Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
- Freedom of the press remained restricted in 2008. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, 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. In January, the final court of appeals upheld the 2007 conviction of journalist Mostapha Hurmatallah for receiving documents by criminal means in connection with an article on the contents of an intelligence memorandum. Hurmatallah served his sentence and was released in July.
- Libel remains a criminal offense that carries large fines, and the use of the judiciary to settle scores with critical journalists has been an issue of concern for years. The publisher of Al-Massae, the largest Arabic daily, was ordered to pay over 6 million dirhams (US$688,000) in October in connection with a libel suit brought by four prosecutors. The paper was then fined 600,000 dirhams in December for allegedly libeling a lawyer in a separate case. The extreme financial burden of these judgments is likely to drive Al-Massae out of business.
- King Mohamed VI and the government wield considerable control over the editorial content of domestic broadcast media. The king has the authority to name the heads of all public radio and television stations, as well as appoint the president and four board members of the High Authority for Audio-Visual Communication, which issues broadcast licenses. The government has the power to revoke licenses and suspend or confiscate publications.
- The government is known to issue directives and guidance to publications. In June 2008, a Rabat court ordered the new independent daily Al-Jarida al-Oula to stop publishing the testimony of victims describing human rights abuses during the rule of the late king Hassan II before the royal Equity and Reconciliation Commission. Al-Jarida al-Oula appealed the ruling, and no decision was reached by year’s end.
- While government censorship occurs, self-censorship is far more widespread, as journalists fear heavy fines, prison sentences, or extralegal intimidation and physical violence in retribution for their stories. The national Trade Union of the Moroccan Press reported that more than 20 cases of extralegal physical assaults on journalists occurred between May 3, 2007, and May 3, 2008, including a knife attack on Al-Massae editor Rachid Nini outside Rabat’s main train station. The attackers took Nini’s documents, two mobile telephones, and laptop, but they did not take his money or other valuable items.
- According to the Moroccan constitution, the press in the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara is free, but this is not the case in practice. There is little in the way of independent Sahrawi media. Moroccan authorities are sensitive to any reporting that is not in line with the state’s official position on Western Sahara, and they continue to expel or detain Sahrawi, Moroccan, and foreign reporters who write critically on the issue. Online media and independent satellite broadcasts are largely unavailable to the impoverished population.
- There are 17 dailies and 90 weekly publications in circulation. Broadcast news media are still dominated by the state, but residents can access critical reports through pan-Arab and other satellite channels.
- Foreign publications are widely available in Morocco, and the Ministry of Communication accredited 115 foreign journalists during the year. However, the ministry also banned the distribution of the French weekly L’Express at various times, and cancelled the accreditation of pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief for allegedly publishing false information.
- Approximately 19 percent of the population regularly accessed the internet in 2008. There is no official legislation regulating internet content or access, but the government occasionally blocks certain websites and online tools, including Google Earth and LiveJournal. In February a Casablanca court sentenced Fouad Mourtada to three years in prison on a charge of “usurping an identity” for creating an unauthorized and spurious but nondefamatory Facebook profile of the king’s brother. The king pardoned Mourtada the following month. In September, blogger Mohammed Erraji was arrested on charges of insulting the king for a blog entry entitled “King encourages dependency on handouts.” He was sentenced to two years in prison, but the verdict was overturned on appeal and Erraji was released.