The situation of freedom of media in Morocco has been increasingly alarming recently. The arrest of the journalist and human rights activist Omar Radi on charges considered as false, and the arrest of several other social media users, are just examples of the state’s severe crackdown on freedom of expression. In an interview with the award winner Journalist Abou-Bakr Jamai, he gave Arab Media and Democracy team a thorough analysis of the situation of media and journalism in Morocco. “Media in Morocco is a victim of a double whammy,” said Jamai referring to political and economic constraints which defined the media environment in Morocco over the last two decades. The first is what he refers to as “zombie media”; or recently founded state-affiliated media institutions which quickly monopolised the advertisement market, making it challenging for other institutions to survive. “I call them zombie media as they have no viewership… However, they take all advertisements for their affiliation with the monarchy”. The second is the recent crackdown on freedom of expression, what Jamai described as “unsophisticated”. “They started using false accusations… dig into your personal life to ruin your reputation… That is what they did with Ali Anouzla, and now doing with Omar Radi”. In 2013 and before Oma Radi’s case, Jamai’s partner and co-founder of Lakome, was imprisoned on the false charges of “sympathising with terrorism”.
Besides, his career in media, journalism and academia, Jamai is a banker and has a background in finance and economics. In light of this experience, Jamai provides a unique perspective of the media environment in Morocco where critical media struggle to sustain operations due to a combination of legal sanctions, exorbitant fines and economic boycotts. “I started my media career with a business mentality. I wanted to make a profit. But while doing so, I wanted to present proper and decent media “. Jamai states that while this was challenged but allowed during the reign of Hassan II, it is not the case now under the rule of Mohammed VI. While civil society and independent media in Morocco depended heavily on foreign funding, the Moroccon Criminal Code prohibits such funding for local groups. Le journal, launched by Jamai in 1997 pioneered investigative reporting that questions for the first time the monarchy performance. The publications that were successful in attracting large readership was forced to close business in 2000 having to pay an exorbitant fine as the outcome of a defamation suit. Jamai, like many of his peers, opted for leaving the country.
Jamai listed different methods were used as a workaround the draconian legal framework governing the public sphere in Morocco, such as receiving support in the form of advertisement contracts. However, this success prompted the regime to resort to a more severe and traditional crackdown on critical media projects. “What is interesting in our case is that when the regime realised that we were able to survive despite their criminalisation of foreign fund, they reverted back to their brutal ways. And that’s when they came with these insane accusations of terrorism”.
Although some efforts are continuously aiming for a freer Moroccan media, Jamai sees that these efforts alone are insufficient. International support and public interest is a necessity for change, especially in the Moroccan context. “Morocco is not a democracy, quite the opposite”. In Jamai views, an autocratic regime with such authoritarianist attributes is eventually doomed. The failure of providing the public with their basic needs will eventually result in an uprising.