Monday, May 30, 2011

The Press In Morocco

By Mohammad el-Ashab
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 29/05/2011

In a moment of honesty and clarity, the Moroccan monarch, King Mohammed VI, refused to prosecute a journalist who had accused him of bribery. The issue of Morocco’s joining the oil producing countries club had abated, after it turned out that the discoveries at Talsint were a mere mirage. But the King opted to steer clear from prosecuting a Moroccan citizen who used the press as a means to tarnish his reputation.

Why didn’t the official decision-making circles act in order to limit the oppression of the freedom of the press? This has occurred through the unjust arrest of colleague Rashid Nini, the editor of the largest media institution in the country. Most likely, the Moroccan monarch - who had alluded to reforming the judiciary on several occasions – wanted to test the capacity of that apparatus for being independent, neutral, and fair. But this hypothesis does not hold in light of the arrest that targeted a journalist, when he could have been prosecuted without being arrested.

Other hypotheses indicate that the editor of Al-Masa’ has become a persona non grata and that his head is now wanted by several sides. But the question can be rephrased thus: Why did many of the prominent names and faces that he vehemently criticized fall down while he was being held in solitary confinement, and before the verdict against him was issued? Why was the penal code invoked in his prosecution instead of respecting the precedence of the press law, which settles such ordinary disputes?

There is nothing that calls for hastiness, speed, or harshness in dealing with a media-related issue that could have been contained with lesser damage by protecting the freedom of expression and controlling the violations by way of legal channels. The loser in this process is not Rashid Nini, whose name has been added to the list of those people who oppose the abuse of power (which implies that there is no just law that personifies the state). It is the image of Morocco that suffered a great deal as a result of irrational acts that could have been averted.

Most likely, King Mohammad VI will have to make use of his constitutional and moral weight in order to settle this case. The problem is that, due to the abundance of the mistakes made by others, he has turned into a fire fighter. He did so, for instance, when he acknowledged that there were violations with respect to the issue of the security reaction to the suicide attacks of Casablanca in 2003. Now, a journalist who had rejected the conspiracy of silence is behind the bars, because he had reiterated the conclusions of the king himself. He might have done that in a harsher way, but the role of the press is to raise the alarm and not to appease.

Why hasn’t the public prosecution, assuming that it was the party behind the legal action, waited for some time to ascertain whether the issues a courageous journalist is being reproached for had all exploded at once? Why have the charges seen much confusion, from using the terror law, and then modifying the circumstances of the prosecution as the affected parties failed to file complaints?

Most probably, the tenure of King Mohammad VI, which was characterized by major openness, and which has given hope in that the past practices will be ended, had started early. There was a belief that his spring will not be hijacked, or at the very least, will enjoy an adequate amount of care. And there was a wager that the press, which enjoyed absolute freedom, will be the linchpin of change, and that no pen will be broken, as it plays its enlightening role. However, [official] conduct and the media question were not spared some distortions and scars. The press, like the truth, must no doubt have foes and victims: The staunchest foes are those who believe that criticism is defamatory and that opposition is destructive. So perhaps the source of the defect lies in that the royal pardon is still a solution. But how can one believe that errors can be made right through a pardon, especially if these errors are perpetrated by officials who were supposed to be most cautious [?]

There is a parallel truth indicating that the press lights the way even when fires break. Morocco, or at least some of the sides there, cannot possibly convince the people forever that the press is the enemy. Perhaps misinterpretation has deviated from the discourse that makes reform imperative, the same way that the press is also needed in order to enhance the course of reform. It is not an argument against it if the press is a source of worry or disturbance. Most importantly, it must remain there in order to tell those who did well that they have done their job; and to tell those who made mistakes that experiences amend for mistakes.

No comments:

Post a Comment