Defending Morocco's frail press freedom

At a recent conference in Casablanca this week, prominent lawyers and journalists both lamented recent regressions in press freedoms in Morocco. And as MENASSAT'S Mohamad Labid reports, their message to the Moroccan journalist corps is clear: "We need to support each other because we are being targeted."
morocco media law

CASABLANCA, May 29, 2009 (MENASSAT) - During a meeting organized by the Association of Moroccan Journalists and the Legal Defense Committee for Journalists Rights, lawyer Mostapha Ramid said that recent actions against reporters and media organizations Morocco continue to threaten the already tenuous balance of press freedoms in the country.

Ramid cited the recent judicial ruling against Al-Massa, Morocco's top-selling newspaper, which had a $420,000 fine levied against it in a ruling that in effect has drowned the newspaper in excessive fines it cannot afford.

Lawyer Mostapha al-Nawi, said Morocco's authorities have been increasing their crackdown on individual journalists as well.

"The Moroccan judiciary system is for the time being unable to guarantee protection for journalists. What does it mean to even have a judiciary system if it's banning journalists from writing?"

Al-Nami was referring to the ruling against Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet who was banned from writing in Morocco for ten years.

Lmrabet is now a correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Al-Nami spoke of the necessity to have a specialized judiciary body to deal with the press and media, on the model of the commercial or administrative judicial systems.

He added that the Moroccan media workers also have to work on establishing a professional committee themselves in order to set ethical standards for the profession – something the existing media organizations have so far failed to do.

Lawyer Mohammad al-Nasseri said that many international human rights organizations  and many countries all over the world, focused on the Moroccan media experience, considering the huge steps it took in freedom of expression. However, he stated that "many of these developments were disregarded lately, with many rulings being issued against media outlets and journalists."

"The judiciary system doesn't currently reflect the aspirations of the citizens and journalists as an independent and honest system. Despite some positive points in the Moroccan press law, such as the absence of prior censorship, the mobility of the media landscape has created some kind of clash," al-Nasseri said.

He also called for the necessity to establish a judiciary body specialized with press and media.

The Head of the Journalists' Syndicate, Yunis Moujahid, expressed his concern over the recent attacks against the Moroccan Journalists.

"We counted many cases of physical abuse against journalists in many areas, the most recent occurring in Casablanca."

He added that it is imperative to adopt regulations to guarantee better conditions to allow journalists to practice their jobs in respect of national and international law.

"The attacks against journalists by the security forces and local authorities, and the developments that occurred in the media, call for the necessity to revise all the laws concerning the media. The journalist doesn't only cover festivals, his role is also to cover conflicts with credibility."

Moujahid spoke of the necessity to issue laws to punish all kinds of attacks against journalists.

The National Press Syndicate, in its last report launched on the World Press Day, expressed its concerns about the general situation of the freedom of the media in Morocco on different levels.

The Syndicate considered that the authorities are still using the media and the press as a tool to pass on their political plans and strategies to the larger society, sometimes through controlling newspapers and audio-visual media, and other times by repressing freedom of expression.

It stated that the regime used many different means, taking political decisions to muzzle the press or to create tension in the political field, and passing them on through judicial rulings. The royal institution and Islam are also used to justify muzzling the press.

The main objective of these practices is nothing less than "to target freedom of press for specific subjects."

The report mentioned many aspects of regression in the freedom of press, the most dangerous being - banning some journalists from practicing their profession, issuing exorbitant fines in defamation cases, arresting journalists and imprisoning them, banning newspapers and magazines and destroying publications outside the law, and asking the publication houses to control what they print, which inevitably returns Morocco to prior censorship levels.

The Head of the Syndicate stressed that the Moroccan media workers are asking for support to face these pressures. "It is imperative to support each other because we are being targeted," he said.