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 2009. 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.
- Libel remains a criminal offense that carries large fines, and legal cases are a primary method of curbing critical journalism in Morocco. In January, the independent daily Al-Jarida al-Oula was fined 160,000 dirhams (US$19,000) for defamation after a trial in which the newspaper was not represented by legal counsel or staff. In March, Ali Anouzla, the paper’s managing director, and Jamal Boudouma, its publisher, returned to court and were each sentenced to two-month suspended jail terms and fined 200,000 dirhams for defamation and insults against the judiciary.
- In March, journalist and blogger Hassan Barhoun was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 5,000 dirhams for allegedly “circulating false news.” In April, the sentence was increased to 10 months after the public prosecutor accused Barhoun of collusion in a corruption case.
- According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in June the Moroccan courts ordered three independent dailies to pay fines for insulting Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, after the Libyan embassy in Rabat issued complaints. Five journalists from the three newspapers were each fined the maximum amount designated under the press law, 100,000 dirhams, and ordered to pay damages of one million dirhams.
- In October 2009, Al-Michaal newspaper publisher Idriss Chahtane was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 dirhams for running articles about the king’s health. Two journalists with the paper, Rachid Mohamed and Mostafa Hiran, were sentenced to two months in prison and fined 5,000 dirhams each. In November, Al-Michaal was banned on the grounds that Chahtane was serving a prison sentence.
- King Mohamed VI and his government wield considerable control over the editorial content of domestic broadcast media. Oversight includes the authority to appoint the heads of all public radio and television stations, and the president and all four board members of the High Authority for Audio-Visual Communication, which is responsible for issuing broadcast licenses.
- The government has the power to revoke licenses and suspend or confiscate publications. In August, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) issued an order to seize and destroy over 100,000 copies of TelQuel and Nichane (TelQuel’s Arabic-language sister publication) after the newspapers published results of an opinion poll on the king’s decade in power, despite the fact that the results were positive. The Moroccan National Press Syndicate (SNPM) described the act as “doubly illegal” due to the absence of legislation forbidding the publication of opinion polls and the fact that the publications were seized without a judicial order.
- In September, the newspaper Akhbar al-Youm was banned because it published a cartoon of a member of the royal family at his wedding ceremony. The latter filed a suit against the paper, but the MOI was the government authority that issued the ban. Publisher Taoufik Bouachrine and cartoonist Khalid Gueddar were sentenced in October to suspended three-year prison terms and ordered to pay a total of 100,000 dirhams in fines as well as three million dirhams in damages for “lacking respect toward the royal family.” In a parallel case brought by the interior minister, they received additional one-year suspended prison sentences and fines of 100,000 dirhams each for allegedly distorting the star of Morocco’s flag in the same cartoon.
- Self-censorship is widespread, as many journalists fear heavy fines, prison sentences, or extralegal intimidation and physical violence in retribution for their stories. However, some journalists continue to push the boundaries and report on sensitive subjects such as the military, national security, religion, and sexuality.
- Physical attacks on journalists are less common than legal actions, but they do occur occasionally. In November, the SNPM reported that journalist Moustafa Hajri of the daily Al-Massae was assaulted by police while covering demonstrations against price increases in Rabat.
- 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. Alternative viewpoints and resources such as online media or independent broadcasts from abroad are not easily accessible to the population.
- There are 17 dailies and 90 weekly publications in circulation, and it is estimated that more than 70 percent of them are privately owned. Broadcast media are still dominated by the state, and FM radio stations are largely prohibited from broadcasting programs of a political nature. However, residents can access critical reports through pan-Arab and other satellite television channels.
- Foreign publications are widely available in Morocco, and the Ministry of Communication accredited 115 foreign journalists during the year. However, the ministry 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. The ministry also banned some foreign publications that reprinted Akhbar al-Youm’s controversial September cartoon.
- Approximately 32 percent of the population regularly accessed the internet in 2009. There is no official legislation regulating internet content or access, but the government occasionally blocks certain websites and online tools, including Google Earth and the LiveJournal blogging platform. Testing by the OpenNet Initiative revealed that Morocco no longer filters a majority of sites that recognize or advocate for an independent Western Sahara.
- In February a Casablanca court sentenced Fouad Mourtada to three years in prison for “usurping an identity” by creating a falsified but nondefamatory profile of the king’s brother on the Facebook social-networking site. The king pardoned Mourtada the following month. In September, blogger Mohammed Erraji was arrested and charged with insulting the king in a blog entry. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but the verdict was overturned on appeal and Erraji was released.