Controversy over proposed changes to Morocco’s press law
By Naoufel Dekkaki for Magharebia in Rabat – 16/07/2007
A proposed alteration to the press code is generating controversy in Morocco, with local and international organizations criticizing provisions perceived as limiting press freedom.
In a letter addressed to Moroccan Prime Minister Driss Jettou on July 12th, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for significant changes in the current draft, which does not "provide the necessary guarantees for the protection of journalists in Morocco."
"The most disturbing aspect of the draft is the decision to retain articles providing for prison sentences for press offences," the RSF letter said. "Most of the legal provisions used to convict journalists in recent years have been kept. Among the most common offences one finds 'insulting the king' and 'insulting the sacredness of institutions.' "
According to RSF, many provisions are drafted vaguely, such as article 85, which "almost systematically bans coverage of anything involving personal privacy".
The proposed National Press Council (CNP) will have disciplinary powers and "could turn into a new tool for censoring journalists", the Paris-based organisation added.
Commenting on the issue, Communications Minister and government spokesman Nabil Benabdellah described the RSF letter as "unimportant".
"The important thing is the way professional groups are dealing with the draft law which they have described as a positive step by the government", Benabdellah told Magharebia, adding that the discussions the government held over the new code "confirm the extent of consultations aimed at protecting press freedoms".
Benabdellah said that the latest draft of the bill is final and will soon be presented to Parliament.
In a statement to Magharebia, Moroccan National Press Syndicate (SNPM) Secretary-General Younes M'Jahed conveyed his organisation's support of the draft legislation. He said the syndicate and the Publishers Federation consider the latest version of the draft bill to be more advanced than the law currently in place.
Meanwhile, Ali Anouzla, editorial advisor to Moroccan daily al-Masae, expressed his rejection of the bill for keeping prison sentences and for consolidating what he said were lines that journalists may not cross, such as discussing the monarchy, the army, Western Sahara and Islam. In a statement to Magharebia, he criticised the draft for not being made a subject of public debate, considering it a "step backwards" from what Moroccan press has achieved.
In recent years, many prosecutions of journalists in Morocco have led to prison sentences and fines exceeding the values of the newspapers themselves.
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