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Al-Jazeera programme discusses independence of press in Arab Maghreb

BBC Monitoring

In its 2200 gmt news bulletin's "Issue of the Night" programme, Al-Jazeera TV on 22 August discussed the independence of the press in the Arab Maghreb countries. The programme interviewed in the studio Tawfek Bouchrine, chief editor of the independent Moroccan newspaper Al-Massa, via satellite from Tripoli journalist Muhammad Ba'yu and over the phone from Tunisia Rachid Kechana, chief editor of the Tunisian newspaper Al-Mawkef.

The programme started with a recorded report in which Bashir Bila'yu, director-general of the newly-launched Libyan Al-Libiyah satellite TV, said: "God willing, Al-Libiyah satellite TV will be fully loyal to its name in voice and image. On the other hand, its independence means it will present the image of the state as citizens see it not the image the state wants citizens to see."

Bouchrine said that "political will plays a significant role in the presence of freedom of media and press", adding that "the political will is ofte! n translated through the laws and regulations". He pointed out that the Arab Maghreb countries and Morocco in particular were not convinced of "the creation of free, independent TV channels that are not subject to the control of the state". He added that it was not yet possible "to break the monopoly [of authorities] and allow other channels to express political, social and economic facts from a perspective other than the official one".

He said: "In Tunisia, the free press is today killed." "In Algeria, journalists came under massive attacks during the civil war," he added, pointing out that "journalists are also tried in Morocco". Bouchrine noted: "There is a margin of freedom for print media in Morocco but when it comes to TV, our TV situation shows we are living back in the 1950s, as the official activities take big portions of news bulletins and the entire TV considers itself working for the authority and state rather than citizens". "They do not think at all tha! t there are citizens who have needs and demands and want to hear diffe rent opinions and media rather than propaganda," he added.

Kechana said that "Maghreb governments need training courses in democracy to be convinced that the freedom of press and journalists, of course, is the keystone for building a democracy, of course, within professional regulations known in the entire world". He said it was ironic that the measure of freedom "under the French occupation in most cases in the Arab Maghreb" was "broader" than the measure "available under the national state today". "Issuing a newspaper is not as easy as it was in our societies in the past," he stressed, adding: "Also, the space of freedom has dwindled so much and sometimes totally disappears".

Kechana also criticized the official authorities in the Arab Maghreb countries for "denying the newspapers that criticize them access to public finance". He noted that "in Morocco, journalists are sent to jail to be an example for their colleagues" and "in Libya, the free voices are elimi! nated". He added that journalists paid "a high price" in "the battle" for free press and real press institutions. Kechana also criticized the fact that "there is no independent judiciary that provides necessary guarantees for the press".

Bouchrine said that the independent press in Morocco played "a big role in defending the freedom of press" and "producing professional media output". He explained that the authority sees itself "above questioning" and "not subject to the rules of the democratic game in which the media are expected to play the role of a controller". He also said that the Moroccan judiciary "is not independent, not competent and not fair and [just] follows the orders of the authority".

Ba'yu said that "professional, strong" media would not be "easily found" in Libya. He added that "the hasty" launch of Al-Libiyah satellite TV and other newspapers did not mean there was "a real plan to build press that is stronger than the existing one, which, un! doubtedly, is below expectations".

Source: Al- Jazeera TV, Doha, in Arabic 2200 gmt 22 Aug 07



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