One per cent of Moroccans read press publications in the country, where iIlliteracy rates are above 50 per cent. The country’s media is bilingual and is written and broadcasted in both French and Arabic. Written press, however, is done mostly in Arabic.
On the whole, the media is relatively free compared to other Arab countries. But there do exist what are known as red lines, or la line rouge - topics that journalists cannot criticise: the monarchy, Islam and Western Sahara.
Sentences against Moroccan journalists are common, though most prison sentences are suspended.
The country’s press code was reformed in 2002, as part of King Mohammed’s attempts to present himself as a liberal. However, while the penalties for defamation were reduced as part of the 2002 reform, the law remains very strict and includes prison sentences from three to five years for insulting the royal family.
On 30 October 2009, Taoufik Bouachrine and Khalid Gueddar, the publisher and cartoonist for the daily Akhbar Al Youm received three-year deferred prison sentences for "lacking respect toward the royal family". The newspaper was also ordered to pay 3 million Dirhams (approx. 265,000 Euros) in damages to Prince Moulay Ismaïl and a 100,000 Dirham (approx. 8,800 Euros) fine for "flag desecration," as the cartoon depicted the Moroccan flag.
Following the publication of the cartoon, Morocco’s ministry of interior ordered the seizure and banning of independent Moroccan newspaper Akhbar Al Youm for three consecutive days, from 26-28 September 2009. Moroccan authorities also banned from circulation two editions of the French newspaper Le Monde and one edition of the Spanish daily El Pais after the dailies republished the cartoon together with another by French cartoonist Jean Plantu.
Moroccan 'brain drain'
Such restrictions have prompted some 200 Moroccan journalists to leave the country in a bid to find work abroad, according to one survey, with the majority of those emigrating aged between 35 and 44 years old.
The survey also notes that 44 per cent of Moroccan journalists who leave Morocco cite poor conditions at work. Once abroad, many of these journalists seek collaborations with associations within Morocco that defend cultural and political themes and promote the respect for press freedom in the country.
But once in their host countries, some Moroccans have expressed disappointment with the stance these nations have taken in regards to press freedom in Morocco.
The failure by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to address freedom of expression violations during a two-day visit to Morocco in early November 2009 was strongly criticised by the International Press Institute, or IPI, a network of editors, media executives and journalists.
In a statement, IPI deputy director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “It is unfortunate that in a country with one of the more lively media environments in the region, journalists are still being charged, fined and jailed for writing about the royal family.
"Instead of helping create a media environment in which journalists don’t have to fear going to prison for doing their job, Moroccan courts are still systematically handing down prison sentences. Press freedom there is getting worse, not better, and world leaders such as Mrs. Clinton seem to fall silent on the issue."
Foreign media lacks support
Within Morocco, the government appears to find it hard to support foreign media. In one such instance, Al Jazeera was banned in November 2010 despite ranking as extremely popular amongs the Moroccan people.
Yet the Moroccan media has failed to pick up the slack. The press barely covered the mass protests on 20 February 2011 in the country. Since then, several Moroccan journalists have heightened their calls for further press reforms.
In a survey put to Moroccan journalists asking their views on national media in the country, 39 per cent said that the real issues of Morocco are ignored, 35 per cent said the information is not regular, 23 per cent said that there is a false image of Morocco and the remaining 3 per cent could not give an answer.
The conclusion and recommendation given by at least one organisation is that Moroccan journalists who feel restricted in their reporting should develop a social network with foreign journalists.
Trips should be arranged for foreign journalists to visit Morocco and to organise a prize on the best coverage on Morocco by foreign media.
In the wake of King Mohammed’s speech on 9 March 2011 in which he announced reforms following street protests, many journalists are now eager to see if their voices will be among those heard.