On Moroccan Citizen Media

Jamal Elabiad digs into the motivations behind citizen media proponents in Morocco, taking into account the history of mainstream dissident journalists.

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Jamal Elabiad is a writer and teacher. 15 comments

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010


It’s no secret that journalists who toe the Moroccan government’s official line are a majority in Morocco. Many reasons lie behind that, one is that most journalists who dared to trespass the red-lines were sent to prison or banned from practising journalism. Think of Ali Lamrabet, Driss Chatane, Taoufik Bouachrine, and Abou Bakr Jamai.

The common denominator between the Moroccan government journalists is to avoid shedding light on all topics that will surely enrage the regime, such as the monarchy, Islam, the judiciary, and the Sahara. This is why Moroccans had no choice but to boycott the newspapers and TV channels those journalists work for and look for other forms of journalism that will let them know about those taboo topics and see the face of their country without cosmetics.

Citizen media, as a result, has become among the principal sources most Moroccans heavily rely on for news and information on their country. Citizen journalists, in brief, report on issues the Moroccan government does not want its citizens to know about. And what really makes most professional journalists different from citizen ones is that the latter see Morocco as it is, not as the government wants them to see it.

According to Mark Glaser, a freelance journalist who has written many articles on new media, “The idea behind citizen journalism is that people without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media on their own or in collaboration with others. For example, you might write about a city council meeting on your blog or in an online forum. Or you could fact-check a newspaper article from the mainstream media and point out factual errors or bias on your blog. Or you might snap a digital photo of a newsworthy event happening in your town and post it online. Or you might videotape a similar event and post it on a site such as YouTube.”

Examples of the events that Moroccans, without citizen journalists, would have known nothing about are the scandal of the communication minister Khalid Naciri and his son, the protests that some forgotten areas in Morocco have witnessed, including Sidi Ifni and Tarhjicht, and the jobless people in Morocco who protest at unemployment through burning themselves alive. Needless to say almost all Moroccan TV channels and newspapers did cover such events.

The reasons behind the emergence of citizen journalists in Morocco are many, one is reporting without red-lines. A slew of Moroccan citizen journalists have discussed topics the majority of professional journalists have never even thought of discussing. It is, for instance, the writing on the monarchy and judiciary that led Mohamed Erraji and Hassan Barhoun respectively to prison. By the way, the majority of citizen journalists in Morocco post articles, videos, and photos on their weblogs and some social networks under a pseudonym for fear of being arrested.

Finally, citizen journalists are not people who hate Morocco, have bad intentions towards it, or aim at tarnishing its image abroad. Citizen journalists are people who harshly criticize their country not because they hate it, but because they want it to become a real place of democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, and equality before the law. It really honors me to be one of them.

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Posted on Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

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15 comments on “On Moroccan Citizen Media”

  1. Thank you for this excellent post.

    Do you think professional journalists have role to play in the future? I mean we can argue about the independence of such and such outlet but the work of professional journalists will still be valuable and commendable even if they are no longer exclusive in harnessing information and despite the ever reordering media landscape.


    • Hicham,
      Most professional journalists have proved unable to play the roles Moroccans want them to play. And this is I think one reason behind the birth of citizen media in the Arab world. The roles citizen journalists will play in the future will be more or less the same roles they are playing today. they will never, for intance, shine light on the trains that always arrive late!!!
      let’s say it with absolute certainty, the future is for citizen journalists in Morocco as well as other Arab states simpley because they do not know something called red-lines, and most of them are willing to sacrifice. I’m not the first to say so.
      The minister of justice lately said that the ministry can’t bring to court the large number of journalists who everday tresspass the red-lines in Morocco. I am sure that the journalits the minister had in mind are citizen journalists, not professional ones.
      Regards


  2. Omar BIHMIDINE

    It is something normal that citizen journalists are still held captive and imprisoned. It is simply a sign that our country hasn’t yet become a well-recognised democracy.I do feel a lot for media citizens who are only doing their best to describe Morocco as it really is, and I believe there is no harm in that. They are simply telling the truth. On the contrary, they are doing so because they love their country and they always hope it will change for the better. Great Job, Jamal; best wishes


    • Omar,
      I truly appreciate very much your always commenting on my new posts. I’m impatiently waiting to read the rest of your latest short story. Regards.


  3. Media in Morocco are close to what the media throughout the Arab world. Surely we can say that it is dangerous to Arab journalist in this part of the world because you become dangerous to the government.

    I will not comment on power in Arab countries, it will take months. But one good sign is journalism. Its level is a vision of one country. According Noam Chomsky U.S. media even serve to government. What is the solution then? We can rely only on personal qualities and morals of journalists.


    • There we go again with silly comparisons limited to “the Arab world”. I hate to break it to you, but the Arab world is full of repressive societies, because the bulk of the people are stuck in a medieval line of thinking. So comparing to the Arab world in issues like freedom is like comparing yourself to the worst possible case (Kim Jong-Ill swears by the glory of the Arab world!).

      As for the US, even Chomsky acknowledges that the country is, without a doubt, the most committed to freedom of expression in the world. Coming from a Russian, the comparison is asinine and an insult to the reader’s intelligence.


    • Ruslan Trad,
      I totally agree with Chomsky, but most journalists around the Arab world do not have the right to shed light on the failures of Arab governments. Take for example Asharq Alawsat newspaer. You read in it news from almost all parts of the world, except what ‘s happeing in Saudi Arabia. But if they happen to report on Saudi issues, they no doubt report on ” the trains that always arrive on time”. Not only do journalists serve to government, but they also criticize harshly the government. This happens only in tue democracies, not false ones.
      Regards


  4. I think that in whatever country we are talking about, a similar dynamic exists. Ordinary citizens expressing themselves online have greater freedom, because they are expressing their personal point of view, and as Bob Dylan said, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

    Professional journalists working for major media outlets have more to lose, so they are more cautious. They could lose access to sources, or professional credibility if they stray from “objective reporting” into mere personal opinion. Publishers and broadcasters can lose advertisers, or face lawsuits if they can’t back up what they say. By and large, individuals on the internet don’t have to worry about this, precisely because their individual voices are no real threat to anyone.

    There are both good sides and bad sides to this. Clearly individual voices online can express points of view, or expose social problems that wouldn’t make it past the cautious self-censorship of the mainstream media (and I’m talking about the U.S. and Europe, not just the Arab world). On the other hand, these same individual voices may generalize inaccurately from personal experience, or mistake opinion for fact, or invent motives for actions they don’t understand based on no evidence outside their own imagination. As is well known, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

    As a blogger myself, I tend to believe that internet chaos is mostly a good thing. At times, bloggers really do pierce the bubble of official media with facts on the ground that would otherwise go unnoticed. Professional journalists should welcome the competition, and learn to see it as a resource rather than a threat. However, at the same time their caution is justified. They need to ensure that what they report is objectively true, or at least that a range of subjective angles is presented. Bloggers aren’t bound by these standards, unless they impose them on themselves.

    Hopefully both sides will benefit from this encounter. Professional journalists will “up their game” and become more responsive, and more aggressive in following leads. Meanwhile, the best bloggers will develop an authority of their own, based on a reputation for researching their claims and presenting fact as fact, analysis as analysis, as journalists are supposed to do. So out of the internet anarchy will come something of beauty, a friendly competition between “insiders” and “outsiders” to get at the truth.

    This process, as I said, could apply to any country. It’s what I observe happening in the U.S., in the rapid evolution of the blogosphere over the past decade. I see no reason why it couldn’t happen in Morocco as well, although the day is still young.


    • as Bob Dylan said, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

      No sir, that was Kris Kristofferson, made famous by Janis Joplin (“Me and Bobby McGee”). Just sayin’.


    • eat bees,
      For me, comparing Morocco with Europe and the US when it comes to freedom of journalism is a waste of time and ink.

      In Morocco, many “individual voices” have been jailed simply because what they everyday post on their blogs constitue a serious threat to the regime. Why jailed? Because Citizen journalists have become a major source of news in Morocco. One reason is that most of them have the guts to trespass the redlines.

      I know that journalists in the US and Europe have got no taboo subjects to avoid shedding light on. That’s why I think the comparison is a waste of time and ink.
      Regards


      • Jamal, I think it’s useful to compare and contrast so we can learn from each others’ experience. Bloggers are challenging traditional journalists in the U.S. for many of the same reasons they do in Morocco, because there are things the professionals don’t like to talk about.

        I’m not sure that “most” Moroccan bloggers have the guts to cross the redlines. I read Jillian’s estimate that there are 50,000 bloggers in the Moroccan blogosphere. But how many have been prosecuted for what they wrote? Less than 10? So either nearly everyone is getting away with it, or very few are crossing the redlines at all!

        Redlines exist everywhere. For example, advocating terrorism or the death of public officials, revealing national secrets, slander and fraud would all get you in trouble in the U.S. Of course we can argue about what the redlines should be. In Morocco there are two problems, the lines are too narrow (scaring away open discussion), and the boundaries are unclear. I agree with you that the job of citizen journalists and online activists is to test the redlines (see my own post), and that’s a good thing.

        On the other hand, it’s not only bloggers who have gotten in legal trouble for testing Morocco’s redlines. Hasn’t that happened to a number of professional journalists as well? So let’s give them some credit for taking risks to report the truth.

        What I’m saying is that this can be a healthy competition between bloggers and professional journalists, in which journalists become more aggressive as “watchdogs” of public officials, and bloggers learn more of the professionals’ skills to improve their standards. Isn’t that a win-win?


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