ALGIERS // Algeria has passed sweeping reforms of its media, ending the state monopoly on the broadcast sector and the imprisonment of journalists for libel.
The move is part of the president's political reforms announced on April 15, the cabinet said in a statement issued late on Monday at the end of a marathon session.
While Algeria has long had a vigorous print media scene, radio and television were tightly controlled by the state and until recently President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had said the time was not "ripe" to liberalise it.
Since the beginning of the year, Algeria has struggled to contain popular demonstrations protesting unemployment, corruption and lack of political freedoms.
Unlike in neighbouring Tunisia and Libya, however, the scattered unrest never snowballed into a widespread popular movement to unseat the government, though Mr Bouteflika has still pledged to pass several political reforms to defuse public anger.
Television and radio will now be governed by a regulatory authority to be created by a new law.
No timetable has been announced for its passing, however, putting on hold any new television or radio stations for now.
The cabinet has also created a new commission composed of journalists and lawmakers to supervise the approval of new press licenses and administer the penalties for libel.
Previously the ministry of justice handled libel cases, which could result in the imprisonment of the journalists. They can now be fined between $75 (Dh275) and $150 (Dh550). Cases involving threats to the security of the state, however, can result in the suspension or permanent ban of the publication.
Half of the commission will consist of journalists, while the rest will be appointed by the president and the heads of the two houses of parliament.
Newspaper licences were previously only issued by the justice ministry after a police investigation and were often withheld arbitrarily.