Attacks on the Press 1999: Morocco

Press freedom appeared to benefit when Muhammad VI ascended the Moroccan throne in July, following the death of his father, King Hassan II, who had ruled for 38 years. The easing of self-censorship, which began in earnest after the formation of the government of Prime Minister Abdel Rahman Youssefi in 1998, accelerated thanks to the young monarch’s liberal policies. The new king allowed exiled dissidents to return to the country and sacked notorious Interior Minister Driss Basri. Meanwhile, newspapers demonstrated a new assertiveness in tackling issues such as unemployment, human rights, and official corruption.

However, journalists often avoid coverage that the government might regard as adversarial. And the so-called three taboos–the monarchy, the country’s claim of territorial sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara, and Islam–must never be challenged in public.

Self-censorship is further encouraged by a number of legal instruments. The press code stipulates tough penalties for journalists who defame public officials or offend any member of the royal family. Authorities have the legal power to confiscate, suspend, or revoke the licenses of publications that are deemed a “threat to public order.” Foreign publications risk confiscation if they report unfavorably about Morocco.

Satellite dishes are widely available to Moroccan citizens and offer access to Arab, French, and regional programming. At the same time, Internet use has blossomed in recent years and is available to citizens without government restrictions. A large number of cyber cafŽs provide the public with access to the Internet, but individuals who want to be connected at home must pay relatively high service costs, which put an Internet connection beyond the reach of most Moroccans.