More on Le Journal

My op-ed on the closure of Morocco's Le Journal Hebdomadaire is here, at the Guardian's Comment is Free site. It's a personal appreciation of the role it played in the last decade and a half, as well as a note of concern at the direction Morocco has taken in recent years.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned the magazine's closure, and I'm sure more organizations will soon follow suit.

Morocco's Le Journal Hebdomadaire to close

The last issue?I just received very sad news from Abou Bakr Jamai, the editor behind one of Morocco's most courageous publications and one that had been a symbol of the opening that began in the mid-1990s under King Hassan II and petered out under the rather aimless reign of his son, Muhammad VI. Bou Bakr wrote:

After all your prediction about the end of Le Journal has been proven on the money. Le Journal Hebdo has been shut down. Yesterday, 5, yes 5, bailiffs showed up armed with a court decision to take over Le Journal Hebdomadaire and the company behind it, Trimedia.. What is still unclear to us is the legal argument that led the judge from the receivership procedure of Mediatrust to act against trimedia. The only link is the title:"Le Journal Hebdomadaire" but the title is owned by the publisher himself not the company. Although we are waiting to get a clearer legal picture, we can already officially announce the death of Le Journal Hebdomaire.  

The story of Le Journal  is in some sense the story of trying to hold to account the new Moroccan monarchy, which has received lavish foreign aid and diplomatic support for a moderate image it never fully earned. We've mentioned Le Journal frequently here, and Bou Bakr became over the last decade more than a magazine editor, but also a leading dissident, as the New Yorker aptly captured in its October 2006 profile, The Crusader [PDF, 8MB].

The end has been predicted as near for some time, particularly as the regime imposed an advertising boycott from Morocco's big business and Le Journal became what would be the first in a series of publications to receive life-threatening libel fines. The paper lost its appeal in 2006 against that libel fine and faced the threat of having its assets confiscated ever since. Jamai himself has been in exile for the last few years to avoid his personal property being seized (and to protect his family.) Bou Bakr and his partners were in negotiations to sell the publication this summer, in view of clearing debt and launching a new one after a year or so, but the deal was blocked at the last minute (probably due to palace influence.)

Amidst other developments in the treatment of the press, in the rise of police brutality and torture once again, and the continued makhzenisation of a once dignified opposition, it paints a sad picture of Morocco as the little country that could have changed and become a model for the rest of the Arab world, but didn't.

More on this later.

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