By Ahmed Chaoui
By Ahmed Chaoui
Washington DC— The issue of freedom of the press remains a touchy subject for the Moroccan government. Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) criticism of Rabat’s press record has touched a raw nerve with local officials.
RSF’s “2013 World Press Freedom Index “ ranking Morocco 136 out of 179 countries, just ahead of Ethiopia and well below Algeria and Afghanistan, was widely denounced as unfair and inaccurate. In a fiery reply, Morocco’s Communications Minister Mustapha Khalfi decried RSF evaluation methods in determining the ranking.
While there is no “assault against press freedom” in the Kingdom, the Moroccan authorities have targeted certain journalists and publications for there “unfavorable coverage”. Yet, to rank Morocco 136 is too harsh and dilute some of the recently enjoyed press freedoms. Unfortunately, Mr. Khalfi’s remarks did not cover specific cases and avoided the delicate “Anouzla case”.
As observers predicted, the decision to persecute the editor of the website Lakome.com, Ali Anouzla, under the anti-terrorism law came back to bite Moroccan officials. As RSF stated, there is “an independent press and the number of titles has increased rapidly in recent years, creating a degree of pluralism” but questions remain about the degree of freedom these outlets enjoy.
The persecution of Anouzla has sent chills up the spines of Moroccan independent journalists. Under such duress, some independent columnists either self-exiled in Europe and the United States or went to writing hiatus. Rather than facing criminal charges or defamation suits, some of the country’s boldest essayists have either stopped writing or drastically reduced their contributions. The now defunct “Le Journal Hebdomadaire” is a prime example of such tactics.
As a result of the Moroccan authorities’ attempts to silence “unconventional” media outlets, Morocco suffers a lack of publications with distinct and diverse ideas and opinions. It is hard to find extensive investigative reporting or in-depth critical writings about the political system in the Kingdom.
Articles criticizing Prime Minster Benkiran and his government are abundant and don’t generate a buzz anymore. The Moroccan public is turning numb to stories about “low level” corruption and ministerial miss-management. On the other hand, readers are hungry for debates around the machineries that make the most critical decisions in the country.
The conditions for managing “free journalism” are difficult in Morocco. To have healthy debates and to counter extremism, independent journalists must not fear a state sponsored witch hunt whenever they approach delicate subjects.
Moroccan government decision to arrest and jail Anouzla played a major role in RSF pronouncement to rank the Kingdom in the bottom of its list. In fact, this incident continues to cast a long shadow over Morocco’s record on human and civil rights.
RSF was excessive in placing the Kingdom in such low ranking. However, the press rights organization was correct in asking the Moroccan authorities to strike prison sentences from Article 41 of the press law and to stop using “financial penalties to keep the most outspoken media in line. RSF noted that “the press was more often threatened with excessive fines than with prison sentences against journalists.”
Ahmed Chaoui – [email protected] –is a freelance journalist based in Washington DC. Mr. Chaoui is native of Meknes, Morocco. He received a Masters in communications from the University of Maryland. Ahmed worked as a political adviser for several Non-Governmental Organizations in the Washington DC area.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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