Freedom of the Press

Morocco

Morocco

Freedom of the Press 2007

2007 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

62

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

22

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

17

The Moroccan constitution offers freedom of expression, but the Press Law prohibits criticism of the monarchy and Islam and effectively bars material challenging the government’s position on the status of Western Sahara. Those who violate the law are subject to heavy fines and lengthy prison sentences. Government promises to reform the Press Law have largely gone unfulfilled. While some international human rights activists have pointed to evidence that Morocco is turning the page on its troubled past and moving toward more openness and democratization, the story of the country’s press paints a somewhat different picture. Over the past decade, as the pioneering independent press continued to tackle taboo subjects despite the harsh press laws, the government began to adopt a subtler approach in its responses to critics who crossed the “red lines.” Rather than imprisoning journalists, which would draw unwanted attention, the government now employs a series of tactics that make it nearly impossible for them to practice their profession.

The state largely refrained from direct censorship and manipulation of the licensing process in 2006, but the imposition of punitive fines and suspended prison sentences, and the use of third parties to apply indirect pressure, served to encourage self-censorship in the media. Le Journal Hebdomadaire, published and edited by journalists Aboubakr Jamai and Ali Amar respectively, suffered such government harassment throughout the year. In February, the weekly ran a small photograph of someone holding a newspaper that had published controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Within days, the magazine’s office was besieged by protesters who were apparently bused in by the government. Meanwhile, pro-government media outlets attacked Le Journal in print and on the airwaves. Later in February, a Rabat court awarded security analyst Claude Moniquet a record 3 million Moroccan dirhams (US$340,000) in a defamation suit he brought against Le Journal. Moniquet’s Brussels-based think tank, the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, had published a report on Western Sahara, and Le Journal’s editors questioned the study’s independence. An appeals court subsequently confirmed the damages sum. The case appeared to have been a politically motivated effort to bankrupt the magazine. In order to save it, Jamai relinquished his position, which was taken up by Amar, and left the country. In addition to Le Journal, several other publications suffered legal harassment during the year. The weekly Nichane was banned in December after it ran jokes about religion. The paper’s editor and a reporter were charged with defamation of Islam and faced possible prison time; the publication would remain shuttered until their trial’s completion. Foreign journalists can work with relative ease in Morocco but face government pressure and even expulsion from the country if they report on Western Sahara in a manner that offends authorities.

Morocco is home to a large number of private print publications, many of them critical of the government. However, circulation is limited, and most papers receive some government subsidies. Broadcast media that report news are still dominated by the state, but as in most Arab countries, residents can access critical reports through Pan-Arab satellite channels. Francophone Moroccans can also access French-language broadcasts that provide alternative viewpoints. Foreign journalists can work with relative freedom in Morocco, but authorities are as sensitive with the foreign press as they are with local journalists when it comes to covering the Western Sahara issue. The minority of Moroccans with internet access (roughly 15 percent of the population) also receive alternative viewpoints from online sources, though the government sometimes blocks certain websites.