Al Jazeera slams Morocco curbs

Network deplores closure of bureau in Rabat, saying its coverage has always been fair and balanced.

Al Jazeera Morocco
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For the second time in two years, Morocco has suspended Al Jazeera for its coverage of the Maghreb countries

Al Jazeera has denounced the suspension of the network’s operations in Morocco.

In a statement on Saturday, Al Jazeera said that the closure of its bureau in the capital, Rabat, would not change the network’s editorial guidelines.

“Al Jazeera is committed to an editorial policy based on the principal of providing alternate opinions,” the statement said.

“Al Jazeera’s coverage of Moroccan issues has always been professional, balanced and accurate.”

The network said it would continue its coverage to serve the interests of viewers in line with journalistic values.

The press accreditations of Al Jazeera’s staff in Morocco were withdrawn on Friday and the communications ministry said in a statement that the sanctions followed “numerous failures in following the rules of serious and responsible journalism”.

Al Jazeera coverage

A government official who declined to be named said the authorities took exception “to the way Al Jazeera handles the issues of Islamists and Western Sahara”.

The Moroccan statement, which was reported by the official MAP news agency, said Al Jazeera’s broadcasts had “seriously distorted Morocco’s image and manifestly damaged its interests, most notably its territorial integrity”.

Al Jazeera had showed a “determination to only broadcast from our country negative facts and phenomena in a deliberate effort to minimise Morocco’s efforts in all aspects of development and to knowing belittle its achievements and progress on democracy”, the statement said.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) voiced surprise at the Moroccan curbs.

“It’s a very surprising decision from the government, especially because there was no legal background. It’s just a very administrative and political decision,” Vincent Brossel of Reporters without Borders told Al Jazeera from Paris.

He said that RSF “suspect that this decision is linked to the way your channel has been covering different issues, especially the Western Sahara, and I think it’s mainly because you open your microphone to all sides, and not only the government’s side”.

“I think it’s mainly because you are doing your job, which is quite unfair.”

The government recently prevented a Spanish journalist from travelling to the Western Sahara, Brossel noted.

“It’s unfortunately a sort of new trend in Morocco. When foreign media is doing its job, you can be in trouble”.

Strained relations

In July 2008, Hassan al Rachidi, Al Jazeera’s Morocco bureau chief at the time, was convicted for what the government called “disseminating false information”.

Rachidi was charged with reporting that people were killed in clashes with security forces in the southwestern port city of Sidi Ifni on June 7 during a protest over poverty and rising unemployment.

Moroccan authorities rejected the reports of deaths, saying that 48 people were injured, including 28 police officers.

Although Al Jazeera reported the government’s denial, the Rabat chief prosecutor’s office ordered an inquiry to determine how the false information was disseminated.

Rachidi was interrogated by the judiciary police for four hours and was charged on June 14 with publishing false information and conspiracy. Minutes later, the Moroccan communication ministry withdrew his media accreditation.

Rachidi avoided jail time but was fined nearly $7,000.

The trial and the confiscation of Rachidi’s press accreditation further damaged the already strained relations between Morocco and the channel.

In May 2008, Morocco suspended Al Jazeera’s daily television news bulletin covering the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania) from its studios in Rabat.

The decision, according to Khalid Naciri, the Moroccan communication minister and spokesman for the government, was due to technical and legal issues.

More than 2,000 alleged political activists have been arrested and sentenced in Morocco since the Casablanca bombings of May 16, 2003.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies