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Al-Jazeera TV programme on obstacles facing press freedom in Maghreb

BBC Monitoring

Al-Jazeera Maghreb's "Issue of the Night" on 10 June, part of the 2200 gmt news bulletin, was devoted to the issue of "freedom of the press in the Arab Maghreb region and the obstacles facing it". The presenter started his programme by reporting the announcement of the setting up in Rabat [Morocco] of the Arab Observatory for the Freedom of the Press and Media. This watchdog will report on any violation of the freedom of the press in the Arab world. This announcement came on the sidelines of the news conference that focused on the current situation of the press in the Arab world in general and the Arab Maghreb in particular, he added.

    An unidentified reporter said that this watchdog "will monitor all violations in the exercise of the profession of journalists" and "will release an annual report on the situation of the Arab press". He added that the watchdog is "a new mechanism to look at violations through Arab eyes".

    The reporter then said that Morocco, the host of this conference, is among the countries that have reduced their influence on the press and liberalized the media, yet "journalists view the fines they are subject to in their conflicts with the government as more dangerous than any abusive law".

    On Tunisia, he further added, "journalists complain about the limitation of their freedom and the authorities' control of the media, including the internet".

    On Algeria, the reporter said that there is not much difference apart from details, and that the private press remains almost the only source of information, and that it is trying "to keep some margin of freedom despite the harassment it is facing from the authorities under various excuses, namely those to do with security and what is termed the red lines".

    As regards Libya, the reporter said most of the press reflects the official view. "The local view of the press considers it as a means to reflect society's concerns; thus it has to be managed by society". He also stressed the emergence of the private press.

    On Mauritania, the reporter said "despite the short experience of the Mauritanian press and its modest means, the titles of newspapers and publications varied and exceeded scores". He also stressed that the press has a big margin of freedom despite the fact that some Mauritanian journalists are portrayed as "the poets of the tribe due to their relation with the side, the person, or the party that secure their financing. Many journalists faced trials due to the new press law", he added.

    The guests interviewed tonight are, here in the studio, Mahmoud Maarouf, the head of the Union of the Arab Journalist in the Maghreb;, from Nouakchott Mohamed El-Mokhtar Ould Fal, the head of the Independent Press Union in Mauritania; and from Paris Robert Menard, the secretary-general of Reporters without Borders.

    The first question is put to Mahmoud who confirms there is a difference between this observatory and other media bodies and organizations. This is an Arab organization and thus it represents all the media organizations and bodies in the Arab world, he said. He also that this observatory would better represent Arab media and journalists, as opposed to foreign media and press organizations which, under the pretext of defending press freedom, would try to put this freedom in a political context to serve other purposes.

    From Nouakchott, Mohamed El-Mokhtar Ould Fal said the press in the Arab Maghreb, though part of the same region, has different concerns. Every country has its special environment to deal with, he added. He further said that the press in Mauritania is free yet it does not have any government support, either financial or other.

    Speaking in French, Robert Menard considers that "most of the countries in this region do not respect liberties and freedom of the press". Based on this conclusion, he said, this observatory should impartially denounce all violations and call things with their real names. He also said "we should express our solidarity and help the victims of these violations against freedom of the press". "More than 180 journalists have been killed in Iraq; i.e. 180 families are in need of help. We should support these families", he stressed.

    Mahmoud says the current revolution in the audio-visual sector, the press, liberties and human rights should not be without regulation, adding that "I believe the Arab authorities are allowing this kind of anarchy and this kind of press to affect the reputation of journalists in the first place". He said: "We cannot have a democratic and independent press without a democratic and independent society."

    Mohamed El-Mokhtar Ould Fal said: "We cannot separate the press from the political, economic and social realities." He added that "despite the government's promise for a more democratic state and transparent elections, yet this political move is not reflected on the Mauritanian press". In fact, he added, there is still little investment in this field which leaves the journalist subject to temptations. He also said "Arabs, because of their culture, do not love freedom, contrary to the West, and prefer the concept of justice. Therefore, freedom is not one of our priorities".

    Robert Menard said that "what happened after the military coup in Mauritania has changed things". He added that "the press is freer than it was under the former rule, yet it is facing other forms of problems".

     On Morocco, he talked about "the current democratic process" and said that justice was being used "to impose huge fines" on journalists. He also said that there are still "red lines" such as religion, the king, and Western Sahara. All these issues obstruct the freedom of the press, he added.

    Source: Al-Jazeera TV, Doha, in Arabic 2200 gmt 10 Jul 07



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