The president gave a speech on April the 15th wherein he announced some ‘radical’ measures to ‘deepen the democratic process’ in Algeria. I admit that I had listened to the speech from start to finish and even watched one telly show which purported to shed light on what the speech meant. However, I still do not understand what the proposals are about or indeed what is it that is going to change in the constitution or who will be in charge of deciding what to change or how the process will unfold. Of course, it might be simply that am too thick to comprehend such complex, grown-up stuff. My only consolation is that I seem to not be the only thicko in this country as nobody I’ve spoken to seems to understand what is going on. There is however one aspect that am most interested in in all this Tchektchouka*: the bit about ‘decriminalizing’ journalists’ writings and what precedent it would represent for other professions whose job it is to say things to the public (in this post I will talk about Imams as they’re a very important category from a social point of view). Let me say upfront that I do not understand fully what that ‘decriminalizing’ business would involve in practice, I assume it is about not throwing journalists in prison for stuff they write. I have read that there is a new law proposal which proposes to swap prison for a significant fine in case a journalist is found guilty of defamation and the like. However this proposal has not met with the approval of some members of the parliament as they think that a prison sentence is less painful than having to dig deep into one’s pocket (I find this argument very interesting and a bit shocking to be honest but hey who am I to tell our politicians what to do or how to think).
I don’t know about you but it seems to me there is a lot of confusion about what constitutes ‘individual liberties’ (or civil liberties), freedom of expression, and even democracy. Everyone is banging on about these things but it strikes me that very few (not to say nobody) has a grasp of the implications and risks of these things in our current social context. Everyone wants to have a free ride and be paid for it. Some parties have suggested the same should be applied to Imams, who I must mention are public servants (under the authority of the Ministry of religious affairs). How could Imams expect to be free to say whatever the hell they please when they are working officially for the government and hence representing it? Also, I am not sure if our criminal law is adequately equipped with texts and measures to deal with people who harm others and abuse them verbally (eg. incitement to hatred, incitement to murder/ violence, hate speech etc.).
I am all for free expression, but I am even more for rigorous journalism, truly independent and professional (read ethical) press. I do not want this decriminalizing stuff if it means many innocent people’s lives would be ruined by press lies and sensationalist propaganda to suit their own (materialistic) interest. The same goes for Imams; I don’t want to hear hate speeches and speeches about every conceivable aspect of women’s lives and thoughts every other Friday. So what is the solution? I don’t know, I think that given the horrendous scale of the rampant incompetence in all sectors and professions, it would make more sense to criminalize everything and every profession!!!
* Tchektchouka is an Algerian dish involving onions and tomatoes, sometimes eggs and minced meat. It looks messy because it has a scrambled look to it and so the name is used to allude to messy things. This is the sense it was used in in this post.