The Moroccan authorities put pressure on the media to ensure they do as they are told. Independent journalists are subjected to constant harassment.
The Moroccan media may appear diverse, but this is a facade. The media do not reflect the diversity of political opinion in Morocco. Independent media and journalists are harassed and persecuted, and the right to news and information is crushed by a powerful propaganda and disinformation machine serving the political agenda of the government and its close allies. Morocco’s only remaining independent publication, the daily Akhbar Al Yawm, finally gave up and published its last issue in April 2021. Social media and websites are the population’s main source of information.
The Justice and Development Party (PJD), the moderate Islamist party that had ruled since 2011, lost the September 2021 parliamentary elections to the National Rally of Independents (RNI), whose president, billionaire businessman Aziz Akhannouch, became prime minister. Akhannouch has stepped up pressure and the use of lawsuits against journalists who criticise him and his policies. Corruption, the role of Islam, the status of the Western Sahara and the status of the monarchy are among the many subjects that have been implicitly off limits for Morocco’s journalists in recent years. Recent additions to the list include the security services, the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the crackdown on street protests.
Morocco’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to information, in theory. It also prohibits any form of prior censorship, and says a “High Authority for Broadcasting Communication ensures respect for pluralism”. Although a new press law adopted in July 2016 abolished prison sentences for press offences, critical and outspoken media content can lead in practice to criminal proceedings. Journalists are forced to censor themselves because of the lack of legal safeguards for freedom of expression and press freedom, the low level of judicial independence, and the frequency with which they are the targets of judicial proceedings.
The economic environment is far from robust and the media fail to attract enough advertisers. Independent media, which are increasingly rare, find it hard to establish a stable financial footing that allows them to develop. Media that support the government have easier access to resources and are financially more stable.
Moroccan society has been ready to consume content from independent media outlets without being ready to defend them. The disinformation prevailing in the Moroccan media is accentuated by the promotion of – and appetite for – sensational and celebrity journalism that does not respect privacy and often undermines the image of women.
Journalists are often subjected to arrest without warrant and prolonged pre-trial detention. Trumped-up sex charges – such as rape, human trafficking, adultery and having an illegal abortion – have been used against journalists in the past five years. The ensuing trials have been accompanied by orchestrated smear campaigns in pro-government media. In a joint submission in 2020, 110 journalists asked the National Press Council – a regulator with the power to punish press code violations – to impose “disciplinary sanctions” on these “defamation media.”