Morocco, the Glass is Half Empty on Press Freedom – Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)

Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)
May 15, 2019

The World Press Freedom Index for 2019 has been published and it’s not a positive report for Morocco. Morocco ranked 135th in this year’s report, and since 2013 has fluctuated between 130-136 in the rankings out of 180 countries. The index reveals that 2018 saw a “great deal of additional judicial harassment of journalists in Morocco.”

Morocco comes after Tunisia, Lebanon, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Jordan in the MENA region. The Index, which uses four categories: Good (0-15 countries listed), Satisfactory (16-43), Problematic (44-109), Difficult (110-161), and Very Serious (162-180), puts Morocco in the 4th category, Difficult. Tunisia, Lebanon and Kuwait are considered one level higher, Problematic.

Interestingly, the US also falls into the third or Problematic category coming in at 48th. The report states that “US press freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 constitution, has been under increasing attack over the past few years, and the first year of President Donald J. Trump’s presidency has fostered further decline in journalists’ right to report. He has declared the press an ‘enemy of the American people’ in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets, and routinely uses the term ‘fake news’ in retaliation for critical reporting.”

Reporters without Borders (RSF), the organization behind the Index, has been controversial in the past and criticized for misreporting situations in various countries, and found to be wrong in some cases. It should be noted however that this index also tracks the press freedom reports of Freedom House, a US NGO that collects data on the same subject matter.

According to RSF, the Index is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by them which evaluates criteria like pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

Overall, the index found that hostility expressed by political leaders worldwide towards the media is fueling a negative turn towards journalists and their work, and further found it more difficult where journalists can work in complete security, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media.

Morocco has achieved much during the past 25 years: free and fair elections; diversified economic and business development; women’s empowerment and rights; strong macro-economic policy; environmental and renewable energy policy; focusing attention on youth, the poor and the unemployed; and the list goes on. However, when it comes to freedom of the press, it is failing.

Michael Deaver, President Reagan’s Director of Communications, once cautioned that if a client has something to hide or wants to maintain secrecy on an issue, they should avoid the press. But, he counseled, if they having nothing to hide, openness and freedom of the press is the best policy. Morocco is not perfect, but in many areas it is leading the progressive movement in the Middle East and Africa. It should not be apprehensive to open its doors to the press, even if it means facing some criticism, as the overwhelming record of progress and openness in Morocco is strong and improving.

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