Algiers — The Algerian government presented its draft law on audio-visual activity to parliament on Tuesday (January 7th) as part of a plan to legalise private TV stations.
The bill, years in the making, will add to the twenty or so private-sector TV channels that have already been running for over a year but currently have the status of "offshore television", as they broadcast from abroad.
The private offshore TV stations have been invited by the communications ministry to collect extensions to their licences, which expired on December 31st.
"These channels will have their licences extended so that they can operate as foreign correspondents," Communications Minister Abdelkader Messahel said.
Questions about the long-awaited draft law will be asked by MPs, with around sixty planning to speak while the legislation is being scrutinised.
Article 10 of the bill, which comprises 107 articles in total, stipulates that audio-visual communication services will be provided through the creation of programmes aimed at all segments of society.
The draft legislation also requires that applicants must have Algerian nationality and they must prove that their funding is "wholly Algerian", besides demonstrating that their shareholders include professional journalists.
Article 17 allows radio and TV channels to air news broadcasts and programmes in an hourly volume, which will be clearly stated in their broadcasting licence.
According to article 53 of the draft law, the duties of the Audio-visual Regulatory Authority (ARAV) include guaranteeing the free pursuit of broadcasting activity on the basis defined by current legislation and regulations, maintaining the impartiality of the public audio-visual sector, and safeguarding the right to express multiple views and opinions on radio and television programmes.
But it is Article 7 of the bill that has caused a stir. The communications minister said in Algiers last Tuesday that he intended to propose an amendment in the near future to "clear up the ambiguity that surrounds" Article 7 of the draft law on audio-visual activity and explain what the term "themed" means.
Article 7 defines the terminology used in the text of the law, including the concept of "themed channel or themed programme", which it describes as "a television or radio programme aimed at a particular category of the public and based on one or more specialised themes".
This article of the law has drawn numerous reactions from professionals, including those in the private sector who want to invest in this field. The latter feel that the article tends to restrict freedom of opinion and information by keeping the mainstream media under state control.
Messahel argued that this article "does not by any means tend to impose restrictions on private-sector operators because the law allows multiple themed services".
Chief executives of the new private-sector TV channels said they would have to wait and see what the broadcasting specifications say before making up their minds.
"We believe in complying with the law and will obey the decisions of the Algerian institutions," said Anis Rahmani, chief executive of Ennahar TV. But Rahmani added that he was "not yet aware of what the specifications might contain".
A similar stance was taken by Riad Rejdal, the chief executive of El Djazairia, who said: "We need to wait and look at these specifications before giving an opinion."
However, he indicated that for the time being, "complying with the audio-visual law will not pose any problems". "We can adapt," he added.
Finally, the communications minister has said that these offshore channels would be able to broadcast their programmes through the Algerian Television Broadcasting Company (TDA) after the new legislation comes into force. But he underlined that the channels concerned "must be established under Algerian law".
The ANP is expected to vote on the bill January 20th.