Morocco has witnessed an outstanding advancement in the practices of citizen media in the last few years. On the one hand, a number of blogs have joined the Moroccan blogosphere in different areas of interest, from humor to politics; and on the other hand several media organs have opened the door to ordinary citizens to report their own news. Pioneer examples of these organs are the daily Arabic-language “Akhbar Alyawm Almaghribia” which allows citizens to take part in making the news on a daily basis through a rubric called “Arraay” and the free French-language “Au Fait” which provides an online-based platform for people to create blogs, in addition to other examples from both written and online press.
Many factors contributed to this positive transformation in Moroccan media. The modern technologies that are available today in Morocco, the nationwide distribution of the Internet and the development of Web 2.0, or the read-write web; all this helped Moroccans to move from information consumers to information producers.
Despite the fact that the term “citizen media” was introduced only recently in Morocco, the concept behind it seems to have a long heritage. The pillars on which the Moroccan press was founded were the partisan press and the activist one, with newspapers and magazines like “Al Mouharrir,” “Lamalif,” “Souffles,” “Al Alam,” “Al Hayat,” “Anoual,” “8 Mars,” “L’Echo du Maroc,” “Le petit marocain,” “L’action du peuple,” and many others. Some of these now-dead newspapers were founded by Moroccan nationalists such as Allal Elfassi, Mohamed Al Ouazzani, Abdekhalek Torres and Mohamed Bennouna. During that era only citizens who had reached a certain level of education, and who were not trained journalists, filled the pages of those newspapers, simply because the first institute of journalism and communication in Morocco did not open its doors until 1969, and then only to public servants working for the Ministry of Communication. However, it was common in those days for people to send letters not only to newspapers, but also to radio stations, such as the National Radio of Rabat and the Tangier Radio Station, to air their stories and make their views heard.
Today, citizen media in Morocco is a power to be reckoned with. The list of bloggers and online activists who have been in clashes with the authorities is too long. Moroccans still remember how an ordinary man nicknamed “The Targuist Sniper” exposed a local corruption scandal in the summer of 2007, after posting videos on YouTube showing members of the Royal Gendarmerie taking bribes from drivers in the region of Al Hoceima. In June 2008, a number of bloggers posted content on what is known as “the events of Sidi Ifni”, which were a kind of outcry by people living in Sidi Ifni (the south of Morocco) that were not covered by the national media. In September 2008, the Moroccan blogger Mohammed Erraji was charged with “showing disrespect to King Mohamed VI” in one of his articles. On December 15, 2009 the Moroccan blogger El Bachir Hezzam was arrested on charges resulting from a statement he had posted about a students’ protest, and he was sentenced to 4 months in prison and a fine of 500 MAD. This may be seen as a positive sign that ordinary people are doing the job of watchdogs in Morocco, which lies in controlling different institutions and determining their abuses.
Hespress.com might be the best example of citizen media in Morocco. It is considered to be the first online newspaper run by the mass. 3 years after it was launched, it is now number one in terms of readership. Hespress, which is published in Arabic, proclaims that it has more than 100,000 readers per day, of which more than 40% live outside of Morocco. Hespress gave another dimension to the reader-writer relationship, based on interaction rather than the buyer-seller relationship that exists in the traditional media. In Hespress it is possible to find comments that are longer, better written, and provide more accurate information than the article itself.
Another interesting example which shows not only the power of citizen journalists, but also the interaction between professional media and citizen media in Morocco, is that of 2009 communal elections. On that occasion, Moroccan bloggers launched an online campaign under the slogan “Bloggers Against Electoral Corruption.” The campaign was a success in the sense that a number of national newspapers used the output of bloggers to learn what was going on in different regions in Morocco that professional media could not get to.
Last year I was happy to learn, while surfing the net, about plans to set up a Moroccan Bloggers’ Association. Almost immediately I contacted Mr. Said Benjebli, who is now its president, to say that I was interested in joining. I was even happier when, later on, met Said Benjebli and other bloggers from different cities and backgrounds, blogging in multiple languages. Since the association filed its papers in March 2009, it has been prevented from getting its license due to procrastination from the authorities. Nevertheless, it is doing a great job of promoting free speech and defending freedom of expression in Morocco. A number of meetings, seminars, workshops and other activities have been organized by the association and its partners. What this shows is that citizen media, as represented by bloggers, photographers, freelance journalists, and ordinary citizens, is an active force despite all the obstacles. We should support these efforts across ideological boundaries, because they are the raw material of democracy and citizenship in Morocco.