May 04, 2006
Morocco, Journos and Media bis, a reply
This is a bit tardy, but Issandr Bey of the Arabist had a comment on my somewhat ill-tempered take on the Moroccan journal, Le Journal Hebdo libel case judgment as well as more generally on the media there and some related developments.
As a distraction from working on a market proposal which I haven’t got the proper information on regardless, I thought I might expand on my comment on The Arabist reply.
The Lounsbury over at Aqoul had a response to [the judgment]. Ustaz Lounsbury is, methinks, too tough on Le Journal. Yes, it is sensationalistic. But it has also broken many taboos in the Moroccan press and provides a useful service.
First, of course, I take umbrage at Ustaz. Sidi, Bey, anything but Ustaz. It brings back terrible memories of Cairo, the only place on earth I actively loathe.
Leaving aside my dislike of Ustaz, on the second rate judgment I can only repeat that I am no media critic, my judgment on the Journal is based on my preferences as a pragmatic consumer with a profound dislike for the sensationalistic press.
Leaving this aside, Issandr has a reasonable observation with respect to le Journal:
I think the problem with Le Journal is that it is too bent on being political for a news-magazine: you can see that by how, after having literally created its own genre in Morocco, it is losing ground to the better-produced, more “fun”, less politicized Tel Quel (which nonetheless is still a quite critical publication and has had some great scoops). This is why Le Journal sells only 17,000 compared to Tel Quel’s 26,500 …. It is too political to cast a wide net. Essentially, it thinks of itself as an opposition group rather than a publication. I actually think it’s good for the country, which needs an avant-garde to push reform even if occasionally does so irresponsibly ….This is particularly true when political parties are not very active. But, as someone who has started and run ailing liberal publications, I can tell you that you also need to reach for an audience beyond political junkies. Tel Quel does that well. Le Journal does not. But calling it second-rate is unfair, particularly in a Moroccan context (I grew up with Le Matin du Sahara).
Well, Issandr is a journo, I am not. I am not even a Moroccan, so as a consumer I am off target re Le Journal. Ah, Le Matin is the incredibly tedious quasi-official French language daily of Morocco.
On that point, the comparison Issandr Bey gives is that Le Journal is not 2nd rate, but rather Le Matin is. In fact Le Matin is fifth rate and it escapes me as to why anyone reads it, except perhaps out of sheer boredom, or for remedial literacy drills. Even then I am hard pressed to understand reading it (Le Matin – which by the way was queerly taken over by an eccentric Saudi who doesn’t even know the paper’s language –French- which makes him a queer owner/editor).
This being said, Tel Quel certainly seems to have captured word of mouth in certain circles – the Embassy types always seem to be picking up their conversation subject matter from Tel Quel. I personally don’t care for it, but then of course I am a different kind of media consumer. On the other hand, when attending the various Embassy and Consular functions, I found I had to start leading Tel Quel simply to follow the political talk.
Another item to cover, although I commented on this at The Arabist is this comment re my side comment on liberalisation:
Also, The Lounsbury mentions the upcoming liberalization of the broadcast media. We’ll have to wait and see (licenses are about to be announced any time now) but (having met with the people running the royal commission that is organizing all this and talking to people in the sector) I would be ready to bet we’re likely to see commercial projects that won’t push the political boundaries. A lot of them will be big Moroccan money, multinationals like Meditel (a mobile phone company that is apparently interested in expanding into media) and of course the obligatory Gulf money (there’s talk of Walid bin Talal being involved in some project).
Although Issandr and I touched on this at the Arabist, I thought some expanded thoughts were worth my while (if not anyone else’s but then by abusive relationship with you poor sods who read me is well-known).
My comment was intended really with a long-view. I am also, of course, not a journo nor even a media critic, so my commentary in these areas are really driven by either my own idiosyncratic consumption tastes or my business interest (in the meaning, what I am interested in re development of media business in the abstract, not actual economic interest in a direct sense).
I see nothing wrong, in grosso modo, with big money in the media game and even better to have multinationals. If, as I think, the media market with advertising and the like is just getting mature or developed enough to support real commercial ventures, I believe that relatively lower cost media, such as radio can become competitive, and that in the longer run, this is healthier for a genuine ‘free media / press’ than fringy media such as Tel Quel etc. which are after all largely read by the elite and educated urbanites (although in the Moroccan coastal cities, Casa etc. a surprisingly large percentage of people of modest means read French perfectly well, and old copies of the news mags do circulate round).
I would note, for the record, that Meditel – the second Moroccan telecoms operator, holder of the brand-spanking-new land license as well as the apparently just newly profitable 2nd mobile license – is controlled by Iberian telecom interests, although it has a healthy Moroccan ownership (including private equity, good placement that, going to make a mint when they list).
More multinational interest in the media sector I think long-term is a good thing, big outside private money (if not the usual corruptish French parastatal hand-in-glove with the Makhzen interests) will have less patience for some of the idiocy of the past and will help develop the sector.
I am far less impressed with the potential for Gulf money, as would be most Moroccans who have largely contempt for Khaliji mucking around in these areas (for all it would do some good to get some Khaliji cash flowing into productive investments in other areas).
That being said, I understand the point with respect to a role for scrappy boundary pushers for all that in the next couple of years I would prefer that boundaries not be pushed to the point of provoking reaction. My personal sense is that a lot of good, solid, interesting things can be done without much of the sensationalist boundary pushing done by Tel Quel and the like. I prefer to see the Moroccan press deepen a bit – take a breath, as it were – before pushing again. Pushing for the sake of pushing, well it has an irresponsible ideologue activist feel.
However, my natural conservatism may be off-base here.
Further, on this, let me meander over to a comment and reply to Issandr’s reply to my on-site reply:
I agree you need a stable, profitable media industry to have a truly thriving press. (That was a bit my point in comparing Tel Quel and Le Journal — politics is not enough, you also need a compelling product.)
But when countries go through transition, the media usually leads in changing the limits of what is permissible to say out loud. Le Journal fulfilled that function, and particularly in this case since it was accusing the Moroccan government of pointlessly bribing a researcher to produce pro-Rabat research on the Sahara, the most sensitive issue of them all.
The frames of reference are going to need to change for Moroccans if there is going to be a political settlement in which Morocco gets out with dignity. Shouting the same slogans as in the 1980s won’t solve the problem. By generating a debate there, Le Journal can help start something that a real commercial publication probabl wouldn’t do.
A fair point is made, which in part smacks my above conservatism up-side the head, re media pushing the boundaries.
I would further concede the point re Le Journal helping move the discussion of the Western Sahara (which, I may add, I personally believe makes sense as part of Morocco as everything else I see leading to some nasty little exploitive dictatorship, either Mauretania style or under the Algerian thumb; and the population migrating North for work anyway, but with less rights) from the utter childishness of the current official Moroccan position to something more up-to-date and adult.
Now, to comment on something which gets into areas I tend not to touch on:
…. My jaw hit the floor when I read [a le Monde piece claiming Moulay Hicham, the “Red Prince” would buy out the journal]. First, Le Journal is already frequently alleged to be doing Moulay Hisham’s work, which I don’t think is true — or perhaps just hope is not true. …… But this issue is more important than Le Journal: it’s about the stability of the Moroccan throne.
Moulay Hisham — genial, highly educated, liberal — seems on paper like he would be a better, more progressive king than Muhammad VI. That may be true. The problem is that he says it out loud, or at least hints at it. This is not something that the third-in-line for the crown should be bragging about, for instance in a conference when he declared that the monarchy should reconsider the way power is inherited a few years ago. And it’s not only that Moulay Hisham has a claim to the throne, but also that he has characteristics that would make him appealing to Westerners (and neo-cons especially) and that he is super-connected: he is related to the Saudi royal family (and hence Lebanon’s Sunni political dynasties) and a very good friend of his cousin Walid bin Talal, one of the richest men in the world. In other words, he is a somebody (although I’m not sure on much of a somebody he is considered inside Morocco.) Paying Le Journal’s bills, while commendable, is a dangerous move — particularly if the libel fine was essentially a palace plot as Le Journal claims, since Moulay Hisham would be directly going against the palace.
Well, first let me note that when an organisation asked me about adding Moulay Hicham to its board, I had to hesitate in answering. The fellow has baggage. Above all inside Morocco in my opinion.
I also have my doubts on the “liberality” (at least in the proper sense of the term) of Moulay Hicham. Strikes me as the kind put on to get journos to write about it, and not something operative. His real advantage over M6 is that he would likely be focused and more of a worker than M6, who rumour has it, is not the hardest working King in the world. That is not such a bad trait, except the system tends to grind to a halt on key issues without Royal oversight. Habits.
I think Issandr’s neo-Con reference is foolish and should have been edited out, but true enough Hicham has superficial attractiveness to Westerners not well versed in the region (most in short), although my old “Don’t trust him just because he speaks good English” pops out. But then M6 is not unattractive, plus already generated an heir.
Regardless, the offer fell through, but it is interesting to see these kinds of connexions highlighted.
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Sorry to take so long to reply, Lounsbury Pasha (Is that better? Otherwise let's make it Sidi Lounsbury and keep it Moroccan rather than Egyptian). I've been traveling.
Point well-taken on the "neo-con" thing. It was more shorthand for "Westerners who have no qualms about meddling in other countries with little awareness of possible consequences and are likely to put their trust in an Ahmed Chalabi type figure because he buys his suits on Saville Row and has shiny degrees." In any case, should Moulay Hisham's ambitions evolve, I don't think the result would be good for Morocco, even if might work more and jet-ski less.
Otherwise I think we are generally in agreement, with you being more "pro-business" and me being more lefty, which is probably true on most topics.
Posted by: issandr at May 13, 2006 06:29 AM
I can live with Lounsbury Pasha. It appeals to my corrupt expat sensibilities.
That aside, I agree. There is something about Moulay Hicham that feels wrong. I suspect his liberalism would not survive collision with his self-interests in power.
However, can we get M6 to Jet Ski less or at least push down decision making to a capable member in Palace? Open question.
I saw that the licenses are out, but haven't had the time to look at this as my employers have fucked up something big that could get MarGov pissed off. I work for cretins, of course. Pity, it could have been a profitable way to live off of the oppressed Moroccan ratepayer's back - but at least providing real services.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at May 14, 2006 04:09 PM