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Morocco press freedom on the decline, RSF study shows

By Naoufel Cherkaoui for Magharebia in Rabat – 25/10/09

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Morocco's poor rank in the newly-released Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom report is stirring heated debate among the country's politicians and journalists.

The 2009 Press Freedom Index, made public by the international watchdog group on Tuesday (October 20th), placed Morocco 127th of 175 countries: a 5-place drop since last year's edition of the annual survey.

Morocco has seen press freedoms retreat over the past three years, the study concluded, thanks to the strict red lines imposed by King Mohammed VI and the heavy penalties imposed on newspapers that cross them.

Communications Minister Khalid Naciri questioned the study findings. "We've made great strides in the field of press freedoms, and everyone should admit the vast scope of the press freedoms currently available," he said.

"Morocco's conscience is at ease on this issue, since we are upholding that as one of the main pillars of political gains, the minister said.

The index arrives amidst a sizzling debate about press freedoms in the kingdom, particularly given government actions against several newspapers.

"While Moroccan authorities boast that there are no reporters in their jails, there are a number of lawsuits brought against journalists that often end in enforceable court orders," the RSF report said. "We are concerned about the trials that will take place this month."

Reactions to the new index from figures outside government circles were mixed.

To Muhamad Serraj, Secretary-General of the National Moroccan Press Syndicate (SNPM), the authorities and the free press are equally responsible for the current situation. "The state is imposing an exaggerated strictness on independent journalists. The latter, however, needs to stick to professional ethics, since all prosecutions are caused by [their] violations of ethical standards," he told Magharebia.

"The problem of the freedom of the press should not be generalised, since it concerns only a few newspapers that are being prosecuted," Serraj said. "Journalists need to respect … the privacy of individuals and the things the nation reveres."

Moreover, he argued, the prosecution of media outlets for failing to show such respect does not indicate a decline in Morocco's press freedoms.

Brahim Sab'alil, Sidi Ifni office chief for the Moroccan Centre for Human Rights, disagrees with Serraj's assessment. "There is a decline in press freedoms in the country," he told Magharebia, adding that Morocco "needs to reconsider its policy toward the independent press".

Sab'alil, who was prosecuted for allegedly broadcasting erroneous information about violence in the town of Sidi Ifni in 2008, pointed out that the "whole purpose of journalism is to discuss all topics, including those that are kept under wraps."

"We cannot hope to achieve any progress if we maintain these so-called red lines," he added. A string of other cases is also troubling press freedom advocacy groups.

On October 15th, Driss Chahtane, editor of Arabic-language weekly al-Mishaal, was sentenced to one year in jail and a 10,000-dirham fine for or reporting "false information" about King Mohammed VI's health.

"We were under the impression that press freedoms were seeing some progress," Chahtane said. "The article that triggered the prosecution was not run with ill intentions … We were expecting a cruel trial, but not like that. The court did not respect the rights of the defence."

Coverage of the same purported royal health issue by independent daily Al Jarida Al Aoula resulted in charges against editor Ali Anouzla and reporter Bouchra Eddou. A Rabat court is expected to render a verdict on October 26th.

In another press freedom case, Akhbar Al Youm editor Taoufik Bouachrine and caricaturist Khalid Gueddar currently face prosecution for publishing a cartoon that "insulted" Prince Moulay Ismail and the Moroccan flag.

Nevertheless, Communications Minister Naciri asserted that journalists are "invited to protect the gains of democracy and enhance them, while continuing to respect the law".

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    Timouzgha 2009-11-15

    to Acharif Moulay Abdellah BOUSKRAOUI. how can you deny the unenviable position of the press freedom in Morocco? You still claim that Morocco has taken further steps in the freedom of the press, what can you say about its 127th position. Morocco is going backward in terms of press freedom and this will keep Morocco away from experiencing any taste of democracy. You have to know that without freedom of the press there is no democracy. The strange point that attracted my attention is your ignorance of the history of our Morocco. you have to know that Moroccan's history is not limited to 12 centuries, it has 33 centuries. 12 ceturies counts only the years when Mulay Idriss fleed from the Middle East while the history of Morocco dates back to the existence of Imazighan in it. The history of Morocco has been constructed by Imazighan not by Arabs. please try to be exact in your comments.


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    Anonymous 2009-11-4

    Certain journalists should just be boycotted by their readers because the courts are just publicity for them.


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    Moroccan Patriot 2009-11-2

    Muhamad Serraj, Secretary-General of the National Moroccan Press Syndicate (SNPM) is a lapdog. He is supposed to be fighting for the freedom of the press, but instead he is an apologist for policies that are against Moroccan national interests. Freedom of the Press is the best indicator as to the health of a society. When we saw the press fall in line to pander to the Bush Administration, we witnessed the decline of America. When you are ranked 127 out of 180, it is very clearly a ranking of where Morocco is... There are 126 countries out there that have better laws, better opportunities, more democratic values and a higher standard of living. On the other hand, there are at least 50 or so countries that are even more miserable than Morocco... Do your own research, respect the law and question everything, these are the keys to liberty, justice and democracy.


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    Anonymous 2009-11-2

    The Moroccan press is a sell-out. When you read the articles about the Gulf of Benslimane, you will die laughing. You wonder if the journalists even went there!!! Do a report with the residents and you will see the language they use!!!


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    Soul 2009-10-26

    Of course the press freedom in Morocco is in crise. The Minister of Communication should be ashamed of himself, he has no justification for the repression that is ongoing against the independent press by the Interior ministry, the judicial system and himself. His declaratiopns against what he called nihilist press have created hostile environment against journalists of certain critical independent newspapers. There is, I believe, a hidden agenda in the government, to force the young private pres, to toe the line, especiqlly the red lines. Another serious issue is the sabotage carried out by some private rich newspapers, of the journalists' solidarity. The union of journalists is week, the editors federation is interested only in money, the partisan press hate the independent press and so on...The government is not able to manage the country so silencing the critical press would cover up fopr the government's failures. The public is also ignorqnt of the importance of press freedom and that why we are 127th in theinternational scale.


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    Acharif Moulay Abdellah BOUSKRAOUI 2009-10-26

    “Morocco: The Press and Human Rights or the Trojan Horse” – Morocco is celebrating 12 centuries of existence as a kingdom. It is a united, strong kingdom, where the people and the king are but one. But, Morocco, like the entire Arab world, has experienced a change at the political level in our strategies and geopolitics. His Majesty, Mohamed VI, has worked for strong and independent courts in order to make Morocco, a strong and sovereign state, into a state of democracy, and one with constitutional institutions. But, certain sick minds, both at home and abroad, have misunderstood us and are beginning to take Morocco for a weak state, upon which pressure can be put in order to take advantage of human rights and the freedom of expression. They want to put our national stability and our territorial integrity in doubt. So, to all these profiteers, I say once and for all: “Morocco is a strong, independent and sovereign state, and we are above any pressure. If we have chosen the path of democracy, then it is because of our own will and for the happiness of all Moroccans. Morocco will have zero tolerance for those who think to take advantage of human rights and the freedom of expression to sow disorder and attack our stability, our uniqueness, our territorial integrity and our values!”


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    SIMO 2009-10-26

    Frankly, the government spokesman and minister of communications easily deserves the gold medal for using oft-repeated language. What bad faith on the part of a former activist on the left and defender of the law!


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    Acharif Moulay Abdellah BOUSKRAOUI 2009-10-25

    “An Open Letter to the Men of the Arab Press” – The freedom of expression has become a monster, the sole aim of which is to destabilise the Arab and Muslim countries and create separatist movements to the point which one wonders if the press has been erected by men who get rich at the expense of political and social crises. The press can't ask just one question: Why is its role limited to sowing despair and starting riots? For example, recently the Moroccan press was sentenced to pay a fine in the defamation lawsuit Kadhafi brought against it. Instead of playing a role in building the Arab Maghreb and the so-awaited union, as if by accident our press tried to **** everything up and take us right back to square one. What did it gain apart from selling a few articles??? Is this logical? Please, have a little reason. It is easy to criticise, but even a 10-year-old girls could do better. It is easy to destroy, but is that your freedom??? May praise be to God alone. Our diplomatic relations are at their best with our Libyan brothers. I would have hoped that the Moroccan press would not have taken advantage of the freedom of expression to sow discord by trying to create a diplomatic crisis between Morocco and the Libyan Jamahiriya. But, this will never happen because our relations are so solid and Morocco is a country that has always done it all in order to realise a Maghreb union. So, who benefited from this incident? Surely, it was the Polisario and the enemies of our territorial integrity. What did our journalists have to gain apart from selling some articles and making Morocco lose a great ally in our number-one national cause: the Moroccan Sahara. So, be a bit wiser – the freedom of the press is for the wise.