• Algerian officials criticize various television channels for their choice of content during Ramadan.
  • Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Lagab accused networks of deviating from ethical standards.
  • Lagab also criticized excessive advertising and stressed the need for a balance between programming and advertising.

Officials in Algeria are reprimanding television broadcasters over content decisions they have made since Ramadan began last week, bringing religion into broader discussions about how the country regulates content and advertising in the media.

Their criticism comes amid broader struggles affecting journalists and broadcasters, where television networks and newspapers have historically relied heavily on advertising from the government and large state-linked companies in the oil-rich country.

After a meeting with broadcaster directors on Sunday, Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Lagab accused the broadcasters of failing to respect ethical and professional principles, calling their programmatic decisions “contrary to the social traditions of our society and in particular the sanctity of the month of Ramadan.”

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Lagab, a former professor at a journalism school, preemptively rejected accusations of censorship and argued that his ministry’s moves did not contradict Algeria’s constitutional guarantees of press freedom.

TV station

Journalists are seen working at a television station in Algiers on March 19, 2024. Algerian officials are criticizing television channels over content decisions they have made since the start of Ramadan. (AP Photo/Anis Belghoul)

“TV channels have the right to criticize, but not by attacking the moral values ​​of our society,” he said.

Although he did not specifically name any specific channels or programs, Lagab cited soap operas as a particular concern. His ministry last week summoned a director from the country’s largest private broadcaster, Echourouk, over a soap opera called “El Barani” that showed characters consuming alcohol and snorting cocaine – depictions that left viewers worried they were incompatible with Ramadan, sparked rebukes.

Lagab also criticized the broadcasters for spending too much airtime on advertising, so that the airtime competed with the running time of certain programs. “If we put advertising (and programs) side by side, we would come to the conclusion that they last longer than broadcasting soap operas,” Lagab said.

His comments followed statements from Algeria’s Audiovisual Regulatory Authority, which oversees television and radio stations. Throughout March, national television networks were urged to limit advertising and respect families and viewers during Ramadan, a holy month observed across the Muslim-majority country and region.

Lagab’s two-pronged attack – against broadcasters’ content and advertising – is the latest challenge for Algerian TV channels, which are bracing for increasing financial strain as the government prepares new rules on media advertising. In anticipation of a new law, broadcasters, particularly private ones, have expanded their advertising to an unprecedented extent, hoping to reap profits before the government imposes new restrictions.

The advertising offensive has been particularly pronounced since the start of Ramadan last week. As demand for food and other consumer goods increases throughout the holy month, broadcasters have found no shortage of advertisers.

Even if the broadcasters do not change course after meeting Lagab, experts say it is unlikely that the government’s criticism will lead to penalties such as sanctions or fines.

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“Most of these channels are politically aligned with the government and avidly support it,” said Kamal Ibri, a journalist whose news website was shut down due to lack of advertising revenue.

Algeria’s largest television networks are a mix of public and private channels. Channels such as the private Echourouk, the private El Bilad and the state-owned ENTV broadcast news and other programs, including soap operas. In recent years, viewers have become accustomed to special Ramadan-specific programs during this time.

Although some private broadcasters have recently begun to promote opposition parties, few have expressed targeted criticism of the government. Those who do this have been punished in recent years.

Journalist Ihsane El Kadi’s media company, which ran web television and radio programs, was closed and its equipment confiscated. He was sentenced to prison in April 2023 for “endangering state security”.

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