3 November 2010

Government suspends Al Jazeera among mounting violations

Morocco has suspended Al Jazeera for its
Morocco has suspended Al Jazeera for its "unfair" reporting
Al Jazeera
The Moroccan government has suspended Al Jazeera for what it alleged was unfair reporting that damaged the country's reputation, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

On 29 October, the Communication Ministry announced the suspension of Al Jazeera television in Morocco as well as the withdrawal of accreditations for the channel's staff.

The ministry said it had noted several incidents in which the Qatar-based TV station had violated the rules of "responsible and serious" journalism. It said Al Jazeera's broadcasts had "seriously distorted Morocco's image and manifestly damaged its interests, most notably its territorial integrity" - a reference to Western Sahara, an area in dispute between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

The station had shown 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 deliberately belittle its achievements and progress on democracy and human rights," the ministry alleged.

ANHRI condemned the move, noting that Al Jazeera is "one of the most professional channels in the Arab region." Al Jazeera was suspended because it presents "views that anger Arab governments, who wish to keep [citizens] in the dark," ANHRI added.

Al Jazeera issued a statement on 30 October reiterating its commitment to "an editorial policy based on the principal of providing alternate opinions." Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Rabat that they will stay in Morocco, talk with the ministry and try to resume coverage.

CPJ reports that earlier this year, two Al Jazeera journalists, Mohammed al-Baqali and Anas ben Saleh, were not allowed to renew their accreditation. Their case will be heard next month in court.

In 2008, Hassan Rachidi, Al Jazeera's Morocco bureau chief at the time, was convicted and fined for "disseminating false information" in connection to reporting on social unrest in the southern port of Sidi Ifni, reports CPJ.

Morocco has used varied tactics to silence the independent media. "Nichane", an independent Moroccan magazine, was forced to close down earlier this year as a result of financial difficulties arising from an advertising boycott, ANHRI reports. Pro-government companies had decided not to place any ads in the magazine because of its editorial line in support of freedoms and addressing corruption.

In June, Taoufik Bouachrine, managing editor of the daily "Akhbar Al-Youm", was sentenced to six months in prison on criminal charges of real estate fraud. The case involved a civil dispute over the sale of a house purchased by Bouachrine three years ago that was already twice adjudicated in favour of the journalist.

"We believe the criminal charges brought against Bouachrine are politically-motivated, stemming from the journalist's critical journalism and advocacy for press freedom," said 30 IFEX members at the time. "We urge the Moroccan government not to follow the path of its neighbour Tunisia, which uses the courts to unjustly persecute critical journalist," the members added.

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