Does information management exist in Algeria?

In his new book, Michael Mewshaw included an interview of Thomas Daughton, the former Deputy Chief of Mission in the American embassy in Algiers. I haven’t read the book yet but, according to Echourouk, it seems that the diplomat lost his… diplomatic manners during this interview. He apparently openly criticised the Algerian state and people, and made sure he didn’t spare anyone. One of his comments, again according to Echourouk, was about the Algerian regime mindset which is still stagnating at the Soviets’ system model level.

I don’t know about this comparison, but the way the Algerian regime manages information looks outdated. I actually question the “management” and “information” association when we talk about Algeria. I am not even sure “information control” would fit. I in fact fail to see any coherence in the different strategies, if any, the Algerian rulers follow for this or that cases. It’s like they act according to what we call in Algerian “ennefha”, without any directing line. And it seems sometimes that they are stuck in the 70s or early 80s when we had a single ruling party and a single source of information (disinformation).

I’ll try to illustrate this through some examples, and if someone understands the logic or detects a strategy then please let me know.

Censorship is one method to control the information the rulers want to show to the public. In the 14th Algiers International Book Fair, Mrs. Khalida Messaoudi’s services decided to ban some of Ibn Taymia’s books. These books, they said, advocated for the fundamentalist ideology, and the minister of culture didn’t want to spread it. Fine, I say. But then why are these books so widely available in all the Algerian bookshops? The “Salafi” books are even a majority among the religious books one can find in Algeria . And two years ago, I found many Salafi and Ibn Taymia’s books on an Algerian airport’s bookshop’s shelf. This actually puzzled me and I thought it was really odd as the bookshop was the only souvenirs shop in the airport, and I expected it to sell only typical Algerian products (books included).
So where is the coherence here? And would it not be smarter and more efficient to allow all these books, and at the same time, encourage or finance authors to write books from other (desired) perspectives?

Another occurrence of censorship took place last year when the ministry of culture (or the police, I don’t know) decided to censor Mehdi ElDjazairi’s book, Poutakhine. The book was considered as insulting to Bouteflika. The problem is that the book was first allowed and given an ISBN number before being banned. The author even organised a dedication session in Algiers, and many bookshops had already the book on their shelves. So all this “allow then ban” operation just proved the authorities’ amateurism, allowed the world to talk about the Algerian regime’s censorship, and offered an advertisement to the book and its author. For some reason, most of the Algerian newspapers either ignored this issue or criticised ElDjazairi and even gave away his real name.

The media are another important tool for communication and information management. Algeria’s situation is somehow confusing: the television and radio channels are state-controlled, but there is no control on the satellite reception as one would find in China or Singapore. The newspapers’ situation is different as there are some state-owned ones with a negligible audience, and many private papers with a bigger readership. Of course, some of these private newspapers are owned by big businessmen (such as Rebrab for Liberte or Haddad for Le Temps d’Algerie) who have ties with the regime, and some other newspapers are said to be linked with the DRS. But many journalists spend a lot of time in justice courts facing defamation accusations. This makes sure most of them never cross the read lines.

But back to my examples’ list, and specifically to the Orphan ENTV, our dear propaganda tool.

I remember in the 90s, the ENTV ignored the terrorists’ activities for a long period until the regime decided it was time to help the Algerians who sympathized with the terrorists realize their mistake. So the ENTV showed us many terrorists’ interrogations where the policeman asked some questions such as “what’s your name, what’s your group, who’s your emir?” (the same questions in Arabic and with the policeman’s voice had the greatest effect). Then suddenly, all this, together with reports on terrorists’ attacks, disappeared after the government decided that terrorism in Algeria became residual. But regardless of what the ENTV said and still says, the Algerian newspapers still report about the tiniest events related to terrorism and security. So nobody believes the ENTV, if someone watches it that is.

A second example of the art of communication on the ENTV is about el harga or clandestine immigration phenomenon. As usual, the phenomenon was ignored until Bouteflika mentioned it in one of his speeches. This “encouraged” HHC to make TV shows where he invited former harragas (the ones who failed) and some analysts so everybody tells the young men and women that they should stay in Algeria. But the president’s speech was followed by a declaration of the religious affairs ministry saying that el harga is haram, and also by the adoption of a law criminalizing it. These two decisions apparently solved the problem of el harga as the ENTV abruptly stopped talking about it. This new silence period affected even the successful TV show, Djemai Family, as two episodes were censored because they treated el harga and oil topics.
And exactly like with terrorism, the Algerian newspapers are full of articles dealing with this topic and relating the harragas tales in Algeria and Europe .

My last example concerns the internet. Algerians do enjoy a free access to the internet and they’re quite active online. There are many Algerian blogs and forums, and their politics sections are usually very busy. But Algeria adopted a new cyber crime law which targets, the government says, piracy, terrorism and sexual websites. However, early this year, Rachad‘s website was banned in Algeria, but again it’s not a total ban as this movement’s YouTube channel is still accessible. Here too, the Algerian newspapers “chose” to not mention this first case of censorship.

In one-party states, information is tightly controlled, and social and political expressions are reduced to their minimum. Algeria’s information management seems to be a combination of tight control of state sources and relative freedom of the private ones. This creates a good level of perceived liberty and freedom of speech. But this combination comes often as random and muddle-brained as shown in the above examples. The very recent example of how the state press reacted to Ali Tounsi’s assassination and all the rumours it created is telling.

Governments, organisations, and individuals, all try to improve their communication strategy and have information management processes. It is important that the Algerian government defines an information strategy with specific and clear goals. Today I feel their strategy is an application of the Algerian saying “khellet’ha tesfa” as it oscillates between total rigidity and chaos, and I don’t think it will handle the growing of computer literacy and the introduction of newer multimedia technologies (Algeria plans to launch digital terrestrial TV transmissions and Algerie Telecom started an IPTV service).

I had a little more to say on this but the words have been

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10 thoughts on “Does information management exist in Algeria?

  1. I think information management does exit in Algeria for decades now and it’s widely spreading out like every where; but the main key topic is that it’s slightly better than some and worst than others around the world… and it’s all natural as long as it’s all managed by humans…

    The country who neglects this modern discipline may end up to be divided or disappear. In my opinion, as long as this discipline is to be used for the country’s values, principles and ethics of its nation, that would be fine. Otherwise it has to be reviewed… Also governing a nation while trying to save its unity is not really an exact science, as the consequences may some times be very tough …and the hardest concern for Algeria right now is that; it’s trying to catch up the delay caused particularly by the dark decade, and this modernisation is touching all sectors in one go, and the new clear face is likely to be revealed in a decade time or so.

    It’s certainly there is no clean minded Algerian who wants to give chance to the grounds that led to the dark decade to happen again, the question now comes to;

    Would the subsistence of a well censored ‘information management’ system prevent such dark decade to happen, by conveying events to take other peaceful ways?

    • Would the subsistence of a well censored ‘information management’ system prevent such dark decade to happen, by conveying events to take other peaceful ways?

      I think the answer to that one is No Mohamed, or at least not on its own. The government is using the national media to broadcast its achievements and provide a counter-balancing perspective to the other sources of information which only seem to have disasterous things to say about Algeria.

      The best any government could achieve in this age of information is to keep the people in a permanent state of confusion and uncertainty. All they need is time and to be given the benefice of the doubt.

      But as I said elsewhere, all efforts will be ultimately useless as long as the legitimacy of the ruling power is not consolidated by a free and honest popular backing.

      • The government is using the national media to broadcast its achievements and provide a counter-balancing perspective to the other sources of information which only seem to have disasterous things to say about Algeria.

        It never occured me to see it this way. I always thought it was the other way around 🙂

        • What do you mean by “the other way round” MnarviDZ?

          I seem to remember quite clearly that Bouteflika stated that the ENTV is a state-owned television channel and as such he cannot see why it should slag off the government.

  2. MnarviDZ, the answer to your question is the same as the explanation of the (apparent) contradictions in the examples you give in your analysis and it is this:

    There is no management of any sort in Algeria, there is only incompetence at all levels.

    Everything you read, see or hear about Algeria can be explained by the chronic incompetence at all levels. It sounds crazy and hyperbolic, but it is unfortunately quite real.

  3. algerianna, I meant that it’s rather the newspapers that are counter-balancing the ENTV.
    And yes I remember Bouteflika’s statement, and it’s true in many countries (Spain is one but not the only example in the West). Except that in Spain for e.g. this is attenuated because the ruling party is not always the same; and there is a difference between not slagging off the goverment and being a propaganda tool.

    • algerianna, I meant that it’s rather the newspapers that are counter-balancing the ENTV.

      I have strong doubts about that MnarviDZ, I am much disappointed by our national press which I think is relatively free compared to many other countries in a similar development level as us. In any case, it is probably a two way relationship which every side (government and press) seeks to keep at equilibrium.

      Politically-speaking, there is no discernable difference between not slagging-off and propaganda tool as far as state-owned media are concerned. Qui dit gouvernement, dit propagande!!! There is no middle ground (why should there be?). We’ve reached a stage where it’s almost as if nothing the government could do could ever be any good and the government has no choice but to keep calm and carry on.

  4. It is hard to see any rationale behind the actions of the government vis-à-vis management of information in the examples you cited above. However, I feel that I have to give it the benefit of the doubt and say that it is trying to strike a balance between, on the one hand, keeping the unity/security of the country -by only releasing information that it sees fit for release to the general public- and on the other hand, giving a good “image of Algeria abroad” as a country that takes freedom of expression seriously!

    Regarding the ENTV’s role, I have to side with Algerianna’s view in that it is being used to counter the bleak image that the newspapers are giving. Algerianna: you expressed your disappointment with the newspapers but you did not cite your reasons for that. In this context, are you trying to say that they are being too negative?

    I have one question here: Can we trust the general public and deal with scandals in our media in the same way they are dealt with in the western media? (e.g., the scandal of MPs expenses in the UK and corruption scandals in DZ). Can we trust the people to behave responsibly and let justice deal with the issues? Had the state of emergency not been in application these last few years, what would have been the fate of the people involved in these corruption cases?

    • Algerianna: you expressed your disappointment with the newspapers but you did not cite your reasons for that. In this context, are you trying to say that they are being too negative?

      Yes Pandora, I see very little effort towards objectivity or an institutional committment to search for ‘facts’ and reliable proofs. Even the average Algerian newspaper reader is not that concerned with these crucial things. The ultimate criteria to believe a newspaper story seems to be whether or not it is approving of the government (with the maximum score for believability being when the story wrecks the government to pieces).

      I am not saying press organizations in other countries are more ethically motivated (after all, newspapers are businesses which need to sell their products), but still, it is worrying to see that there is very little importance attached to deontological aspects in most algerian professional sectors.

      As goes the famous X-files quote: ‘the truth is elsewhere’.

  5. If you put aside Le Matin and La quotidien d’Algerie (which are openly opposed to the system, which newspapers are really slagging-off the government? I’d think ElWatan, ElKhabar and Le Quotidien d’Oran. The rest is just a joke.
    And I don’t know about you but I felt ElWatan and ElKhabar hardened their line only 3 or 4 years ago, whereas the ENTV’s propaganda grew bigger everyday, esp. after Bouteflika came in.
    I agree these newspapers very often automatically disapprove what the government does/says, and their journalistic quality has yet to reach professional standards, but again I feel they not only have to counter-balance the ENTV and co. but also do the job of the opposition which is simply non-existent.
    Check this out.

    As to your three in one question Pandora, I am interested to hear your answer (I seem to guess it from the questions but better confirm). The Algerians are apathetic to all these stuff, and what justice are you talking about?

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