Another Moroccan magazine bites the dust. Following the closureof Le Journal Hebdomadaire earlier this year – driven out of business by an advertisers' boycott and crippling libel fines – the publishers of Nichane (the first weekly magazine in colloquial Arabic) have announced that it, too, is to close. Le Monde reports the story (in French).
Once again, the publishers are blaming "a sustained advertising boycott initiated by the royal holding company ONA/SNI [which] spread to many state, para-state advertisers and those close to the regime".
Writing in The Arabist blog, Issandr El Amrani says:
It's mind-boggling that the Moroccan regime, which has banked so much on an image of democratisation both domestically and abroad for the past decade, is acting so aggressively towards independent media. And the growth of other supposedly independent magazines that tow the line, such as Actuel and Le Temps, or even the taming of Rachid Nini and his (admittedly horrible) al-Massae, is making for a soporific, cheerleading media scene where there used to be vibrancy.
But the damage may be even worse than merely press freedom: the closure of magazines is beginning to look like a direct consequence of the all-devouring appetite of the monarchy in the business sphere ...
It's a damning statement on the dominant, even atrophying, role that the king's business interests are playing in the economic and political field. After all, a magazine is not just part of the fourth estate, it's also a business that employs people, buys services, and can help deliver a clearer picture of an emerging economy.
It's already a bad thing to be a country with no freedom of the press, but it is an altogether worse thing to be a country with no transparency on its economic governance where the population is beholden to artificial monopolies. In the Nichane case, you have the combination of both.
"Soft censorship" of critical publications – which includes judicial harassment and economic strangulation – was discussed in some detail at the Arab Free Press Forum in Beirut last June. It's a common problem in Arab countries but the Moroccan government seems to have honed it into an art form.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 3 October 2010.