World Report - Morocco
|Publisher||Reporters Without Borders|
|Publication Date||7 January 2010|
|Cite as||Reporters Without Borders, World Report - Morocco , 7 January 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b7aa9aa9.html [accessed 5 July 2015]|
- Area: 446,550 sq. km. (not including Western Sahara)
- Population: 34,343,219 (not including Western Sahara)
- Language: Arabic
- Head of state: King Mohammed VI, since July 1999
Press freedom appears in the past months to have lost its hard-won ground between the end of the reign of Hassan II and the start of that of Mohammed VI.
Certainly, there is an independent press and the number of titles has increased rapidly in recent years, creating a degree of pluralism. Moreover, a process of broadcast liberalisation has been under way since 2005, with the creation of the High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HACA). Although great hopes were raised at the start, a second wave of licences granted on 23 February 2009 proved a disappointment in terms of boosting pluralism in broadcast news, since the Superior Council of Audiovisual Communication (CSCA) has proved over-cautious. Only four new radio stations, multi-regional and specialised, were given permission to operate. There was no new general and news radio or new privately-owned television station.
Even if journalists can take criticism further, the "red lines" decreed by the Palace and known to all, cannot be crossed. Religion, the king and the monarchy in general, the country and territorial integrity cannot be questioned. Moreover prison sentences remain under Article 41 of the press law. This vaguely-worded and repressive article is a Sword of Damocles for journalists. Reform of this law has been under debate for the past three years.
In the first seven months of 2009, the Moroccan authorities favoured the use of financial penalties to keep the most outspoken media in line. The press was more often threatened with excessive fines than with prison sentences against journalists. But the celebration in July of the tenth anniversary of Mohammed V1's accession to the throne marked a switch in the official attitude and the authorities hardened their stance on the "red lines", resorting to the toughest means of repression with an upsurge in trials and sentences involving jail terms. TelQuel, Nichane, al-Jarida al-Oula, Akhbar al-Youm, al-Michaal, al-Massae, and Le Journal hebdomadaire all felt the effects of the new line from the Palace. And for the first time since 2008, the courts handed down prison sentences against journalists which were not suspended. One such case was that of Driss Chahtane, editor of al-Michaal who was sentenced to one year in prison in October 2009.
While the Moroccan blogosphere has become known for its vitality, 2008 saw the first conviction of a blogger. Mohammed Erraji was sentenced on 8 September for posting an article on the website hespress.com, headlined, "The king encourages dependency on handouts", criticising the social policy of Mohammed VI before being acquitted on appeal because of a "procedural irregularity".
While it was Erraji whom the authorities chose to make an example of in 2008 to discourage bloggers from criticising the king online, El Bachir Hazzam was the main target of repression in 2009. The blogger was sentenced to four months in prison on 15 December for "spreading false information damaging the image of the kingdom on the human rights", while all he had done was to post a statement that was already public, on a clampdown by security forces on student demonstrations in the south of Morocco. While this trial was going on, the owner of a cybercafé, Abdullah Boukfou, was sentenced to one year in jail for distributing information about demonstrations and for "possessing publications inciting racial hatred".
Foreign journalists can experience difficulties when they try to renew their accreditation, particularly when they raise the issue of the Western Sahara. Spanish photojournalist, Rafael Marchante, working for Reuters in Morocco since 2006, had his accreditation refused on 20 March 2009, because of his "professional behaviour not in conformity with national legislation", to use the terms of the communications ministry. The Moroccan authorities went back on their decision on 2 April 2009.
Finally, the Moroccan authorities assume the right to censor some foreign publications if their content displeases them. A distribution ban was slapped on the 4 August 2009 edition of Le Monde that carried an opinion poll on the ten years of Mohammed V1's reign (the poll that prompted the ban on TelQuel and Nichane). The authorities again prevented distribution of the 22 October 2009 issue of Le Monde containing a cartoon of the royal family that was deemed "disrespectful". Distribution was also blocked of the 26 October edition of the Spanish daily El Pais.