By Samir Bennis
By Samir Bennis
Morocco World News
New York, April 10, 2012
Two months ago, I wrote an open letter to Morocco’s Minister of Communication, Mr. Mustapha El Khalfi, where I highlighted the shortcomings of Moroccan TV channels, particularly their lack of coverage of Morocco-relevant developments in the United States. I argued that Moroccan TV executives must increase the presence of correspondents in cities such as New York, home to the United Nations headquarters, as well as in Washington D.C. where there is a plethora of influential thinks tanks, decision-makers and a very active Moroccan community ready to serve the interests of its home country. The Minister was very responsive and showed a strong willingness to listen to suggestions by the Moroccan diaspora on how to increase the presence of Moroccan news outlets in the United States. Regrettably, the response from Morocco’s media executives had been lukewarm as they insist on clinging to their outdated and inefficient policies.
Last week, Minister El Khalfi was in Washington DC for meetings with US officials and leaders of influential NGOs and think tanks. The minister addressed a gathering at Human Rights watch and the Carnegie Center, with over 500 people in attendance. In addition, he met with the Moroccan diaspora and listened to concerns regarding the need for reforming Morocco’s public news channels in order to render them more professional and instrumental in defending Morocco’s interest at the international level.
For the record, I think that Minister El Khalfi has done what Morocco’s current Ambassador to the United Sates is supposed to do. Since his appointment last year, the Moroccan Ambassador has shown little to no interest in meeting with members of the Moroccan community in the United States in order to listen to and address their concerns. Mr. El Khalfi’s efforts mark the first time in many years that a minister, other than the Minister in Charge of Moroccans living abroad, has reached out to the Moroccan community in the United States.
Minister El Khalfi’s visit and presentations were covered by TV channels, such as C-Span and Al Houra, as well as several print media, such as the Time Magazine. Most people who attended the Minister’s meetings, especially Moroccan-Americans, were intrigued by the glaring absence of Moroccan TV channels, especially since the speaker is both the Minister of Communication and official spokesperson of the government. One could excuse the absence by Moroccan channels if the Minister’s visit was routine. But the visit was of utmost importance, as it was the first for the official spokesperson of a newly elected Islamist government entrusted with influencing international public opinion by elaborating on his government’s plans to implement the provisions of the new constitution and giving his insight on the reason behind the success of the political transition in Morocco.
Moroccan news channels dropped the ball and missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate that they are capable of discharging their professional responsibilities. In today’s continuously evolving and fast-paced media world, social media outlets constantly upload video clips that reach millions of viewers and go “viral”. The Moroccan media blackout directed against Minister El Khalfi opened the doors for amateur reporting or the uploading of non-professional videos that could grossly misrepresent his activities in the United States. Coverage by Morocco’s national media, therefore, was necessary to prevent selective, biased and misleading reporting.
Following a meeting that Mr. Khalfi held with the Moroccan community last Thursday, a video was leaked to the news website Hespress, where the Minister gave a general answer to a question raised by Mr. Charles Dahhan, Vice-President of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews, on the position that will be adopted by the new government towards Jews in Morocco and all over the world, in a tacit reference to Israel. The person who leaked the video had one sole objective: to show that the Minister is “incompetent” and lacks gravitas in fulfilling his role as official spokesperson of the government. But according to many who attended his meetings and public statements, Mr. El Khalfi was eloquent, modest and sincere in answering questions and demonstrated good command of English.
“The visit by Mr. El Khalfi left a good impression on media professionals in the United States. Moreover, his mastery of the subject matter of his talks was appreciated by the audience. The footage published on Hespress was selective and failed to capture the eloquent and professional manner in which he talked about Morocco’s political transition and by which he answered all the other questions,” said Mr. Mohammed El Hajjam, owner of AVActions a Washington DC-based public relations and media company that does freelance work for Moroccan television, including Al Oula and 2M. “People were very satisfied with Mr. El Khalfi,” he added.
Marwa Tellal, a graduate student and policy analyst at the Institute of Gulf affairs, said “I hail the visit by Minister El Khalfi and his eagerness to reach out to the Moroccan community in the United States…no other Minister has done this before, and we feel grateful to him.”
Moroccan journalist, Mohamed Alami, chief correspondent of Al Jazeera in Washington DC, stated “I was very impressed by his intellectual capabilities and modesty and how the position did not change him, since I had the chance to know him before both in Morocco and in the United States.”
“I think he is the right man in the right post. The expectations are so high and the potential for reform is so vast and all we can do at this point is to wish him good luck from the bottom of our heart,” Mr. Alami added.
The lack of coverage by the Moroccan public news channels denied Moroccans the chance to assess how well the Minister represented his country during his first visit to the United States. On the contrary, Moroccans were vulnerable to the manipulations conveyed through the leaked Hesspress video. As I have asserted in my initial article to the minister, it is not the lack of resources that prevents Morocco’s public news channels from having a permanent presence in the United States. Rather, it is a lack of vision compounded by the absence of a long-term strategy with a clearly defined set of goals. It is also an absence of will and love for the country’s collective interests, among some in the media world, that undermines efforts of projecting a positive Moroccan image worldwide.
Morocco World News correspondents attended most of the Minister’s activities and were shocked by the lack of coverage of the Minister’s activities. When discussing the matter with Mr. Mohammed Hajjam, we learned that Mr. Hajjam took the initiative to cover the Minister’s activities for Al Oula TV but the channel’s executives did not deem the Minister’s visit newsworthy or relevant for the Moroccan people. Mr. Hajjam told our correspondents, “I did send emails, I also made several phone calls to Al Oula, and as of today I received no response from anybody… As a freelancer, I took the initiative on my own and taped the event, hoping that as soon as they read the first story on the Maghreb Arab Press (MAP) about Mr. El Khalfi’s activities, they would call me or email me back. What saddens me is that I was covering four days of activities but finally came to the conclusion that my efforts were in vain.”
For the record, this is not the first time that Mr. Hajjam sent a video about Mr. El Khalfi only for the footage to be ignored by Morocco’s public channels. The same treatment was given to a video about the activities of Mr. El Khalfi during his visit to Washington DC in 2010, in his capacity as member of the Parliament. In Mr. Hajjam, we have a person willing to use his professional skills to cover news for Al Oula. Sadly, Al Oula’s executives could not care less. Our TV seems to care more about singing competitions and mind-numbing Mexican soap-operas.
It is quite difficult to rationalize the blackout of the minister’s activities in Washington DC. One possibility is that executives of Moroccan public television are not happy with the assumption of power by an Islamist government keen on ending decades of corruption, incompetence and waste of people’s resources. Another possibility is that Mr. El kahlfi is the recipient of a targeted effort to sabotage his efforts in demonstrating that he is more than competent and qualified as minister and official spokesperson of a government that has ushered an unprecedented era of reforms. You be the judge!
Samir Bennis is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News
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