Algeria: fears for media pluralism as billionaire decides to shut Liberté daily

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Algerian francophone daily Liberté announced on Thursday it would cease publication on April 14 after its owner, wealthy businessman Issad Rebrab, decided to liquidate it.

"After 30 years of existence, the daily Liberté will die away," the front page read. The newspaper which bears the motto "The right to know and the duty to inform" was a historic newspaper for French speaking Algerians in an Arabic-speaking country.

An extraordinary general meeting of shareholders recorded the dissolution Wednesday. "Liberté is erased from the public square with the back of the hand. Dramatic. Because, in a few days only, the sellers of newspapers, readers, advertisers, but also institutions of the Republic will be orphaned from a newspaper that has established itself as a reference in all respects, " editorial writer wrote.

Intellectuals and Algerian personalities had signed a petition for the owner to reverse his decision. In vain.

An appeal from the editorial staff of Liberté to Mr. Rebrab, the boss of Cevital, the largest private Algerian group, has not found any echo.

The newspaper's workers collective wrote on Sunday that it did not understand "the real reasons" which led to its closure, stating that "the publishing company still has sufficient financial resources to allow it to continue to exist."

What future for media pluralism?

Some fear the disappearance of the daily may further limit the freedom of expression. The newspaper "is among the Algerian media that preserve the effective right to freedom of expression," added a spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrel.

Issad Rebrab is the second richest man in the Arab world, according to Forbes magazine, which estimates his fortune at $3.8 billion (3.5 billion euros).

After experiencing euphoria when the media landscape was opened up to the private sector at the end of the 1980s, Algeria has seen titles such as Le Matin, La Tribune and the weekly La Nation disappear over the past 20 years due to a lack of advertising revenue and a drop in sales.

The closure of Liberté comes in a difficult climate for the Algerian press, with a dozen journalists prosecuted or convicted, particularly for defamation of politicians or for publications on social networks.

"It is a way and a voice of plural expression that is extinguished," famous Algerian author Kamel Daoud wrote in an op-ed published Thursday by Liberté. He said the closure of the newspaper was "the victory of silence over speech and violence over debate. The victory of withdrawal, denial, rejection."

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