Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nichane - the view from Beruit

Morocco and the Media - Mohamed Ashab, writing in the Lebanese daily Al-Hayat has a well-considered piece about the Nichane controversy.

Some conflicts take place behind closed doors, and involve politicians, army men, and economically influential people; while others reach the streets, giving rise to unrest, congestion and rancor. The most elegant of conflicts, however, take the press as its venue as the press, which operates in the shadowy and tabooed areas so long as there is not a law or norm that prohibits it. It's like a relation of mutual consent that does not spark any feud.

The reason for such talk is the escalating controversy over the Moroccan authorities' decision to ban a satirical weekly called Nichane.

While the move could be seen as an indication of a return to the drive to achieve political and social reconciliation against the backdrop of waning respect for the rules of the game, making it possible to talk about a tendency favoring the iron fist policy, facts driven from the history of Moroccan media suggest that the matter is no more than part of the bill of openness, which is never achieved for free.

One shouldn't be surprised when drastic actions, whether expected or not, are taken during the time of transformations. Throughout the exciting journey of openness in Morocco, the press has been in the foreground. This status, regardless of the different interpretations attached to it, would have never been achieved hadn't there been a dire need for the role the press plays in the process of political and intellectual change to develop. This role should lay the foundations for a new culture.

There remains a huge difference, however, between major or minor conflicts that stem from ideological and political convictions, and conflicts that only aim at suspense, and try to destroy rock-solid and widely accepted values. The noble role of the press entails a higher degree of balance in order to help the ship of moral values make its way without jeopardizing the lives of its passengers.

The controversy over such issue may be for pure Moroccan reasons, taking into consideration its scope and consequences on the reality of a nascent media.

The relation of this controversy, however, with the political experience of a country that seeks to establish post-transitional harmonies under conditions embraced by the most hard-line of opposition factions, and which further, succeeded in including the Islamic movements, who have emerged to command a qualitative and a quantitative impact on the political scene, strongly suggests that such controversy has become a part of this political experience.

Perhaps the more significant aspect of the issue is related to more serious implications on the image of Islam as it really is, and as it is seen by the Other, since the Moroccan authorities' reaction cannot be separated from the controversy over the offensive cartoons that depicted the Prophet of Islam and the statements by Pope Benedict XVI that prompted Morocco to recall its ambassador from the Vatican.

The Rabat government, which has always been steadfast in its resistance to attempts to demean Islam, was not expected to adopt a different stance. The attempts to demean Islam were basically based on a deceptive ideology that tries to confirm the selective nature of describing the putative terrorist enemy.

However, the banning of a newspaper could have serious impacts on the country's records regarding human rights, and freedom of expression. This raises serious problematic issues about the freedom of the press: where it starts and where it ends?

This is perhaps the essential reason for the exclusive authority delegated to the judiciary to decide on enacting measures for the protection of the societies' unwritten laws and customs. This means that the sanctity of free media from tutelage, domestication, and subjection, does not make it above the law. Also, in case of any violation, media cannot be reined in except through the power of law.

However, the banned weekly magazine's decision to apologize seems to imply admittance of wrongdoing, which is a precedent worthy of praise as the magazine accepted criticism.

While the press might be interested in portraying the reality as it is, a line must be drawn between reporting on reality and what is being circulated as jokes and oddities what has been preserved as tradition, and what is suitable for publication.

A deliberate intent to demean religious conventions and sentiments is unlikely to be the case here, since those involved were not championing a certain cause towards the promotion or the suppression of which they were forced to resort to linking Islam with terrorism or any other forms of backwardness or aggression.

Certain upstarts in the fields of journalism and creativity seem to be affected by the interest exhibited towards their eccentricities and destructive tendencies, in the same manner as adventurers seek glory even at the expense of morals and religious convictions.

The exciting aspects of the others' experiences might also be alluring, especially when related to attitudes towards religion or sex, and where the desire for profit and commercialism becomes dominant.

The task of journalism in particular, however, is to immunize societies, and consolidate the manifestations of this immunity against the temptations to surrender to sensationalism and instincts.

Provided it leads to no further implications by the virtue of abandoning its politicization by any of the parties, or by eyeing it as merely a minor traffic accident; the issue that has surfaced in Morocco may be no more than a tempest in a teapot.

The need has risen, however, to scrutinize the laws of driving, the engines of our vehicles and its mechanisms that are experiencing technical difficulties, nothing more, nothing less.


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