The Media Today

Q&A: Khaled Drareni on a worrying moment for press freedom in Algeria

January 25, 2023
A protest against the Algerian government in London in 2019. Credit: Steve Eason, Flickr.

On Christmas Eve last year, shortly after midnight, plainclothes policemen walked into the home of Ihsane el-Kadi, an Algerian journalist, and arrested him. According to a press release by Radio M, a local independent radio station where Kadi worked, he was placed in detention without trial, and has still not been released. He faces charges of carrying out or inciting acts likely to undermine state security. Kadi was also the director of Maghreb Emergent, a news site that, along with Radio M, was shuttered at the same time as Kadi’s arrest. Daikha Dridi, an Algerian journalist who once worked for Radio M, described the outlets, to the Financial Times, as “the last remaining media space where people could still discuss politics and publish critical articles without censoring themselves.”

Kadi’s arrest and the closure of his outlets sparked an uproar from media organizations and human rights defenders demanding his release. His case comes as journalists are fighting for press freedom against increasingly authoritarian regimes across North Africa, and as new voices are expressing solidarity with them. Recently, for instance, the European Parliament, which has historically been very friendly with Morocco, voted to condemn the country’s human rights record for the first time in more than twenty years, citing its mistreatment of journalists, amid a scandal alleging corrupt Moroccan influence within the Parliament.

Recently, Reporters Without Borders referred Kadi’s case to the United Nations, asking the body to intercede and help in securing his release. Last week, I spoke with Khaled Drareni, a prominent Algerian journalist who has spent time in prison in the country in the past and is now RSF’s representative in North Africa, about Kadi’s arrest and the state of media freedom in Algeria. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is the case that has been referred to the UN important? 

The case of el-Kadi has been forwarded to the United Nations because we believe that it is a grave case of violation of human rights and freedom of the press. This journalist has only done his job of writing articles that are critical of the authorities. So the decision to arrest him and close these media outlets is totally unjustifiable. This is the reason why we decided to forward the case to the United Nations organization, and alert them to this violation of the freedom of the press in Algeria.

What does RSF hope to achieve with this case that has gone to the UN?

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The objective of the referral is to alert the UN to this violation of freedom of the press and freedom of the journalist, but also to get a clear reaction from the United Nations organization. We are hoping to get the attention of the special rapporteur for freedom of the press and freedom of opinion, Irene Khan. The goal is to get her to react to and put into consideration this violation in her report so that the Algerian authorities are officially challenged by the United Nations.

You last spoke with CJR in February 2021, following your release from jail. What has been the general state of press freedom in Algeria since then?

The situation is worrying year after year. There are several journalists who have been imprisoned. Two in particular have been imprisoned for press offenses, while the Algerian Constitution, in its Article 54, states that the press cannot be deprived of freedom. Dozens of journalists are being prosecuted. Many are under judicial supervision. Others are awaiting trial. Several newspapers disappeared, including the newspaper Liberté. The newspaper El Watan is experiencing enormous difficulties that may lead to its disappearance.

What are you doing these days? Are you actively practicing journalism?

Currently, I am the representative of Reporters Without Borders in North Africa. I deal with the situation in six countries: Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Sudan. I try to list the violations of press freedom in these six countries and to help journalists who are prosecuted or harassed in these North African countries. Since I have this new mission as a representative of RSF in North Africa, I no longer practice journalism. 

What does the future of journalism look like in Algeria?

Despite all the difficulties that exist in Algeria, I remain optimistic because the profession of journalism is important in Algeria. Many students, after the baccalaureate, choose to do journalism; it is a specialty that remains quite popular among students. There is a great potential for journalism in Algeria. Algerians need a free press that informs them honestly and with credible information. So despite the difficult situation, I remain optimistic for the future of journalism in Algeria.

Algeria is ranked very low in press freedom globally. (Last year, the country ranked 134th out of a hundred and eighty countries and territories worldwide in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.) What do you think should be done to change that?

Indeed, the ranking of Algeria by Reporters Without Borders is not good. It has moved up a few places, but the situation remains worrying. I think the authorities must understand that Algerians need a press, and should also appreciate the importance of a free press. It is good for information in the country but also for the brand image of Algeria. We cannot draw a modern and democratic state without a free press.

Other notable stories:

  • Yesterday, the Washington Post moved, as had been expected for several weeks, to lay off staffers: the paper cut twenty positions—eliminating sections that, respectively, covered video games and aimed at child readers—and said that it would not fill thirty vacant positions. Management stressed that the paper’s overall head count will not decline this year as it expands in other areas. The paper’s union was unimpressed.
  • Also yesterday, we learned that Rupert Murdoch has ditched plans to recombine News Corp and Fox Corp—his two media businesses, which split in 2013—on the grounds that such a move would not be “optimal for shareholders of News Corp and Fox at this time.” Murdoch had hoped that a merger of the companies could lead to cost savings and the integration of their assets, the New York Times reports, but shareholders pushed back.
  • For CJR, Steve Waldman lays out the mission of Rebuild Local News, a new coalition, with Waldman as its president, that is advocating “certain types of urgent government action” as part of “a multifaceted effort to revitalize community journalism.” Among other ideas, the group is pushing for tax credits for subscribers, donors, and advertisers to local news organizations, as well as to help those outlets hire and retain journalists.
  • The New Yorker’s Molly Fischer profiled Pamela Paul, a Times columnist who has produced “a body of work—deliberately contrarian or not—that reliably results in buttons being pushed.” Last year, Semafor’s Ben Smith wrote that Paul had become “a blunt object.” Paul, unsurprisingly, disagrees. “What I’m trying to do is write about things with a little bit more nuance and complexity than you might find on, let’s say, Twitter,” she said.
  • And some sad news from the home front: Victor Navasky, a longtime editor and publisher of The Nation who also wrote for CJR and served on our Board of Overseers, has died. He was ninety. “I think it was Walter Cronkite who used to end his nightly newscasts by saying, ‘That’s the way it is,’” Navasky once said. “Well, I wanted to put out a magazine which would say: ‘That’s not the way it is at all. Let’s take another look.’”

ICYMI: The would-be president and the press (that he owns)

Mercy Tonnia Orengo is a CJR fellow.