Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the constitutional reform approved two days ago by Algeria's national assembly, for the first time guaranteeing press freedom without any form of prior censorship, and urges the country to put it into practice and to modify legislation accordingly while respecting the international conventions it has ratified.
Article 41 (b) of the amended constitution guarantees media freedom and abolishes prison sentences for journalists "in the framework of the law and respect for the nation's religious, moral and cultural constants and values." Article 41 (c) guarantees the right to information while conditioning it on "the rights of others, legitimate corporate interests and national security requirements."
"These constitutional guarantees represent a major step forward for the right and the freedom to inform in Algeria," said Yasmine Kacha, the head of RSF's North Africa desk. "Nonetheless, the real value of these provisions will not be realized unless Algeria's current legislation, especially the criminal code, is brought into line with the new constitution and with the country's international obligations regarding freedom of information and freedom of the media."
RSF points out that restricting the media's ability to question or criticize the head of state, national security provisions or the nation's moral values is extremely disturbing because of the lack of precision in these restrictions.
As regards international law, the UN Human Rights Committee's General Comment No. 34 on article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Politic Rights stipulates that no media outlet should be penalized for criticizing the political and social system espoused by the government. Algeria ratified the covenant in 1989.
Furthermore, international law does not recognize "legitimate corporate interests" as grounds for restricting freedom of expression. The constitutional amendment's reference to such interests therefore poses a real threat to the media's right to provide business coverage.
Finally, although international law recognizes "national security requirements," the UN Human Rights Committee points out that they must be applied in a manner compatible with article 19 of the covenant. Any such restrictions must therefore be provided by law and must be necessary and proportional to the legitimate goal pursued.
Algeria is ranked 119th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.