The ongoing diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Saudi Arabia revealed the extent of the Moroccan government disdain for the domestic press. Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita gave a key interview to Al-Jazeera news during which he expressed misgivings about the Saudi led war in Yemen. His statements led to a cooling of relations between Rabat and Riyadh
Washington DC – While it is unclear whether Mr. Bourita choose purposely to give an interview about the war in Yemen to a Qatari owned media outlet, it is hard to believe that the Foreign Minister ignores the optics of criticizing Saudi Arabia on Al-Jazeera.
For the Moroccan public, the fact of the matter is, news of their country’s decision to leave the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen and to recall its ambassador to Saudi Arabia came from foreign news outlets, while domestic organizations were left out in the cold.
Morocco spends thousands of dollars in tax payers’ money to subsidy a national news agency, the Maghreb Arab Press, a national news channel, Al-Akhbaria, and the semi-private news channel Medi 1 TV that broadcasts worldwide in French and Arabic. Yet governmental officials prefer to talk to foreign mediums.
The choice to give news scoops to non-Moroccan entities struck a chord with a wide variety of political observers in Morocco. Several journalists went online to express their frustration and anger over the government’s poor and discriminatory treatment of local journalists. In essence, Mr. Bourita and other Moroccan officials favored Al-Jazeera, the Associated Press and Russia’s Sputnik news to give key interviews and exclusive information.
In ignoring the national press, Moroccan officials feed the arguments that the foreign press is inherently superior. The fact is, Mr. Bourita could have given an interview to a local news outlet and his message would still have had the same impact in terms of reaching the audience of his choice.
Moroccan officials need to remedy this wrong and treat the domestic press as a sober political partner that can help in propagating the Kingdom’s views and positons. Furthermore, they must put the domestic press at the heart of the public discourse and equip local journalists with the knowledge and opportunities to better defend the nation’s interests on the intentional scene.
In the age of Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, important news events are re-broadcasted instantly regardless of the original source. For example, President Trump gave several interviews to little known news outlets and yet his comments were captured, analyzed and discussed the same way as any of his interviews with more known press organizations.
The Moroccan Foreign Ministry, among other agencies, needs to appreciate the role and the value of native journalism in winning the ongoing media war with Algeria over the Western Sahara.
The national press needs to have a voice, a presence and diverse viewpoints when it comes to foreign policy. With engaging and well-informed journalists, Morocco can push a narrative that advances its agenda and influence hard to reach audiences.
Critics of the national media complain about the lack of professionalism among local journalists and regulations that vaguely define the profession. In fact, Moroccan media institutions have had a tough time throughout their history. The ruling establishment never sought a solid press corp. To the contrary, it gutted serious news magazines, pushed good journalists to self-exile or brought them into government friendly outlets.
Today, local and national news outlets are poor and live mostly on the few Dirhams from a stingy advertisement market in Morocco. The government and governmental agencies are the richest source of this commercial pool, thus most of the media lives and dies at the hand of politicians and bureaucrats. The truth is that the self-reliant independent Moroccan media has not failed; it never existed in the first place.
We rarely see minsters, parliamentarians or politicians face local journalists in open, fair an honest debate. Nonetheless, we have seen several tedious and scripted interviews that do hurt journalists’ reputations and protect, more than often, the amateurism of politicians.
This prejudice against the national press must stop. Journalism remains a civic institution that the government and the political establishment need to respect, support and protect.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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