This article focuses on the media systems in the Maghreb countries. The Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) as a political entity is characterized by authoritarian structures. The regimes are omnipresent in almost every aspect of daily life, including the media sector. The countries in question share strong similarities in terms of their early historical development, their French colonial past, the nature of their media systems, the journalism practiced, their media laws, and their common struggle to increase press freedom, access to information, and protection of journalists. Tunisia has the most authoritarian regime and thus the most restrictive media policies. Morocco is the most liberal of the countries and thus has the least restricted media. Algeria exists in the middle of the spectrum. In recent times, the media landscapes in the three North African countries have changed under the combined impact of the globalization process and information and communication technologies.
In Algeria there are about 40 daily newspapers and magazines in circulation. The daily newspaper with the widest circulation is Al Khabar (400,000). The circulation of daily newspapers is about 3 million, which is 9 percent of the population. Since 1990, the Algerian press has been governed by the “Information Code.” Politics is viewed as combat rather than contest, and journalists are hampered by a lack of adequate training and by low pay; they are not financially self-sufficient. Journalism remains more of an intellectual passion than a real profession. Over the past decade, ongoing civil strife between the regime and Islamic extremists has made journalism one of the most dangerous professions; 58 commentators and editors were murdered between 1993 and 1996. Journalists in this North African country continue to suffer from legal and physical harassment.
In 1926, radio broadcasting began in Algeria, but it was only after independence in 1962 that a wide range of radio content was developed and broadcast. The state-run Radio-Television Algerienne (RTA) consists of four national stations. In Algeria there are an estimated 244 radio receivers for every 1,000 inhabitants. Radio Algeria programming is available via the Internet. Radio remains under the control of the government, with coverage biased strongly in favor of state policies. While the 1998 amendments allow for the licensing of private stations, the regime continues to maintain its monopoly over radio broadcasting.
In Algerian Television, Enterprise Nationale de Television (ENTV) oversees the two staterun channels, Canal Algérie, broadcasting to Europe’s Algerian community, and Al Thalitha TV, broadcasting to Arab countries. Berbère Television (BRTV) is a Berber station that is broadcast from France to Algeria via satellite and targets the Berber communities. RTA broadcasts in Arabic, Berber, and French and operates an international service broadcasting in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. The 1990s witnessed an unexpected explosion of satellite television; more than 60 percent of Algerian households have access to European channels through satellite dishes. Recent studies of television viewing habits in Algeria suggest that regime-run broadcasting is less popular, especially among the young, than satellite broadcasting, which is uncensored and often viewed as more credible. The 1998 amendment allows for private television broadcasting, but so far no licenses have been provided.
The Centre de Recherche sur l’Information Scientifique et Technique (CERIST), a state-owned research center, introduced the first access to the Internet in Algeria in 1993. There were approximately 1,920,000 Internet users in Algeria in the beginning of 2007. In terms of Internet penetration, Algeria is lagging behind the other two North African countries in question. Several newspapers now operate online versions of their publications.
From independence in 1956, Morocco has had one of the most open print media environments of the Maghreb countries. There are 26 newspapers and 136 weeklies with a total circulation of 350,000 per day; less than 1 percent of the population reads a newspaper every day. Many Moroccan newspapers maintain websites. While Morocco does have an open and relatively free press, there are three no-go areas: Islam, the monarchy and the Sahara. Journalists who overstep the boundaries often face persecution, harassment, and in some cases have even suffered imprisonment. Print media organizations continue to need a license to publish. However, censorship has been softened in the country since 1997.
Radio began broadcasting in 1928. By 1962, the regime had reorganized the country’s broadcasting structure and become the “Idaa wa At-Talvaza Al-Mahgrebiya” (Moroccan Radio and Television: MRT). There are an estimated 6.62 million radio receivers in the country. The four Arabic stations are the National Arabic Channel, Koran channel, Radio Tamazight and International radio channel. The National Channel, which has 24-hour broadcasting, features coverage of local news and events, call-in talk shows, drama, and educational and cultural programs. Radio programming is state-run and is broadcast live over the Internet. Moroccan audiences also have access to Tangier-based radio station Medi 1.
Television began in Morocco in 1952 as a private enterprise. In 1961, ownership of television broadcasting and content development was transferred to the regime. Until 2002 the regime had a monopoly on television broadcasting, except for 2M, originally privately owned, but bought by the state. In 2002 the Broadcasting Supreme Authority (HACA), was created by royal decree to regulate the broadcasting system. Another development is the creation of the National Company of Radio and Television Broadcasting (SNRT), a convergence of the Moroccan broadcasting channel (RTM) and the Autonomous Service of Advertising (SAP). The Moroccan audiovisual system has witnessed five additional channels: (1) Al Maghribia, an international news channel for the Moroccan community abroad; (2) TVM international, a general entertainment channel for the Moroccan community abroad; (3) Arabia or Tarbawiya, Morocco’s leading education and culture channel, aimed at a youth audience; (4) TVM Layoune, designed for the southern region; and (5) Assadisa, a religious channel. In 2006 the radio station Medi 1 launched its own TV channel, Medi Sat 1. The most popular way to watch television in Morocco is through satellite TV. Moroccan audiences have access to international satellite televisions. There are an estimated 3.1 million television sets in Morocco. Moreover, 67 percent of households own a satellite dish. In 2007 SNRT started full-scale digitization of Moroccan TV. The digitization process covered 54 percent of the population and full coverage is expected by 2015.
The history of the Internet in Morocco dates back to the early 1990s. The first general users of the Internet in Morocco were scholars, businesspeople, and students in 1995. There are approximately 5 million Internet users in Morocco, 15 percent of the population, but 95 percent of the use is oriented to international websites. The Internet is an important part of youth subculture in Morocco. Many young people choose the 3,500 Internet cafes for social media use; YouTube is the most popular net-based activity among young people.
The history of the Tunisian press began in 1860 with the creation of the periodical Al-Raid Al-Tunisi. In the 1930s the nationalist press fought for the independence of Tunisia. During the reign of Habib Bourguiba (1956 –1987), the Tunisian media functioned as a key instrument for the legitimization of the political hegemony of one party. In 1987 the Tunisian media sector witnessed a kind of political opening up that positively affected the media landscape. There are nine dailies and 15 weeklies, and the total circulation of newspapers in Tunisia is 250,000 copies a day. Approximately 3.7 percent of the population read newspapers every day. However, these publications rarely provide information that diverges from the official line and have become an ardent propaganda instrument for the regime. Foreign publications are also subject to censorship, including the 70 accredited foreign correspondents.
Radio in Tunisia is an absolute monopoly and functions under direct supervision by the regime. The primary reason for continuing to keep broadcasting under state control is the expressed desire to preserve national unity and maintain centralization of the regime and administration. Today, the state-run Tunisian Radio and Television Establishment (ERTT) has several radio networks, including Sfax, Gafsa, Tataouine, and Monastir. Tunisian radio is a state business, subsidized by the regime and partially financed by advertising revenues. There are an estimated 1.9 million radio receivers in Tunisia, or 607 per 1,000 inhabitants. Radio Mosaique FM, the first ever private radio station in Tunisia, started broadcasting on November 2003. Tunisian radio has also been available via the Internet since December 1996.
Television transmission in Tunisia began in 1966. As of 2007, there were three television stations. There are an estimated 1.9 million television receivers in Tunisia. ERTT operates two national television channels. Tunisian TV broadcasts news, sports, soap operas, religious and cultural programming, cartoons and children’s programming, and films. Sixty-five percent of the television programming is produced in Tunisia. The remaining 35 percent comes mainly from the Arab world, Europe, and North America. Since 1994 there has been a special youth television channel, TV 21. In addition to state-run television, since 1988 many Tunisians have been able to receive satellite television, and thus can watch Arab satellite news, including the first opposition satellite channel, Al Mustaqillah, which was launched from London in January 1999. There are an estimated 500,000 satellite dishes. Since March 20, 1998, national television has been available online. A private satellite TV channel, Hannibal TV, started broadcasting in February 2005 as a response to the initiative by President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali to open up and privatize audiovisual broadcasting.
In 1991 Tunisia became the first Arab and African country to introduce the Internet. Since then the country has continuously improved its infostructures as part of the promotion of the Tunisian economy both at home and abroad. It occupies a leading position among developing countries in terms of digitization, ranking highest in Africa and in the Arab world. It is ahead of several European countries, being placed thirty-fifth in the World Economic Forum’s Networked Readiness Index (NRI) in 2006 –7. Tunisia has the highest Internet penetration (953,000 households and businesses). The ability to access broadcast radio and television on the Internet reveals the sophistication of the regime’s use of the Internet in Tunisia. However, in spite of wide Internet access, the Internet in Tunisia is still censored via a proxy server.
The North African countries have witnessed the emergence of a new media regime, characterized by greater diversification and multiplication of news sources and leading towards a richer and more pluralistic communication environment. However, the three countries are still classified as non-free countries according to the most recent Freedom House rankings.
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