Rashi Khilnani writes in Open Democracy about the escalating pressures on the sometimes freewheeling Moroccan press:
Le Journal Hebdomadaire, an independent political weekly celebrated for its investigations and long a thorn in the king's side, now finds itself under what can only be described as a government conspiracy to quash it. The publication, already targeted by protestors mobilised by the government, was fined 3.05 million dirham (€350,000) on 16 February 2006 for the "crime" of writing on sensitive topics relevant to Moroccans today.
Most media organisations in Morocco are either owned by the state or by those affiliated with it, and stay clear of the government stance on three taboo subjects: the monarchy, the conflict in Western Sahara and religion (especially political Islam). Le Journal published articles on two of these subjects – religion and Western Sahara – and, in turn, was attacked by the third, the monarchy.
With a history of throwing journalists in jail and even forbidding them from practising their profession, Mohammed VI has long used the courts as a weapon to express his distaste of independent media. When these tactics brought international attention and condemnation from such groups as Reporters sans frontières (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the government switched to a fresh strategy: financially suffocating the publications.
The huge fine imposed on Le Journal – upheld by the Rabat court of appeal on 18 April – was estimated by RSF as the equivalent of 138 years of minimum-wage work in the country. This is the largest-ever fine in a libel case in Morocco (and likely to bankrupt the magazine).
More from the AP here. This is the sort of everyday repression and control of the press that makes the Arab world such a horrible place to be a journalist - and which in turn makes so much of the "democracy" stuff pure theater. Good that this case is getting some media attention in the West, for whatever reason - hopefully it won't just be ignored, the way that so many regime incursions into the media have long been. The harsh penalties against Le Journal seem to be payback for the good work that Aboubakr Jamai has done pushing for more press freedom - hopefully outsiders like, say, the United States, who claim to be interested in promoting democratization and media reform can help Jamai and the Moroccan press weather the regime's pushback.