressure. “The communication ministry gave me a document extending my accreditation until I get the 2021 accreditation,” said an Algiers-based reporter for a foreign TV broadcaster. “But even if I’ve not been told anything in particular about covering the Hirak, we’re no longer covering the protests as we used to.” Journalists know that this extension can be rescinded at any moment without any official reason being given by the communication ministry.
The correspondent of a foreign news agency was recently told that he was banned from filming the Hirak protests because his accreditation had expired. In March, the French TV news channel France 24 was threatened with the “definitive withdrawal” of its accreditation because the communication ministry regarded its coverage of the Hirak as one-sided.
Crews working for the French TV channel M6 were banned from working last September after it broadcast a documentary entitled “Algeria, country of revolts” that was deemed to be “biased” and to have been made with a “false filming permit.”
“Accreditations must not be used as a method of blackmailing or pressuring media outlets whose coverage of the Hirak protests annoy the Algerian authorities,” said Souhaieb Khayati, the head of RSF’s North Africa bureau. “We urge the authorities to renew accreditations in a transparent manner and to do everything to ensure that the various media outlets present in Algeria are able to cover the upcoming elections without any problems.”
Many local reporters have yet to obtain the specific accreditation they need to cover the elections. Without it, they will be denied access to polling stations, vote counting centres and the press conference at which the results are announced.
Algeria has fallen 27 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index since 2015 and is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in the 2021 Index.