122 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 446,550 sq. km. (not including Western Sahara)
Population: 34,343,219 (not including Western Sahara)
Head of state: King Mohammed VI, since July 1999
Press freedom appears in the past few months to have lost its hard-won ground between the end of the reign of Hassan II and the start of that of Mohammed VI.
Certainly, there is an independent press and the number of titles has increased rapidly in recent years, creating a degree of pluralism. Moreover, a process of broadcast liberalisation has been under way since 2005, with the creation of the High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HACA). Although great hopes were raised at the start, a second wave of licences granted on 23 February 2009 proved a disappointment in terms of boosting pluralism in broadcast news, since the Superior Council of Audiovisual Communication (CSCA) has proved over-cautious. Only four new radio stations, multi-regional and specialised, were given permission to operate. There was no new general and news radio or new privately-owned television station.
Even if journalists can take criticism further, the “red lines” decreed by the Palace and known to all, cannot be crossed. Religion, the king and the monarchy in general, the country and territorial integrity cannot be questioned. Moreover prison sentences remain under Article 41 of the press law. This vaguely-worded and repressive article is a Sword of Damocles for journalists. Reform of this law has been under debate for the past three years.
Further, journalists are regularly assaulted or have their equipment seized by police or auxiliary forces. Security forces on 10 February 2009 searched the premises of Arabic-language weekly al-Ayam, for possessing an (unpublished) photo of the king’s mother.
While the Moroccan blogosphere has become known for its vitality, 2008 saw the first conviction of a blogger. Mohammed Erraji was sentenced on 8 September for posting an article on the website hespress.com, headlined, “The king encourages dependency on handouts”, criticising the social policy of Mohammed VI. He was found guilty of “disrespect for the king”, under Article 41 of the press law. He was acquitted on appeal because of a “procedural irregularity”, on 18 September 2008. The authorities had sought to make an example of Mohammed Erraji to discourage bloggers from criticising the king online.
Foreign journalists can experience difficulties when they try to renew their accreditation, particularly when they raise the issue of the Western Sahara. Spanish photojournalist, Rafael Marchante, working for Reuters in Morocco since 2006, had his accreditation refused on 20 March 2009, because of his “professional behaviour not in conformity with national legislation”, to use the terms of the communications ministry. The Moroccan authorities went back on their decision on 2 April 2009.
Finally, the Moroccan authorities assume the right to censor some foreign publications if their content displeases them. The 30 October 2008 edition of French weekly L’Express was banned in Morocco. The front page headline was, “The shock: Jesus-Mohammed. Their journey. Their message. Their vision of the world”. Under Article 29 of the press law, the publication was deemed to have “damaged the Islamic religion”.
The Moroccan government continued to harden its rhetoric in March 2009, repeating its “determination to firmly confront, within the framework of existing law, all actions, writings and books aimed at damaging the religious and moral values of Moroccan society”. The interior ministry intends thus to protect “the moral security of the citizen (...) against all expressions of moral drift”.