New York - Last week, Minister El Khalfi was in Washington DC for meetings with US officials and leaders of influential NGOs and think tanks.
New York – 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.
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 surprised by the glaring absence of Moroccan TV channels, especially since the speaker is both the Minister of Communication and official spokesperson of the government.
As we were intrigued by this absence of the Moroccan media, we strove to find valid answers to the reasons that prevent Moroccan media from having a permanent presence in the United States.
Therefore, we conducted the following interview with 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.
What are the deficiencies that the Moroccan media suffers from?
The deficiency is an ideological one. Unfortunately, the Moroccan media deals with Moroccan journalists living abroad as immigrants. Here in America, the media is recognized as the first authority. This gives an importance and respect to what journalists and media professionals do to provide information and enlighten the public opinion. Journalists have a voice, a strong and influential one. There are plenty of Moroccan competencies here in America. Our role is to use our abilities in the best way possible to serve Moroccan interests. Therefore, Morocco will crucially benefit from these aptitudes. Yet, Moroccan official media still regards Moroccan-American journalists as practitioners whose work is not relevant to the Moroccan audience, and therefore, they are excluded and marginalized.
The irony is that these journalists have proved themselves here in America among the best professionals in media, and hold good and influential positions that if used wisely could greatly benefit Morocco’s presence worldwide. These journalists follow a set of ethics and an editorial policy set forth by the institutions where they work. However, there is a margin of freedom within these broadcasting institutions. When a journalist has a golden opportunity to defend his or her country’s point of view, his or her initiative is usually received by repulsion and denial from those responsible for Moroccan public media. Unfortunately, this is due to the abysmal scarcity of a viable strategy devoted to how important the media field is in America and how crucial a journalist is not only in disseminating information but also in influencing public opinion.
What solution do you suggest to overcome these deficiencies?
I suggest these officials should leave their ivory towers inside the public media, and participate in communication training seminars to closely understand how media is dealt with in the United States. Otherwise, their perceptions toward media professionals will remain as false stereotypes that widen the miscommunication gap that already exists.
The English language trumps all other languages as it is the language of science, politics, literature and also communication. Still, we notice a total absence of Moroccan English-based media outlets, which restricts Moroccan discourse from worldwide frequency, not to mention a lack, if not a total scarcity, of communication between Moroccan local journalists and their counterparts elsewhere. How do you see the issue here? Is it solely the French dominance in Moroccan affairs; is it a systemic phenomenon within the media institutions?
It is beyond doubt that the American communication school outperforms its French counterpart. There is the American school and the rest of the world. So, it is unwise to overlook this school, as it is one that has proved itself worldwide and one with real tangible experience from which Moroccan journalists can thoroughly benefit.
Nevertheless, we are faced with a language barrier. As far as I am concerned, there is only one solution at the moment, which is to use the help of Moroccan-American professionals who can serve as a liaison between Morocco and the United States to bridge the communication gap. These are professionals who possess an arsenal of prominent connections in a plethora of fields, such as public officials, congressmen, business-men, and so on. They have created personal and professional relationships with policy-makers, lobbyists and politicians through their interactions. Therefore, Morocco has a golden opportunity to reach out to these influential people through Moroccan-American journalists.
Do you think the sporadic presence of Moroccan media in the US is enough to promote Morocco’s interests in this country?
The presence of Moroccan public media in official meetings of the United Nations or other official meetings here in Washington D.C. is not enough to promote Moroccan interests and inform American and international public opinion of our sensitive issues, on top of which is the conflict of the Sahara. These meetings are only symbolic events and do not bare much weight on the international opinion. Accordingly, the sporadic appearances of our media will not yield the impact we hope for. In this respect, media coverage here in America should indeed be continuous throughout the year to better disseminate our point of views to a wide range of audiences.
We know that there are many talented Moroccans in the United States who, if used wisely, could help Morocco a great deal in advancing its interests. Yet the previous government never paid attention to them. Do you think the new government has any willingness to break away from this apathy?
Moroccan professionals here in America have reached a high caliber in all fields through hard work, sacrifice and determination. They all express their hope to help their home country ride the path of development. Yet, their devotion regrettably fall into deaf ears.
Nevertheless, this new government is different. Why? Most of them are fluent in English and are aware of the importance of communication and collaboration with Moroccans residing abroad. As a matter of fact, the last visit of Mr. Mustpha El Khalfi was successful in all dimensions. The Moroccan community here in Washington D.C., without exception, was impressed by his eloquence, as well as his readiness to listen to their concerns and candidly answer their questions. Through his frequent visits to the United States either as a scholar or as an official, Mr. El Khalfi knows the skills of Moroccan-Americans, not only in D.C., but also in New York and other states. So the questions that come to mind are: is there a political will to break away from the old perceptions that previous governments sustained toward Moroccans residing abroad? Does the current government have a new strategy set in place to usher in a new era of communication and collaboration with Moroccan-Americans based on mutual respect and professionalism? I think this new government has a willingness to shake things up and move them to the right path. Let’s hope that our hopes won’t be dashed.
What prevents Morocco from benefiting from the experience and skills accumulated over the years by Moroccans in the media field in the United States? Is it lack of money of simply lack of strategy and defined set of goals to achieve?
Officials in Morocco should understand that Moroccan journalists have established themselves in America; hence, money is not an issue for them. They are willing to offer their services and use their expertise as long as their reports, articles and video footages are taken seriously and their work is appreciated. The missing element here is that the SNRT officials do not bother to reach out and collaborate with media professionals. Sadly enough, the latter spare no efforts in covering conventions, media appearances and conferences that are crucial to Morocco’s interests, but they have to spend too much time sending faxes, emails or messages to SNRT officials. Most of the time, these efforts are spent in vain due to the absence of communication.
What makes the Moroccan TV different from its American counterpart?
American journalists possess all necessary tools to successfully, professionally and immediately provide their media agencies with news coverage. The case in Morocco is totally different. It seems to me that those responsible have not yet understood the importance of social media; in that all their instruments are still old and rudimentary, not to mention a sensible attitude towards live streaming news. Why don’t our channels make use of this new technology? Why don’t they have live streaming news broadcasted on the internet and social networks such as Facebook and Youtube? Is there a reason for this technology gap?
For example American and international journalists who covered Mr. El Khalfi’s conferences in Washington D.C earlier this month, used technology and social media to quickly and instantly transmit their coverage to broadcasting institutions. They used electronic devices such as IPad 2, the IPhone Pad…etc to take notes, write their articles, take pictures, record videos and tweet them simultaneously.
What solution do you have to offset the absence of our media from the US landscape?
As a cameramen and journalist, I have been covering events for the Moroccan public channels, especially Al Oula for over 15 years now. Yet, most of the time, especially since last November, the events that I cover, are not broadcasted, which makes me feel that I just misuse my time. As a matter of fact, I covered a book-signing event, which featured the book entitled “the Honored Dead.” This book describes the way justices is administered in Morocco. To my surprise, this news coverage, which was aired in ALhura, Al arabaya – BBC and CNN, was ignored by Al Oula. Even when the events that I cover are broadcasted, they reach the Moroccan audience in some cases days after these events have taken place. This delay causes the footage I send to the Moroccan channels to lose their relevance. To put an end to this waste of energy, we have decided, along with a group of Moroccan businessmen and media professionals, to launch Web TV in collaboration with Morocco World News. By launching this initiative, we want first and foremost to make use of social media and keep providing people both in Morocco and in other parts of the world with continuous coverage of events that are of concern to Morocco and the Moroccan community living in the United States.
The emergence of social media and electronic information have revolutionized and changed the approach in dealing with news and information. This technology has given journalists great opportunity to tweet and transmit their work in the speed of light. This means that any development happening anywhere in the world is treated and transmitted instantly. With that being said, there is no room for hesitation or delay in broadcasting information. Otherwise, this information is likely to lose its importance. The solution, as I see it, is electronic media such as Morocco World News.
As we will be based in the Washington D.C, we will mostly cover the events that take place in the State Department and the Congress, as well as any conference about Morocco. We will also cover events related to Morocco taking places in other States and conduct interviews with decision-makers in order to seek their views on questions that are of concern to Morocco, such as the Sahara question and the ways to further deepen the relations between the United States and Morocco. Our ultimate goal is to give a strong voice to the Moroccan community living in the United States and enable it to play a positive role in advancing the interests of its home country.