While press freedoms have seemingly improved in Morocco, officials remain weary and suspicious of domestic independent news organizations. In recent years, authorities have tolerated a small number of nonpartisan media outlets and allowed a thin margin of press openness, but limits persist.
Washington DC – When local editorialists tackle social injustices or denounce corruption and the conduct of the ruling elite, authorities usually move in to either “adopt” or bully the journalist. These tactics eventually silenced critics and those who questioned government policies.
The latest independent editorialist to leave the media scene in Morocco is Aicha Akalay who was publishing director of TelQuel magazine until recently. Ms. Akalay’s writings were widely circulated in the halls of power in Rabat and extensively read by national and international observers following political and social developments in the North African nation.
Her departure is a big hit to efforts to preserve a pluralistic and editorially independent press in the Kingdom. Ms. Akalay’s exit form one of the most prestigious magazines in the country to work, allegedly, for a subsidiary of the OCP (the previously state-owned phosphate mining company and the kingdom’s economic engine) is a tough loss to journalistic integrity and media independence in Morocco.
Aicha has superb analytical and writing skills that have been invaluable to a Moroccan media discourse poor in quality reporters, analysts and editorialists. Her departure would leave the Moroccan press corps with fewer independent and professional journalists.
Ms. Akalay’s writings enriches the public debate on a wide range of social and political issues and more than often set the agenda for change. Her editorials held powerful governmental officials accountable and exposed political deficiencies and economic inadequacies. In fact, her last article written for the prestigious and influential French daily Le Monde in which she criticized the slow progress of social and political reforms in Morocco is a perfect illustration of her sharp pen.
In light of this professional move, some media observers are raising ethical questions about the role of Moroccan semi-governmental entities and individual financiers in “snatching” skilled professional journalists from publications with high editorial standards to work for their subsidiaries. Furthermore, Ms. Akalay is neither the first nor the only example of such an arrangement.
The case of Ali Amar, who was the most famous Moroccan journalist critic until he returned to Casablanca and started his online subscription-based news outlet Le desk, is another example of such exercise.
When Le Desk starts its journalistic journey as an independent news portal, many observers expected to read on the new site Amar’s in-depth study, invaluable research and harsh reporting of the same quality as his past work. However, early financial difficulty pushed the Pulse Media group that owns the site to seek outside financiers, which opened the door to the Moroccan multi-millionaire Ali Belhaj to invest in the venture.
Unfortunately, Le Desk that Ali Amar presented in 2015 as a medium prepared to tackle on investigative journalism in Morocco turned out to be just another online news site with meek editorials and docile reporting. It was extremely difficult for Mr. Amar to keep his site financially sustainable, which in turn compromised his editorial independence from the government, the private sector, and other special interests.
It is true that no one forced either Akalay or Amar to leave previous positions. Indeed, it was a personal decision for both of them to move to a ‘greener pastures”. Nevertheless, the impact and the impression left in the aftermath of such departures impact the political and journalistic landscapes in Morocco.
The actions to inject money and involve semi-official organisms to “steal” capable troublesome journalist amount to a gutting of the few Moroccan magazines that are left with sharp and honest editorialists. It is a ruse to clamp down on dissent, and an obstacle to the development of a free media, governance reform and healthy democratic debate.
Some in Morocco fear investigative journalism because it is a medium that plays a vanguard role in promoting accountability and fighting corruption. Currently, outlets sympathetic to the government appear to have a near-monopoly on the news landscape in the Kingdom.
Despite promises form the current government to create a favorable environment for media outlets of all political colors to thrive, several laws and regulations that restrict the growth of the press remain on the books making it hard for independent media to succeed. This latest trend will only make a bad situation worse.
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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