Islamist “Reforms” in the Moroccan Media
By: Imad Estito
Published Tuesday, April 24, 2012
New guidelines for public broadcasters issued by Islamist Communications Minister Mustapha Khalfi have raised tensions in the media sector and amongst the wider public.
The new regulations, which are legally binding, include many restrictions and measures such as banning public stations from broadcasting betting and lottery advertisements, mandating broadcasting the call to prayer, and Arabizing programs.
It appears that the communications minister intends to add a religious touch to public stations.
Channel Two and its radio station are now required to broadcast the call to prayer five times a day, as well as Friday prayers and the prayers of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
Article 9 stipulates that Channel Two should adopt “programming that reflects the diversity…that makes up Moroccan identity and its cultural, linguistic, intellectual, and social manifestations, and should contribute through its programming to highlighting and enriching them.”
Article 49 stipulates “banning advertisements of games of chance, betting and lottery, intimate relationships, and programs about horoscopes, magic, sorcery, or those that jeopardize the mental, physical, and moral health of children and teenagers.”
The guidelines require Channel Two to have 50 percent of the programs in Arabic and 30 percent in the Amazigh language.
Approval of the law created an uproar in Morocco’s media sector.
Salaheddine Mezouar, president of the National Rally of Independents Party – which represents the parliamentary opposition – criticized the content of the new guidelines, arguing that they contradict the spirit of the constitution, especially when it comes to freedom of thought and pluralism.
Mezouar argued that the goal of the Islamist Justice and Development Party, which currently leads the coalition government, is to confine Moroccan television programming within a certain mold and exclude other elements of Moroccan society that hold different points of view.
Former minister Reda Chami attacked the guidelines for marginalizing foreign languages, saying “Morocco will not achieve progress if it does not open up to other languages.”
He also called for granting public television channels a margin of independence from the government.
In addition to the outcry that the new guidelines sparked among the general public, the heads of public channels made personal attacks against the communications minister.
It appears, however, that these were organized media attacks, especially since these media officials are known for their close ties to the palace.
Director of Channel Two, Salim Sheikh, used several media platforms to announce that the communications minister acted impulsively and did not include experts and channel officials in the discussions that preceded the final draft of the law.
Sheikh argued that the new guidelines will change the identity of Channel Two and will cancel gains accumulated over 23 years of work.
He also said, “The new guidelines will fundamentally change the channel’s economic model without taking into consideration the repercussions of this change on the percentage of viewers or the income of the channel.”
He added, “There is a danger in this approach as our channel has not only played a central role in establishing a social model loyal to the country’s culture, but also a tolerant and open society...There was a balance in its programs between entertainment and education, and cultural news for everyone.”
The director general of the National Company of Radio and Television, Faisal Arichi, affirmed that there will be no setback in the freedom of public media no matter what.
Justice and Development Party supporters accused what they described as a “lobby of francophone secularists or the ‘party of France’” of attempting to hinder the series of reforms initiated by the Islamist minister, because they threaten their personal interests in these channels.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.