Sunday, January 31, 2010

A setback for Moroccan press freedom.

Le Journal Hebdomadaire was known throughout Morocco for its strong stand against corruption and for its defence of freedom of the press. Now it is gone and on Saturday a court sealed its offices for failing to honour its financial commitments. Insiders say that the magazine owed over 5 million dirhams in social security contributions, taxes and bank loans.

Le Journal was first published in 1997 and soon made a name for itself with brave attacks on the dubious behaviour of some public officials. When the magazine began to expose the interior minister at the time, Driss Basri, who for 20 years controlled Morocco through a web of informants and ruthless security forces, commentators thought the magazine would be forced to close. However, in what was seen as a very positive sign, the new king dismissed him.

Issandr El Amrani, writing in The Guardian says, "Most of all, Le Journal tried to keep officials honest about the democratisation that they promised in speeches. It relentlessly campaigned for constitutional reform that would shift political power from the palace to parliament. For many of my generation of Moroccans, it provided a political education and an inspiring example of outspokenness".

Supporters and staff say that they had fallen victim to "finanical asphyxiation" and that the "authorities had spent years discouraging companies from advertising in Le Journal".

According to some sources a plan for a wealthy Moroccan businessman to buy the magazine then fell through at the last minute.

The government has defended its actions saying that a series of legal actions and fines against Morocco's press in recent years have nothing to do with freedom of expression but are simply a natural response to bad, poorly-sourced journalism and slander.

However, a statement press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said, "This judicial liquidation heralds the end of the first independent title in Morocco."

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