Morocco: Al-Jazeera Bureau Forced to Stop Broadcasting Maghreb News Programme From Rabat

Regulation & Policy

Reporters Without Borders called on the Moroccan authorities to reverse their decision to stop the pan-Arab satellite TV news station Al-Jazeera from broadcasting a daily news programme covering the Maghreb countries from its studios in the Moroccan capital Rabat.

"The attitude of the Moroccan authorities is incomprehensible," the press freedom organisation said. "Al-Jazeera has been broadcasting its special programme on the Maghreb for the past year and a half without any difficulty. The suddenness of this measure and the lack of a valid reason suggest that it was a political decision."

On 6 May, Al-Jazeera's Rabat bureau received a fax from the National Agency for Telecom Regulation (ANRT) saying the frequency it used for broadcasting the Maghreb programme was being withdrawn because of "technical and legal problems."

The Qatar-based TV station began producing its daily Maghreb news programme on 17 November 2006. It already had a bureau in Rabat and was obliged to comply with Moroccan regulations.

"We submitted a complete dossier to the government's High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HACA), including our business registration, our licence, our terms of reference and the station's charter," bureau chief Hassan Rachidi told Reporters Without Borders. "But the application was frozen and we began working on the basis of provisional permits renewable ever three months. All our equipment was approved by the ANRT." The current permit is good until 13 June.

"We created a new space for news reporting where none existed before," Rachidi added. "Thanks to this daily news programme, the public in the Maghreb began taking an interest in what is going on in neighbouring countries."

Al-Jazeera has done many stories on Morocco, including the issue of Western Sahara. On 3 May, it referred to close relations which the late King Hassan had with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. But there is no evidence that this decision was linked to any of these stories.

The station has been the target of a great deal of harassment in both the Maghreb and the Middle East, ranging from bureaucratic obstructiveness to the arrest of several of its correspondents. In Morocco, Al-Jazeera was able to open a regional bureau and cover the country's parliamentary elections of September 2007 in detail.

Cameroon: British High Commissioner Condemns Ban On Equinoxe TV and Magic FM

The British High Commissioner to Cameroon, Syd Maddicott, has condemned the government ban on Equinoxe Radio and Television in Douala and Magic FM radio in Yaounde. "The cancelling of licenses of three broadcasting stations is an unwelcome move. Some have alleged that the stations in question were closed down simply because their editorial line opposed the constitutional amendment”.

“If true this is a serious problem. The press cannot be truly free if they are only free to agree with those in power" he said. The diplomat was addressing journalists during a dinner party at his Bastos residence on April 30 ahead of the World Press freedom Day that was commemorated Last May 3.

The High Commissioner said the effects of such action are not only felt by those stations closed down, because in a climate of fear, others will start to self-censor and the government will no longer be effectively held to account.

Maddicot took exception to Governor Fai Yengo's ban on peaceful demonstrations at a time when debates onn the constitutional amendment was supposed to come to a head. He said: "And we have also seen freedom further curtailed in the ban on peaceful demonstrations by those opposed to the constitutional change”.

“Personally I think such restrictions are not only wrong in principle but counter-productive. I hope that for the sake of freedom of expression and Cameroon's reputation at home and abroad, the government will reconsider the cases of the closed broadcasters."

He held that where the licensing fees greatly exceed the administrative cost of supplying the licences for private audio-visual broadcast, government should reduce the fees as a means of encouraging more media choice. The main aim of licensing system, he maintained, should be to regulate frequencies and not as a source of revenue for government.

To him, government revenues should be derived through taxation as with any other commercial organisation and licensing, and it should be carried out in such manner that it cannot be interpreted as a means of exerting editorial control.

The High Commissioner recalled that in 2006, the government withdrew the bill on social communication, and hoped that self-regulation would be the better option. He urged journalists and media groups to work individually and collectively to produce workable arrangements.

The Post (Buea) 5 May 2008