In Algeria, the free press was born in the wake of the anti-government demonstrations of October 5, 1988 and the democratic interlude that followed, which lasted until 1992. At that time many, independent outlets were created, in French as well as in Arabic, filling the country’s newsstands.
Today, print media as a whole is in decline in Algeria. Several outlets have already closed. Others are surviving as best they can, though their economic horizon is gradually darkening.
The state of Francophone media in the country is even worse. Representing only one third of newspapers in Algeria, French-language publications have been disappearing one after the other for the last 10 years. Prestigious outlets have already gone out of business, such as Algérie-Actualité, La Tribune, La Nation, Le Quotidien d'Algérie, and Le Matin. The latest to close is the daily Liberté, which last went to print on April 14, 2022, after 30 years of existence.
The shutdown of this newspaper could even, according to many observers, lead to the demise of El Watan, another emblematic outlet of the French-language press in Algeria also experiencing serious financial difficulties. The website Twala recently revealed that El Watan has not been able to pay salaries for two months and that its accounts have been blocked due to a bank overdraft of DZD70 million (around EUR460,000) and a tax debt of DZD26 million (EUR170,500).
In 2012, El Watan had a daily circulation of 163,000. Today, its circulation is around 40,000, more than four times less.
What’s behind these serial closures of once successful newspapers? Beyond the dramatic decline in press freedom in the country — Algeria is ranked 134 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders 2022 Press Freedom Index, indicating a "difficult situation" — observers of the Algerian media landscape point to many factors.
A business model long dependent on public revenue
During the last two decades, which coincide with the rule of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1999-2019), the Algerian media landscape was filled with media outlets that benefited greatly from public advertising. Many newspapers, including those deemed independent, built their business model around the generous distribution of advertising space by the National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP).
"Financially, there are no specific reasons for the closure of French-language newspapers compared to Arabic-language ones," said Hakim Outoudert, a journalist at the business daily Eco Times. "Both have been suffering equally from the scarcity of financial resources from public advertising — awarded by the ANEP — for at least a decade, after having happily benefited from it. As a result, many of these newspapers, instead of choosing to survive with very little public advertising even if it means opting for drastic cuts in their staff, opted to close down altogether."
For both economic and political reasons, many newspapers have watched helplessly as advertising revenue has gradually dried up, and financial difficulties have accumulated.
A digital turn not taken
For many observers, the "legacy" newspapers, meaning those born after the democratic opening, have taken too long to integrate the new digital reality in their development. Some even go so far as to speak of "a failed digital turn." These newspapers have progressively seen their readership erode and move to social media, a more attractive source of news especially for younger generations.
Furthermore, the late arrival of electronic payment in Algeria has prevented these newspapers from monetizing their online content and benefiting financially from new revenue streams. Although numbers have clearly improved in the last two years, electronic payment is still largely insufficient in the country.
The language factor
Other voices blame the turmoil of the Algerian French-language press on the decline of the language of Molière in the country. Hakim Outoudert cites a "drastic shrinking of the Francophone readership in Algeria for at least two decades.”
A quick link can be established between the progressive decline of French in Algeria and the crisis that the Francophone press is experiencing; the circulation figures of French-language newspapers have been falling steadily for the past 20 years.
Yet, the crisis does not seem to spare Arabic-language newspapers, either. According to Twala, in fact, El Khabar, another "legacy newspaper," is also about to downsize due to financial difficulties.
This article was originally published on our French site. It was translated to English by Sedera Ranaivoarinosy.
Photo by abderrahmane chablaoui via Unsplash.