The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Morocco's Nichane folding

A Nichane cover on torture

This morning I wrote a post about the refusal of Moroccan authorities to allow Kamel Jendoubi, a Tunisian activist, to enter the country, and saw it as a sign of regression:

One of the striking things, having spent a couple of months in Morocco every year for the past five years, is that this lack of progress / regression is becoming palpable. The disappearance of media outlets like Le Journal or Jarida al-Oula and abundance (or hegemony) of shallow magazines and newspapers constantly engaging in regime propaganda is starting to suffocate the atmosphere for those interested in politics. 

That was before I found out that the groundbreaking darija magazine Nichane is closing because of a sustained advertising boycott. In doing so it will avoid the fate of Le Journal, which became saddled with debts after over eight years of struggling with advertising boycotts. While Le Journal was pathbreaking in its coverage of political and business, Nichane's main innovation was that it was a secularist magazine written in Moroccan dialect rather than Modern Standard Arabic, unlike most Arabic publications. I wasn't quite convinced by its philosophy that darija is a more democratic language that bypasses the debate of linguistic identity in a country where Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish co-exist, but it was certainly innovative and thought-provoking.

It's mind-boggling that the Moroccan regime, which has banked so much on an image of democratization both domestically and abroad for the past decade, is acting so aggressively towards independent media. And the growth of other supposedly independent magazines that tow the line, such as Actuel and Le Temps, or even the taming of Rachid Nini and his (admitedly horrible) al-Massae, is making for a soporific, cheerleading media scene where there used to be vibrancy. But the damage may be even worse than merely press freedom: the closure of magazines is beginning to look like a direct consequence of the all-devouring appetite of the monarchy in the business sphere. From Le Monde:

Le magazine marocain Nichane, version arabophone de l'hebdomadaire francophoneTelQuel, ferme ses portes. Cette décision, annoncée vendredi 1er octobre, pour cause de faillite, est le résultat, précise le groupe TelQuel dans un communiqué, "d'un boycott publicitaire persistant initié par le holding royal ONA/SNI (…), étendu à de multiples grands annonceurs étatiques, paraétatiques et proches du pouvoir".

That quote, in italics, says Nichane close because "of a sustained advertising boycott initiated by the royal holding company ONA/SNI (and) spread to many state, para-state advertisers and those close to the regime."

It's a damning statement on the dominant, even atrophying, role that the king's business interests are playing in the economic and political field. After all, a magazine is not just part of the fourth estate, it's also a business that employs people, buys services, and can help deliver a clearer picture of an emerging economy. It's already a bad thing to be a country with no freedom of the press, but it is an altogether worse thing to be a country with no transparency on its economic governance where the population is beholden to artificial monopolies. In the Nichane case, you have the combination of both.

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