Algeria's fiesty press bucks trend in Arab media ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian newspaper columnist Hakim Laalam pours scorn on his country's leaders in a way most journalists in the Arab world would never dream of doing. In his daily column, he describes the energy minister as deaf as a post, castigates the industry minister for seeking medical treatment in Switzerland and refers to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika by the derogative nickname "Abdekka." Undeterred by a conviction four years ago for defaming the president -- his six-month prison term was changed to a suspended sentence on appeal -- Laalam sees no taboos that the press should not break. "Anyone who is in the public eye belongs to me," the journalist, whose column is printed in the Soir d'Algerie paper, told Reuters. "If he is in authority ... I believe I have every right to mock and laugh at him. It's the price he has to pay." Media in most of the Arab world are muzzled by official censorship, outright intimidation or subtle pressure but Algeria's leading newspapers stand out for the role they have taken on as feisty and outspoken champions of free speech. Algerian newspapers are unusual for another reason too: the biggest titles have established themselves as thriving businesses with huge circulations and healthy advertising revenue -- all the time while rejecting state control. Algeria's biggest newspaper, Echorouk, says it sells 800,000 copies a day and its nearest rival, El Khabar, says it has a daily circulation of 500,000. For comparison, in neighbouring Morocco with a population about the same size as Algeria, the biggest newspaper has a daily circulation of 100,000. In Egypt meanwhile, the Arab world's most populous state with more than twice as many people as Algeria, the biggest daily newspaper, Al Ahram, sells about 1 million copies a day, according to think tank the Carnegie Endowment. Algerian newspapers' robust business model gives them a freedom to criticise their own rulers which daily titles elsewhere in the region, many of them either financially insecure or dependent on state support, do not enjoy. "In the Arab world, a journalist is free to criticize Israel but not Arab presidents and kings. Well, in Algeria we can criticize Bouteflika, the generals and the Islamists," said Mohamed Lagab, who teaches journalism at Algiers University.