Since the beginning of the internal strife in Algeria, at least 35 journalists, three of them prominent women, have been murdered. Journalists can not be seen to be biased in favour of either the State or the Islamists without putting their lives in jeopardy. But a strictly enforced code of reporting means neither can they be independent. Speaking in Paris, Salima Ghezali, managing editor of the French language weekly La Nation, made a deep impression on the audience at a forum entitled The Medias of Hate. Most of those present were hearing, for the first time, an Algerian journalist's personal account of the strictures under which journalists in her homeland are being forced to operate.
"We are no longer under a state of open dictatorship. The regime claims it is a modern state fighting against barbaric terrorism. It gives us a certain space within which to manoeuvre", Salima Ghezali, managing editor of La Nation, which reaches a readership of 60,000, told the Paris forum. But it soon became clear to those present, that the job of Algerian journalists is not so much difficult as impossible, in these troubled days. Caught up between the opposing factions of State and Islamists, many journalists live in fear of their lives, more than 35 have been murdered since the beginning of the internal conflict in the country.
Those attempting to do their job are constantly walking a tightrope. "If there is a clash, if someone is murdered, we cannot do our own investigation; we cannot send reporters, we cannot ask witnesses to fell us what they have seen. If one does, the newspaper is suspended for between 40 days and 6 months, you never know the length of the ban you are risking. Any information concerning security related matters must come from the official government news agency. Wecan only reprint the official communiques."
Clearly, adds Salima Ghezali, the image the press gives of the war is 'truncated and contradictory".
Between periods of complete silence, the government speaks of sabotages and barbaric terrorism, it distributes pictures of murdered women and of assassinated journalists as well as victorious press releases claiming that so many dozens of terrorists have been killed - but these communiques never mention the losses of the army. "It gives a somewhat absurd image of this war", says Salima.
"It is clear that two forces are in presence but we hear only about one side. It is definitely out of the question to mention the army's losses...