MAP: News You Can't Use or Trust

Malainin S. Nayem

>> traducción en castellano 

I recently received a phone call from my friend, Alberto, a professor from Spain who has known the Sahrawis for years, but has never had the time to visit the refugee camps. "I am going to the Sahrawi refugee camps next week," he told me, "but I just read in the Moroccan news agency about riots and incarcerations in the camps. Do you know anything about it?" He nervously asked. Alberto's nervous voice, almost yelling through the line at me, were the result of a news story provided by the Maghreb Arab Press, MAP. MAP has once again created confusion and manipulated news about the Western Sahara.

Maghreb Arab Press, MAP, is the official Moroccan press agency. It offers news in Arabic, French, Spanish and English about the Maghreb, as well as the king speeches, his marriage photos gallery, the throne day activities and other dispatches about the economical, social and political life in Morocco along with a propagandistic and unbalanced coverage of the Western Sahara issue. In an era where, internet information technology and globalization have spread freedom of speech and changed the way news used to be delivered by the state-controlled-media, MAP is a Jurassic news agency, known for inaccurate and distorted reporting.

Just last month, on December 13th, the US Embassy had to deny a MAP (French edition) news dispatch that was both inaccurate and distorted. The news dispatch stressed that the Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East and North Africa, William Burns, had expressed "Washington's firm support to the framework agreement". However, this was not the first time the Moroccan rulers tried to confuse the public and manipulate public opinion through their manipulation of statements. On December 4th, the International Federation for Human Rights, deplored in a press release, the manipulation of the Moroccan press agency of a commentary attributed by MAP to the human rights organization. Almost a month before MAP, reported that the Moroccan Ambassador to the UN denounced that "the food was being diverted from the camps." The World Food Program spokesperson Christione Berthiaume responded "if we have cases of significant malnutrition, it is not because the food is diverted, it is because we do not have enough to give them". Leaving aside Morocco's obvious biases, such desperate attempts to mislead the public makes one wonder why the Makhzen is now relying on MAP to confuse public opinion. With little progress being made in the domestic field and the Western Sahara as the backbone of an incoherent diplomacy, the Makhzen strategists seem to have found MAP as their solution relying on MAP's misinformation to take attention away from their own serious problems..

The Moroccan people suffered long years under King Hassan II's dictatorial tyranny. The coronation of Mohamed VI, following his father's death in July 1999, was seen by many as a crucial moment for the Moroccan monarchy to reform and democratize itself, in order to survive the winds of change that are sweeping Africa and the world. Whether the King's decision to change the well-known-super interior minister and Hassan's strong man in the Western Sahara, Driss Basri, was intended to redirect the policy of the country toward the occupied territory or just a personal matter, one may never know, but what is clear is that Mr. Basri's shadow has been over every controversial decision made by the King regarding the disputed territory. Back in 2001, when the King accepted the "framework agreement" officially, Basri called it "a UN maneuver that will lead to the independence of Western Sahara" and the contradiction grew deeper when the King rejected the idea of the referendum during the last "Green March" anniversary. A week later Basri said, it is the only way to settle the dispute. So, who should be believed, the one who tried and failed for 10 years to steal the referendum and now thinks its better to fallow the international legality or the one lacking a clear decision who wants to gamble. Clearly something is not working in the Makhzen machinery and the Moroccans are confused- AND THAT KIND OF NEWS IS NOT REPORTED BY MAP.

The Moroccan establishment or Makhzen is present in all decision-making apparatus and the only benefactor of the actual situation. From bank loans to political and economic power the omnipotent presence of the hidden hands of the Makhzen move all pieces of the Moroccan puzzle. The shuttle visits of top French leaders, including President Chirac to baby-sit the King, reported by MAP, as "visit d'amitié et de concertation au Maroc" and the growing presence of the military in the policy-making apparatus, demonstrates the dependence of the King on his protectors and the army's distrust of a man that seems unable to handle the problems of the country. The euphoria of 1999 when Mohamed VI came to power promising to modernize the monarchy and bring democracy and respect of human rights after his father's long-dark-years, has disappeared. Mohamed VI has turned out to be just the same dish but with a new ingredient: the new King now wants to buy his subjects with lies. Neither his oil discoveries nor his claim that he solved the Western Sahara question are realistic solutions and can only make the Moroccan people harbor unrealistic expectations- AND THAT IS NEWS.

Now, back to my friend, Alberto, and his reaction to the MAP story about the refugee camps. MAP has an on-going defamation campaign to give the impression that something is wrong with the Sahrawis and it uses its propaganda in response to the growing international support for the Sahrawi people. MAP uses a variety of ways to "invent news" using imaginary organizations and events to give the impression of turmoil or chaos among the Sahrawis. It sometimes quotes a decision-making individuals or organizations, the source a punch of Moroccan state controlled newspapers and the scope of their attacks and tergiversations is shaped by the developments regarding the Western Sahara issue. The imaginary creation of a number of phrases like "Moroccan Sahara", "sequestrées à Tindouf", "l'association Masira pour.." is the most ridiculous and least credible of all the Makhzen propagandistic techniques developed by MAP. It is clear that the Saharawis, who fled their territory after the Moroccan invasion in 1975, are not "sequestrées" and the whole world knows that. What is really amazing is the fact that the more MAP flooded the news with attacks on the POLISARIO and the Sahrawi camps, the more it galvanized the readers support for the Sahrawi cause. The week MAP (in Spanish) reported about the "turmoil and siege" in the camps, more than 1800 Spaniards went to the camps to express their firm commitment to the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination and independence. Why not rescue the "sequestrées"?

MAP is also used as the voice of the Moroccan rulers. Through the news agency they address other governments: the Moroccan government uses MAP in Spanish to "remind" the Spanish government about the possibility of using Ceuta and Melilla to get gains on other issues, in English to promote Morocco's "role" in the war on terror and the image of a "moderate" state, in French to praise the good and special relations with France, and in Arabic to support the Palestinian people. When news is to be directed to a special area, MAP makes sure that the message is delivered in the specific language and not translated to other languages. On the domestic front, MAP finds it easy to persuade, and when the Moroccan rulers want to go after the traditional "enemies" of Morocco the national media will orchestrate a campaign against such enemies.

The real problems of the kingdom are always blamed on someone else. There is no plan to deal with the poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, corruption etc. The wrong doings of the Moroccan rulers are always blamed on the "enemies of Morocco". Such enemies could be the Polisario, Algeria or Spain, individually or all of them together, if the internal problems are very serious. What is real is that Morocco had and it still has conflicts with each and every one of its neighboring countries. Rather then looking for a scapegoat, the Moroccan government needs to address the real problems it faces. The paranoid fear of external shadow enemies should be overcome for the country to regain its stability. No neighboring country has ever been a menace to the Kingdom while internal discontent has shaken the throne several times. AND MAP SHOULD ADDRESS SUCH NEWS.

But, how free are the Moroccans to take individual action and how much does the king want to reform?

Beyond the endemic political and economic problems of Morocco, the September 27 elections revealed a yet more dangerous challenge the Moroccans will have to face in the near future. Not only has the dream of a democratic election been diminished, but a new procedure will set a precedent for future elections: In a country where the king appoints Driss Jetu, a technocrat with no political affiliation as prime minister and chooses the most unpopular ministers for the key ministries, why should people vote? The "Free Officers", a group of Moroccan troops in Western Sahara, sent an open letter to the king, denouncing the corruption in the army and threatening to take action if their demands are not met. Abbas Al Fassi, chosen by the King as deputy prime minister, is the principal responsible for a scandal involving an imaginary "30.000 jobs in middle eastern cruises", Muhammad Benissa, whose ministry was heavily criticized by the king was kept in his post, in spite of an open letter from his employees, demanding his resignation. The situation of human rights is chaotic, the critical press is banned, the King believes that the referendum in the Western Sahara is "null" and that the "framework agreement" is rejected by the international community, the economy is tumbling, the majority of the Moroccan people are losing confidence in the government, patience is running out and people crossing the Gibraltar strait multiplies every day. And how does MAP report on these serious problems and conditions: MAP considers Jetu, a "good bet", the free officers as a "manipulation of the Spanish Secret Service and others enemies of Morocco" , reports that the government is going to "create 7000 jobs in 2003". And quotes the King as saying "Governance is not conceivable without democracy, as is economic and social progress without participation and development, without liberty and respect of human rights". NO COMMENT

After Le Journal's interview with SADR President Mohamed Abdelaziz, Moroccan Interior Minister Ahmed Midaoui threatened the director Abubakar Jamai with this: "fortunately, you are not my son, otherwise I would smash your face" he told him during a press briefing. Recently, the secretaries of state for interior and foreign affairs told the Moroccan media to treat the "free officers" open letter as a Spanish conspiracy against the kingdom.

For MAP, real journalism may be a "threat to the security and stability of the kingdom". The lack of objectivity in their news coverage and their way of making news comply with Makhzen demands, is unfair and wrong, especially considering the efforts of other Moroccan journalists to introduce necessary reforms. The prohibition of seven publications, including the French Jeunne Afrique L'intelligent, Le Figaro and the AFP in 2000, and the continuous threats to the directors and journalists of Assahifa and Le Journal have brought the protests of many international organizations including Reporters Without Borders. Yet, this information was never reported by MAP nor by the government. The lack of press freedom imposed by the Moroccan rulers leaves no margin to discuss, debate or even speculate when it comes to the monarchy and the Western Sahara issue.

In the 1980s realistic reports about the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Apartheid in South Africa, and East Timor independence in Suharto's Indonesia were all considered "crimes against national security", just like the position taken by the Moroccan government. However, there is a genuine and democratic movement underway in both Morocco and occupied Western Sahara supporting such moves to unveil the truth.

As a result, MAP's misinformation, distortions and manipulation of the news for the Makhzen will eventually give him enough rope to hang himself.

The reaction of my friend after he visited the camps and learned that MAP's reporting was completely erroneous: "I was tempted to trash all the MAP news, although I will not. Instead I encourage you to learn how to read its dispatches. With a news agency like this, Morocco does not need enemies" Alberto told me.