Review of Algerian journalism bill begins
By Mohand Ouali for Magharebia in Algiers – 02/12/07
A draft bill to regulate Algeria's journalism industry is being finalised and has been opened up to a closed-door debate. During a November 21st meeting on the 2008 budget, Communications Minister Rachid Boukerzaza said the bill had been submitted to over one hundred media professionals for review.
Nevertheless, most journalists know little of the proposed law, despite the fact that it is targeted at them and will affect their social and professional future. Only one newspaper has even reported on the bill.
"The chief of our publication just briefed us on the overall picture," said journalist Amar R., "but there was no discussion."
"We haven't seen the law, and few journalists are really interested in it," said Amar. "They’re more interested in getting on with their work. In private newspapers such as ours, there’s not much of a union presence."
Amina D., who works for an Arabic-language newspaper, said: "We haven’t seen anything. We asked our boss if we could see it, but since then there’s been silence. He’s even avoiding the editorial offices so he doesn’t get asked questions."
Boukerzaza said at the meeting that he made a point of involving editorial offices since they would be directly affected by the law, and added that the bill had been in the pipeline since before he was appointed to his post. "I’m not making a secret of it; I was the one who decided to block the bill when it was in the secretarial offices of the government. I decided that I should first take the views of journalists into account," he said.
A number of journalists suggested the minister make the bill available online to allow debate by all. Boukerzaza reacted positively to the suggestion, but no such arrangement has yet been made.
He also added that at the end of this initial consultation, a working group would be created to put the finishing touches to the bill before it is submitted to the government.
The initial draft of the bill states that the freedom of the press is an asset which cannot be taken away once given, and that it "cannot be conceived of unless we have a responsible, professional press which respects universally acknowledged ethical considerations," with "adequate working conditions" as an essential prerequisite. This necessarily entails "the creation of a specific professional law setting out the rights and responsibilities of journalists and their employers".
Contributors to the draft bill have spoken of the power that editors have over journalists due to job insecurity, inadequate health and personal insurance coverage, a lack of training, low pay and the instability of the profession, and explain that "the lack of a specific law applicable to the profession is one of the main causes of the current disorganisation."
The draft bill has eight chapters on working relations between journalists and press agencies to be based on a written contract protecting against the "arbitrary use of power and pressures from interest groups". The contract would regulate duration of employment, allocation of hours, overtime, night work and shift work, time off, training and other issues in accordance with the specific nature of the profession. Conscience clauses, freedom of political and union affiliation, copyrights and compulsory special insurance for high-risk assignments are all guaranteed.
The minister set December 8th as the deadline for comments and proposals from press agencies.
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