An attempt to discuss the media in Morocco By Asmae Ourkiya
Media systems differ from city to another, from country to another and from one type of media to another. According to R. Williams, freedom and control in a media context are too broad to come up with well-defined kinds of communication systems, yet, he has managed to distinguish four main ones: Authoritarian, paternal, commercial and democratic. This essay aims to discuss which of the mentioned systems matches with the situation in Morocco, as well as to answer the question: to what extent has the Moroccan media system’s democratic transition been successful? “…all have the right to speak as they wish or find. This is not only an individual right, but a social need, since democracy depends on the active participation and the free contribution of all its members.” Says Williams confirming that we are far from achieving this democracy, and that the only way to do so is through creating different institutions that do not rely on capitalism nor the state. But when R. Williams says we, is he talking about third world countries as well?
Countries that are far behind from thinking about achieving a “Perfect democratic system” but that are still struggling with choosing their words carefully since they may end up in jail for delivering an “unwanted” content by the government. A lot of research has been done on the relationship between the Arab mass media and the political environment in which they operate, and many researchers concluded that citizens who are active in the media sector (journalists, bloggers, or even young people who use social media platforms) are “are subject to the constraints and imperatives that come from Arab governments, laws, cultural values and economic realities.” (William A.Rugh, 2007) If we relate this description of the Arab citizens’ status to what R. Williams thinks of the Authoritarian system, it is pretty much the same idea; that Morocco, as one of the MENA region countries, is certainly operating a with a certain degree of oppression when it comes to the freedom of Media due to political, social, religious and cultural factors.
If we go back in history, we would certainly mention November 14th, 1997 (The victory of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (SUPF)) as the date when the Democratic transition has started in the country. The government formed a new mission which consisted on promoting human rights, civil rights and of course, a more open and free use of the media. Unfortunately, Media have been used in most in Morocco, as well as in the rest of most of the Arab countries, as a supporting means of an indirect oppression and control instead of a means to promote democratization. The early use of press in Morocco goes back to the mobilization of people against colonialism, where many Moroccan nationalists have published numerous articles like Abdelkhalek Torres’s play “Intissar al haq (The Victory of the Right)”, but this ended up with an oppression by the colonizers as they have banned Arabic-written newspapers. Later on, if we jump a few decades to the future, we would find ourselves in a free society where access to Media is easy (In comparison to China for instance, we have access to social media that is banned in other third world countries like Facebook, Whatsapp, etc…), there are no banned channels as the TV is not controlled by the government, we have the freedom of press (to some extent) as journalists discuss multiple topics online and on newspapers). So for a visitor or a researcher, it may seem like we are on the way to reach the “Democratic” system that R. Williams has described. But what outsiders do not know, is that (and by writing this I am risking myself as well) some subjects (The King, The Monarchy, The Sahara, Islam, etc…) in Morocco are sacred, and you may end up in jail if you are not extremely careful while discussing them. Moroccan citizens, despite that they believe that they are benefiting from a complete freedom of speech, are all scared to discuss the political/ governmental system in the country. One expression is famous when a related subject is brought up “Aasha Almalik” which literally translates to “Live the King”. This fear, which is a result of decades of oppression by the previous king Hassan 2, has prevented youths, decision makers and politicians to express themselves freely in order to work on improving the country’s situation. This is because of the conditions that the state has set as conditions to fund newspapers, which are as follows: “Journalists are not allowed to undermine Islam, the monarchy or national territorial integrity. Journalists are not to disrupt public order.” (Brian Chama, 2017 p38)
Moving away from the Politics field, which I consider a broad domain that requires pages of discussion, cultural and social factors still have a huge impact on the Media. Advertisement for instance, is controlled by what the society can bear and what it can’t. It is quite normal in Ireland for instance to see an ad that advertises a certain kind of sex protection, while in Morocco, this would enrage families if it was broadcasted on a national channel. I have seen as well an advertisement of a “Match Making” event that was going to take place somewhere in County clare, and the add was quite tempting since it displayed a group of young people holding beers and having enjoyable conversations. If the same advertisement panel was put somewhere in my country, it would be perceived as a call for fornication, a call against the law and a call against Islam. Another case is the discussion of religion. Morocco is a Muslim monarchy that is renowned for its diversity and openness to other religions, but only if the person is not Moroccan. As for nationals, questioning Islam on social media, or claiming to have another faith other than Islam will result in a prosecution. Religion is a sacred subject despite that not all Moroccans are practicing the religion, but they are more practicing the culture of it and worshipping this culture.
All in all, despite that Morocco may not be the perfect country when it comes to democratizing Media, it is certainly on top of the list of the MENA countries regarding the strengthening of press of freedom and information accessibility .What is also worth mentioning is the efforts that Morocco has done in order to provide the freedom of information in diverse environments and settings. Despite that the government still has a major control on what is published and what is censored, it has worked on the aspect of making information accessible. The country is not 100% Arab speaking, because there are other ethnicities inhabiting the country, and most of them are the Amazighs (indigenous people who are settled in different regions of Morocco). Luckily for this population, the country has widened its broadcastings and instead of limiting the language to Arabic or French, there are now Amazigh channels on the radio as well as on TV. The Moroccan government is certainly striving to move forward and is definitely ahead of many other countries, but like the cultural Marxist scholar R. Williams says: “To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.” Morocco will eventually reach the ideal Democratic system, and perhaps all it needs is time and a radical change in its educational system.
Brian Chama (2017), Tablod Journalism in Africa, p38. William A. Rugh (2007) Do National political systems still influence Arab media? 2007