Morocco | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Morocco

Morocco

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

63

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

25

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

17

Since the mid-1990s, when Morocco's late King Hassan II loosened some controls on the media, an ideologically diverse and lively press, including several private publications that report on sensitive political and social issues, has emerged in the country. However, King Mohammed VI's continuing intolerance toward outspoken journalists, along with formal and informal constraints on press freedom and widespread self-censorship, thwarted the development of a genuinely independent and pluralistic media in 2004.

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, except as restricted "by law." The press law forbids journalists from criticizing the king, the royal family, Islam, or the nation's "territorial integrity" (referring to Morocco's control of the disputed Western Sahara territory). The law also levies prison sentences and fines against journalists who violate these rules, defame public officials, or "endanger public order," as well as empowering the government to direct coverage of some issues and to suspend and confiscate publications. The 2003 anti-terrorism law permits the arrest of journalists who disseminate information deemed supportive of "terrorism," an overly-broad category under which several journalists were detained after publishing articles related to the May 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca and Morocco's Islamist movements.

The judiciary is vulnerable to political pressure from the authorities. Journalists are subject to harassment and intimidation, and self-censorship keeps many journalists from crossing historic "red lines." King Mohammed's January 2004 pardon of seven journalists jailed in 2003 was welcome but underscored the degree to which press freedom in Morocco remains subject to royal whims rather than being anchored in law. To wit, 2004 witnessed the imprisonment of two editors of privately owned papers. In April, Anas Guennoun, editor of Al Ahali, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defaming two Tangiers political figures; released on bail in August, he faces a new trial in 2005. In September, Anas Tadili, editor of Akhbar Al Usbu, who was already imprisoned for a prior currency violation, was sentenced to a year in prison for defaming the finance minister, even though the article in question did not refer to him by name. In June, two Norwegian journalists were expelled from the country for interviewing supporters of the Polisario movement, which seeks independence for Western Sahara. The government continues to deny the illegal but tolerated Islamist group Al Adl wa Al Ihsan (Justice and Charity) a permit to publish its newspaper.

Despite a 2003 law to encourage private investment in the radio and television sector, the national broadcast media remained under state control and operation in 2004 and featured overwhelmingly pro-government programming (the exception is the Tangiers-based private radio station Medi-1, but it generally avoids controversial political coverage). Broadcast media remain a key source of information in a country whose literacy rate is 45 percent and where the total circulation of publications is just 300,000 out of a population of 32 million. Foreign satellite broadcasts are widely available and were not blocked during the year.

The government often uses economic means to control the press. These include subsidies and other financial perks, advertising boycotts (the palace controls much of the advertising market), and sudden demands for payment of taxes. In September, the authorities issued court orders seizing the earnings of two of Morocco's most outspoken independent papers, Le Journal Hebdomadaire and Assahifa, as payment for damages in a libel case brought by the foreign minister, even though the case was still pending before the Supreme Court. Approximately one million Moroccans had access to the Internet in 2003 and the number is growing, although high cost remains a significant barrier. Internet access and most content are unfettered, although the authorities closely monitor and sometimes block Islamist-related Web sites.