and European Satellites over the Maghrib
By Ahmed Bedjaoui
because they belonged to the French colonial empire, the people
of the Maghrib had a long tradition of film before they became
television viewers. Television reception had its start in the
late fifties when the three countries of the northern Maghrib
were still under French rule. The first transmission came in
1957 in Algeria, then still considered an integral part of France.
The launching of local television stations was part of the French
response to the successful propaganda program developed by the
Algerian Liberation Army through the production of a series
of films. Television appeared in 1962 in Morocco and in 1966
in Tunisia. Needless to say, the three countries bowed to the
French tradition of state-run media monopolies. Nevertheless,
they also wanted to create a framework for sub-regional cooperation.
As a response to their membership in the European Broadcasting
Union's Eurovision, the three countries decided in 1966 to create
MaghribVision. The first shows were aired in 1970, only to come
to an end in 1975 with the conflict on the Western Sahara, which
caused a long-lasting quarrel between Morocco and Algeria.
it was a colony (while the neighboring countries were protectorates),
Algeria inherited a structured regional network that enabled
the regime to achieve in 1974 the unification of the transmitters
in the north of the country. By the end of the seventies, 95
% of the territory was covered and the government decided to
subsidize half of the price of TV sets. This state intervention
allowed 85% of households to have almost free access to the
national channel. Wishing to disseminate the image of his socialist
ideology to the remotest enclaves of the population, President
Boumediene decided as early as 1975 to invest in one of the
first attempts to use satellite technology for the coverage
of Algeria's immense Saharan territory, where less than 10%
of Algerians lived. The state-owned broadcasting organization
known as RTA (Radiotélévision Algérienne),
opted for a transponder on an Intelsat satellite designed for
indirect transmission to fourteen small local relay stations
on Band C. Half of the capacities were used for radio and TV
frequencies and the rest for telephone connections. At that
time, individual reception required an eleven-meter dish. Still
used today, the system is based on sixty local relays, although
the signal is sent through a new generation of satellites such
as the New Sky NNS 7 on digital band KU, which allows both direct
and indirect transmission covering the whole African continent.
For instance, state-owned Algerian TV covers the city of Nouakchott
(where half of the population of Mauritania lives) with a small
transmitter installed in the Algerian embassy. . Morocco uses
the same device to achieve complete coverage of its national
Television station through satellite. At the beginning of the
eighties, the Maghrib countries were connected to the European
Broadcasting Union (EBU) through Eutelsat. In addition to EBU,
Algeria was also connected to the socialist countries of the
IRT Organisation via Intersputnik.
French and Arab Temptations
their unsuccessful attempt to escape from French dominance through
sub-regional co-operation and still wishing to counterbalance
European influence, the Maghrib countries opted to create a
second transnational framework for the Arab World in the form
of the Arab States Broadcasting Union. The countries of the
Maghrib played an active role in the formation of this union;
Abdallah Chaqroun, former manager of the Moroccan national TV,
was the first general secretary, and Tunis was named the headquarters.
Even before Arabsat was created, Abd el Kader Bairi, an Algerian
TV leader, had already been appointed manager of the project
States Broadcasting Union was formed in 1984. At the moment,
Northern Maghrib channels and the European-trained engineers
and experts appeared to be the most dynamic and experienced
producers of modern programming in the Arab world, after Egypt.
In Algeria, the volume of transmitted local images reached an
average of 44%. Even these advances were not enough, however:
the manager of Moroccan RTM confided in an interview to El Maghrib
magazine in 1985 that "my ambition is to produce one hour
daily, but we would need to increase the budget of our television
predict that, with the advent of Arabsat and at the very peak
of their reputation and power, the state-run channels of the
Maghrib were going to lose their dominant place and become passive,
consumers of Eastern Arab media?
The first Arabsat satellite, named A2 and launched in 1982,
was used for telephone use as well as for the exchange of programs
between the state-run channels in the Arab world. Algiers was
chosen as the location for this centre. The founders of Arabsat
were very respectful of the state monopoly in force in the 22
member countries. However, it rapidly appeared that the technical
potentialities of the two first Arabsat satellites considerably
exceeded Arab production capacities. Indeed, it may be said
that the first Arabsat satellite was as costly as it was underused.
As the Egyptian expert Hamid Kandil put it, "Arabsat was
designed, produced, launched, supervised and controlled by others.
The Arabs transferred the product, not the process. It is the
same old story: we stole Aladdin's lamp, but when the spirit
escaped from it, we proved to be unable to put it back."
Inroads on State-run Monopolies
the governing elites, whatever their ideology or political system,
seemed satisfied with the state-run monopolies, many experts
warned that an invasion of their Hertzian space was immanent.
Governing elites were advised to invest in the creation of new
channels, to encourage a dynamic production policy, and to prepare
to compete with a national private sector before having to face
the space channels in a battle in which victory was far from
assured. Conscious of their fragility in the face of the approaching
tide, and in spite of their reluctance to abandon their monopolies,
the three countries reacted in different ways.
three national channels, Algerian Television seemed at the beginning
of the eighties to be the most structured in terms of production
capacities. In 1984 Algerian experts chose to launch a second
national channel which was supposed to stimulate the public
service. A few months before its inauguration, President Chadli
cancelled the project and condemned Algeria to live another
twenty years with a single channel.
they were more conscious of the fragility of their positions,
Tunisia and Morocco adopted a different approach. Tunisia was
the first country in the region to create a breach in the state
monopoly when it decided to allow the Italian RAI Uno to install
Herztian transmitters, which by 1989 covered the whole country.
Given the limited number of Italian-speakers, the competition
was far from fierce. The real danger might derive from a French-speaking
channel. While Algeria was closing its all-Algerian second channel,
the Tunisian government very cleverly decided to launch, under
a joint venture agreement with France, a second channel based
on France's state-owned France 2 programs. As if to show the
limits of this opening, the French news bulletins were replaced
by an official local bulletin; eventually the channel dispensed
with the French partner and became Canal 21. On the 1992 anniversary
of President's Ben Ali's November 7th take-over of power, the
channel Horizons Tunisia (a subsidiary of Canal + France) began
its transmission of partly encrypted programs. Most of these
were sent from Paris via the satellite Intelsat VI before their
transmission through the local network. The subscription fee
was the equivalent of US$25. In order to be profitable, the
project needed to reach a target audience of 50,000 to 70,000
subscribers. A few years later, the subscription price and the
growing competition represented by MBC killed the channel, which
never exceeded 20 000 subscribers, thus discreetly turning Tunisia
back into a complete state media monopoly control.
the state monopoly on broadcasting frequencies started to crumble
with the end of the exclusivity retained by the state over national
radio. King Hasan II decided to allow a joint venture (with
the French SOFIRAD and Saudi interests) to launch a private
radio station called MEDI 1 in the former International Zone
of Tangiers. This channel adopted a certain amount of freedom
in its treatment of foreign affairs. It is still very successful
among the Maghrib audiences because the two languages most widely
spoken in the Maghrib, Arabic and French, are used alternately.
A few years later, in 1988, the commercial channel 2M International
applied the same principle to television. The new channel was
a shared project between SOREAD, a Moroccan Company controlled
by ONA, a state institution SOFIRAD, and the French channel
TF1. The new channel was also financially supported by the French
Government. Using Intelsat 5F3 relayed by re-transmitters, 2
M I transmitted mainly French encrypted programs (mainly in
French) and produced a few hours of local unscrambled shows.
However, as in the case of Horizons Tunisia, M 2 I's ambition
of gaining 90,000 subscribers was far from being achieved. This
situation led the Royal Government to buy back the foreign shares
and to transform 2M into the state's own second channel.
relations established between the Moroccan Kingdom and France
in the framework of the Francophone Organization opened the
way to Tv5 Europe in Morocco. The channel started its transmission
in 1984 through a satellite (Ecsl). The better-off received
the channel with a big dish and the rest of the population on
the national Herzian network. However, when a Tv5 news bulletin
covered G. Perrault's book "Our Friend the King,"
the king decided to boycott Tv5 and to hand the earth network
to a less subversive channel-the Saudi-funded MBC. A further
channel Canal Horizons attempted to enter the Moroccan market
in 1994 but quickly failed though Canal Horizons Afrique programs
are presently sent via satellite to the whole continent. There
is no doubt that the commercial destiny of 2MI and Canal Horizons
Morocco were both partly undermined by the unscrambled presence
of Tv5 and MBC.
pretended to make inroads on state monopoly and Morocco really
tried to, what about Algeria? As mentioned above, in 1983 the
Algerian authorities had banned an attempt by TV experts to
launch a second channel. The year after, they initiated a reform
of the broadcasting system that broke it into four state companies.
The reorganization resulted in the destruction of the best performing
production facilities in the region and in the growing mediocrity
of the sole channel. The 1988 riots showed the great anger of
the population against the state-run media, especially television.
After the adoption of a pluralist constitution in 1989 and an
Information Law in 1990 which protected freedom of expression
and the right to be informed, the Head of Government Sid Ahmed
Ghozali signed a decree which guaranteed the private sector
free access to frequencies for transmitting new channels. The
new law was observed except in respect of the state monopoly
on television, which, though illegal, remained in place. The
upshot is that, since 1989, Algeria has developed perhaps the
most independent and aggressive printed press but one of the
most mediocre television networks in the Arab world. As Lotfi
Madani writes, "State television, envisioned as a way to
accelerate national unity finally has radically denied the deep
cultural differences which actually shape an integrated society."
Whole Sky for a Dish
starting in 1987, the best off among the ruling classes in the
Maghrib began to buy the expensive equipment which would allow
them to develop their schizophrenic relation to the Kings and
"Zaims" on the one hand and to the former colonizing
country on the other. The undeclared object of their desire
was embodied in the French channels which had started transmitting
their programs by satellite. Thus, only very few could have
a free access to other sources of news without suffering from
the language obstacle.
A year later the 1988 riots that took place in Algeria showed
for the first time the extent of popular discontent. The failure
of the political system represented by the governing party and
its double rejection by the elite and the poorest people led
to a rush towards the satellite dishes. This failure was also
manifested in the lack of popular credibility in the official
media. "It was as if in the collective imagination, the
breach with all forms of archaism inevitably meant access to
the new technologies, regarded as the compulsory passage to
Modernity." As a consequence, and "while they had
proved under socialist rule their inability to find a consensus"
on the maintenance of common living spaces, the Algerians collectivized
their efforts in order to share the price of the expensive equipment
necessary for satellite reception of foreign news. A survey
led by the government's CENEAP clearly indicates that the largest
number of those who get connected (for the equivalent of US$
50 per family) to a satellite dish live in popular buildings
and that every dish is linked to anywhere between 120 to 300
homes with small re-transmitters in between. Although the phenomenon
was still very new, Lotfi Madani writes that, according to a
Proxima Conseil survey, at least 35 % of Algerians (9 million)
had connected their TV set to a dish antenna between 1988 and
1993. (3) This strong collective movement clearly expressed
hope for alternative form of social and political communication.
As Joëlle Stoltz wrote in an article entitled "The
Algerians Watch Dallas," "This spontaneous form of
united gathering against the state, its abuses and failures"
is the expression of the meeting between social dynamics and
the lust for technical innovation.(4)
the Maghrib regimes managed to insidiously and massively transfer
the activities related to news, culture, and entertainment to
the state-run TV channel, as if they wanted to imprison the
individuals in their homes in order to obtain their allegiance
to the official speech delivered every night at eight. The number
of tickets sold in Algerian film theatres reached 23 millions
in 1982 to fall to 11 millions in 1990 and less than one million
in 2003. During that period, 95% of the film theatres closed
their doors. The regimes still consider the film industry an
obstacle to the control of their public opinion through the
monopoly of a national channel. They are convinced that the
state-run channels will finally win back the wayward viewer
for the crucial news slot and therefore shape their political
perception of the national sphere.
Boumediene's death, there was consensus amongst Algerians that
socialism had failed and that there was a great need for deep
democratic reforms. Ten years later, and in spite of the country's
agricultural and natural resources, the system was still based
on Party/Nation/State rule and proved unable to produce anything
other than corruption. In 1988, Algeria was confronted by an
enormous economic crisis that seemed to signify the collapse
of the entire system.
of the space channels came in this climate of deterioration.
The Algerians (but also the Tunisians, and History would show
later that the Moroccans were in the same mood), who did not
believe their national media any longer, wanted to have access
to other sources. I would like to insist here on the fact that
the movement towards the foreign space channels was a response
to the free choice made by citizens from within their society.
The term "invasion" is rather used by the state "apparatchiks"
who prefer to refer to "the masses" instead of "citizens."
Chaqroun, the former ASBU manager, compares the reactions of
the three regimes to what they considered as a dangerous invasion.
According to Chaqroun, in 1985 Tunisia was the first country
of the region to pass a bill that necessitated would-be satellite
dish owners to acquire preliminary authorization from the ministries
of Interior and Defense, a move which meant that dishes were
more difficult to acquire for ordinary citizens. This coercive
measure did not prevent the percentage of equipped households
from increasing from 5% in 1991 to 39% in 1998. Riadh Ferjani
who gives these statistics adds that two thirds of the purchases
were unauthorized. In 1992, the Moroccan government decided
that it would charge a tax of US$ 700 for each dish purchase.(5)
the aftermath of the 1988 riots and the rapid dissemination
of the dishes in the popular suburbs, the Algerian authorities
opted for an attitude of total "laissez-faire," which
led 60% of Algerians to receive satellite channels by 1998.
More confusing, adds Chaqroun, was the repressive decree issued
by the French government in 1993 which required citizens to
apply for a permit from local councils before installing a dish.
While aesthetic reasons were cited to justify this decision,
in fact, the decree essentially targeted immigrants (most of
them Arabic speakers) who were trying to connect their sets
to Arabic channels and, starting from 1997, to the Algerian
B. Mostefaoui which is a simple off-shoot of the state-run television
station. Algerian TV was received in Europe through Eutelsat.
It was soon followed by the Moroccan first and second channels
(2M) and by Tunisian TV.
to the Middle East, where only the highly educated elite could
follow English-speaking channels, the majority of the people
of the Maghrib either have a good understanding of French or
are completely fluent. On the other hand, compulsory education
had considerably increased the percentage of people who mastered
Arabic. This bilingual situation meant that viewers in the Maghrib,
who were geographically close to Europe and culturally close
with the Arab World, had a choice between Arab and French channels.
At the beginning, four of these latter channels attracted the
majority of the viewers, who were seduced by the images of a
successful commercial model of society. That was a time when
satellites meant modernity and success; that time lasted until
the invasion of Kuwait and the war led by an international coalition
against Iraq in 1991.
of communication, the first Gulf War was, according to Nur ed
Dine Sail, a former program manager at Canal + (France) and
2MI (Morocco), "the end of something and the beginning
of a new era
The liberal West permitted the American Army
to impose censorship on every image sent to us by CNN, transformed
by Bush and Saddam into a sort of world media monopoly. Suddenly,
war-time communication has turned into a non-communication system."
socialist French administration supporting the war against Iraq,
it was as if the European channels seen by viewers in the Maghrib
were broadcasting pain and awe when they were expected to deliver
pleasure and comfort. French president Mitterand seemed very
irritated by what he scornfully qualified as the demonstrations
of the Maghrib "street." A divorce was inevitable,
and the majority of the population in the three countries tried
to find heaven under the Arab satellites. Referring to a survey
carried out in Morocco in 1993 by Sunergia, Hassen Smili writes
that state-owned TVM remained far ahead of the other channels,
followed by 2M and MBC, which had already won 14% of the audience,
and Spanish TVE with 13%. Tv5 achieved only 5%, just a little
more than Algerian TV (mostly viewed by the neighboring populations
of eastern Morocco) with 4.6%. (7)
by the Saudi billionaire Sheikh Saleh Kamil and first based
in London, MBC was the first satellite channel to achieve significant
penetration of the Maghrib. Its non-subscription status and
its all-Arabic programming combined with European know-how effectively
seduced Maghrib audiences. B. Mostefaoui notes that, according
to a SOFRES survey taken in 1993, the Arabic-speaking, rural,
and less-educated audiences in Morocco watch more MBC than 2M
or TV5. This is also true for the Algerians, when we compare
MBC to the French channels. The same survey proves that the
French channels' influence is now limited to young people and
to a small percentage of the richest families living in the
War in Iraq and the Media
the outcomes of the first war against Iraq was the global loss
of credibility of the western media. This distrust existed within
Europe itself but was strongest and most permanent south of
the Mediterranean among the partners of the European Community.
Everyone knows that viewers may distrust TV news and yet continue
to watch it in massive numbers. Maghrib audiences who used to
compare on the one hand the "infotainment" supplied
by the French channels (often based on confrontations implicating
their own leading politicians) and on the other the tireless,
immutable rituals of their king or president discovered a new
brand of journalists working for MBC: they seemed to combine
European cleverness and freedom of expression with an Arab anchor
presentation style. These journalists also seemed to have a
deeper insight into Arabs' concerns. This combination seems
to have nourished the viewers' alienation and bicultural schizophrenia
as it was a perfect compromise between their reality and the
images they received from a foreign environment. And it was
delivered in Arabic, with moral monitoring. In fact, neither
the state-run nor the satellite channels have radically changed
the Maghrib viewers' self-conceptions or visions of the world,
especially with regard to their aspirations to modernity and
democracy. Both the public and the private systems are nourishing
the two contradictory elements that compose the Arab citizen
(especially in the Maghrib): the attraction towards what Europe
can bring as a model of consumption, and the rejection (or the
fear) of what the Western World implies in terms of the necessity
for the individual to free himself from his cultural bondage.
The virtual dividing line could be their relation to the public
sphere when they watch their national TV and to the private
sphere where they express their own choice for a foreign channel.
to a study undertaken in Algeria and Tunisia, the majority of
male viewers watch the evening news on the sole Algerian channel
even if they spend more time on the foreign channels. The same
study showed that 60% of the females prefer to stay with the
Arab channels throughout the day. This seems to confirm that
whatever the degree of attraction to or rejection of the ruling
system, people's loyalty to the major news journal may appear
as a form of allegiance to official speech. Consequently, within
the private sphere, their schizophrenic behavior is founded
on the relationship between their rejection and their attraction
to the different sources of information. And thus, as Dina El-Khawaga
writes, "The growth of the satellite channels seems to
delight both transmitters and receivers. The states affect to
pretend that the satellite technology is an evidence of their
modernism and political opening
, while the opposition
forces see in these channels an efficient means of expression
and public visibility."(9)
however, the Islamic Fundamentalists at first attempted to combat
the new satellite channels, or at least to persuade the population
to reject the dishes, which they called "devil dishes."
However, after the 1991 war against Iraq and before the parliamentary
elections, the Algerian official channel opened up its talk
shows and programs to the leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front
who suddenly discovered the great advantage of having their
movement be media-borne and propagated. After their victory,
and the subsequent cancellation of elections, these same leaders
discovered that overseas they were the object of fascination
for European media and that these media outlets were ready and
willing to keep them on the air. Thus, they continued to address
their supporters by using the means provided by "the enemy."
opposite side, the ruling classes in the Maghrib started to
develop a defense strategy against what they (and the French)
call "the cultural invasion." This strategy has a
name-"the cultural exception."
article entitled "Cultural Dependence and Audio-visual
Creation," Yvonne Mignot-Lefebvre argues that the idea
of western media's growing hegemony over southern media is overstated.
Instead, she thinks that the new offerings on the world market
have created an attraction among audiences for new programs
like those produced by Globo in Brazil or Televisa in Mexico,
programs that have led to a revival of Amerindian roots. To
these examples we might add those Arab series which fascinate
millions of watchers.(10) We may also welcome the apparition
of a new "transnational" model of visual consumption.
Sail observed, the more our societies set their eyes upon universality,
the more we see an aggravation of a frenzied nationalism that
inevitably leads to a more or less quiet schizophrenia. The
nature of the new demands placed upon television media lies
within the different repressed cultural components that structure
the Maghrib societies. The need is not created by the repeated
offers made by the Arab and western satellite channels but by
the call for recognition that is expressed by any society. Tunisian
researcher Larbi Chouikha confirms that the choice of images
does not go travel through the state filter. Demand is now formulated
and built into the private sphere (which is mostly, however,
collective) after conflicts, negotiations and compromises between
different social, cultural and cultural behaviors. Chouikha
concludes that "the remote control allows many travels
without a visa."(11)
Situation after the Second War in Iraq
the success of MBC, a large number of Arab satellite channels
appeared in the Maghrib skies. Among those that have had a visible
impact on audiences is the Saudi-funded ART, which recently
acquired the exclusive rights for the African soccer championship
and nearly prevented the Maghrib channels from screening the
matches in which their national teams competed. A compromise
was reached a few days before that happened, but if it were
to happen in the future, the on-screen absence of national teams
would be resented as a severe blow to what is still considered
as emblematic of the old conception of sovereignty.
channel that for a time seemed to attract viewers before taking
a back seat in the region was the also Saudi-owned Orbit. Nilesat
and its digital decoder was also present among a small percentage
of the audience. The greatest novelty, however, was the intrusion
of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera into the small circle of all-news
channels, alongside BBC world, CNN, and the French LCI. Because
it seems to flatter Islamic values-the ruling elite would even
say that it backs Islamic fundamentalism-Al Jazeera and its
talk shows rapidly gained a large audience, often at the expense
of MBC. Since it moved from London to the Middle East, MBC has
been reproached for programming films that are less in conformity
with Islamic values and ethics. With the terrorist attacks on
New York and the invasion of Afghanistan, the impact of Al Jazeera
increased again and it has become dominant after the invasion
of Iraq by the Coalition. One may remember that in spite of
massive demonstrations against the first war in Iraq, the people
of the Maghrib had showed a rapid but deep disappointment after
Saddam's shameful defeat. Since the different Arab regimes failures
had failed to resist Israel and the West, the peoples of the
Maghrib felt willing to move away from pan-Arab ideology and
get closer to Europe. At that precise moment, they wanted, through
the remote control, to limit their relation with the Arab World
to what the satellite channels would provide in order to nourish
a segment of their cultural identity.
USA expelled the Taliban from power, the reaction of the populations
of the Maghrib (who had suffered from terrorists training in
their own countries) was rather positive. With the second war
in Iraq, the disaffection of the people there for Arab problems
were confirmed. Except for small number of rallies in Morocco,
most North African cities remained quiet and yet attentive to
the news coming from the Gulf. This situation was turned to
good account by Al-Arabiya which found a point of entry to the
local audience. From that time on, Al-Arabiya, which is transmitted
through Hotbird, has been sharing the all-news slot with Al
Jazeera, which however remains dominant in the region.
it seems that the most widely viewed program are the talk-shows,
especially when these involve participants from the Maghrib
and/or when they deal with Islam, fundamentalism, and relations
with the Western world. Again we can see here that these channels
are nourishing the cultural conflict that lies within the unconscious
of every individual in this Arab-Berber land.
channels-the all-religious Iqra', launched by Sheikh Saleh Kamel
and received in the Maghrib through Arabsat and Hotbird and
the Lebanese Shiite-oriented Al Manar, backed by Hizbollah-have
lately appeared in the North African skies. The former is often
viewed on Fridays and holy days, or after the faithful leave
the mosques. The latter is curious in its expansion of Shiite
propaganda among a Sunni population, a population that indeed
practices the austere Malekite rite. The Lebanese LBCI is also
popular among young people who can afford to have more than
one set, since it is believed that the station does not possess
sufficiently Islamic values.
1997, state-run Algerian TV has tried to broadcast its programming
on a satellite channel, via Arabsat, targeting the three and
a half million North Africans that live in Europe and the Arab
world through Canal Algérie and Algerian TV 3 respectively.
These two channels have proved to be a poor copy of a poor national
television, which still devotes one hour a day to the president's
activities. The same can be said of the Moroccan and Tunisian
channels. 2M seems to be the Maghrib channel most widely watched
about the loss of influence of the French channels in the Maghrib
and irritated by the presence of Arabic-speaking channels coming
from the other side of the sea, the French government has decided
to launch an all-news channel which is supposed to compete with
CNN and Al Jazeera; the government, however, has not put a sufficient
amount of money into the project.
a new kind of satellite channel is appearing on Maghrib skies,
one that is initiated by Algerian-born French citizens. The
first one is Beur TV, which, although it is supposed to target
the French population originating from the Maghrib, is viewed
by many Algerians. The second is Berber TV, whose audience consists
of the 10 million people in Algeria and Morocco who speak Amazigh,
the language of North Africa before the advent of Islam. The
third is KTV. This last channel is an all-news channel based
in London; it belongs to Moumen Khalifa, the very controversial
billionaire whose financial empire collapsed last year in Algeria.
The common factor among these three channels is that although
they have a European status, they nonetheless address Maghrib
audiences in a style that blends the European and the Middle
channels have gained a place in the Algerian internal political
arena and their impact on the April presidential elections has
proven to be sometimes crucial. Ali Benflis, the FLN candidate
addressed his electorate from Paris in one of the Berber dialects
through Berber TV. That was quite a striking novelty that may
have its importance in the final verdict. Most of the other
candidates imitated Benflis, and even President Bouteflika decided
(in spite of his opposition to any breach in the state monopoly
on TV and radio frequencies) that one of his last interviews
would come through Al Jazeera (without at the same time ignoring
the French-Algerian channels based in France).
can see, competition in the information market has deeply modified
the Arab vision of the role of the media and its capacity to
counterbalance what some resent as Western "hegemony."
The question is whether this change will stay on a consumer
level or whether it will be able to enhance the political and
democratic vision of the average Arab viewer. Daoud Kuttab expresses
his doubts "about the 'liberal' vision of steady progress
towards democracy through free competition in the information
market."(12) My conviction is that Arab societies have
changed and that the Arab media, especially the satellite channels,
are simply confirming and accompanying the process. Most of
the regimes in the Arab world have seen the advantage of "instrumentalizing"
the satellite channels. These channels reinforce what Jon Alterman
calls "a real basic identity"(13) and have become
a privileged space for media diplomacy. The regimes offer a
modicum of exotic freedom to their citizens, knowing perfectly
well that most of them will be present at the nightly ritual
show of the king or president's activities. The all-news channels
play the role that the print press plays in Algeria: they are
free to say or write whatever they want, but once it is done,
everybody returns to his former occupation and life goes on.
The freedom of the press in the Western world is the natural
result of a democratic evolution that started with the Enlightenment
several centuries ago. Democracy and the rule of law create
the freedom of the press, and not the reverse. TBS
Bedjaoui is a journalist and television producer and teaches audiovisual
journalism at the University of Algiers. He created and for nine
years has managed REMFOC, a European Community program dedicated
to professional journalists in the Maghrib.
Mostefaoui "La Télévision Française
au Maghreb," L'Harmattan, Paris 1995.
2. L. Madani, "Modalité et usages de la réception
télévisée par satellite au Maghreb"
in Naqd 8/9, Alger 1995.
3. Op .cit.
4. J. Stolitz "Les Algériens regardent Dallas"
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