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Viewing cable 08RABAT21, MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS DISCUSSES PRESS CODE, VIDEO

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08RABAT21 2008-01-09 06:06 2010-12-11 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
VZCZCXYZ0003
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRB #0021/01 0090619
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 090619Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7987
INFO RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 4627
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0530
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 2259
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 0699
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3483
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 4886
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 9465
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 3806
C O N F I D E N T I A L RABAT 000021

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/PPD AND NEA/MAG

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/03/2018
TAGS: PGOV KPAO SCUL OIIP KIRC PHUM KISL MO
SUBJECT: MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS DISCUSSES PRESS CODE, VIDEO
PIRACY AND MODERATE MUSLIM MESSAGING WITH AMBASSADOR

Classified by Ambassador Thomas T. Riley for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Ambassador Riley paid an introductory call on
January 4, 2008 with Khaled Naciri, the new Moroccan Minister of
Communications and Government Spokesman. Naciri stated that passing
a revised, more liberal press code was one of his top policy
priorities. He defended, however, the need to maintain prison
sentences in rare cases as a "precaution," arguing in particular that
publication of anything that might be deemed a "provocation" against
Islam could reinforce fundamentalism and destabilize Moroccan
democracy. He pledged that the Fassi government would not limit
freedom of expression, and described plans to further liberalize the
audiovisual sector. Naciri assured the Ambassador that Morocco was
committed to combating video piracy, recognizing the importance of
the film industry to the Moroccan economy. He also discussed
Government of Morocco (GOM) efforts to promote a moderate vision of
Islam in Morocco and with Arab communities abroad via a public
television and radio network focused on religion. A former
international visitor program (IVP) participant, Naciri expressed
appreciation for USG efforts to promote professionalism and ethical
journalistic practices in Morocco through training and exchange
programs. End summary.

------------------------------
Promoting Freedom of the Press
------------------------------

2. (C) Said Sihida, head of the minister's cabinet, and an aide
joined from the Ministry of Communications (MOC); the PAO and IO
accompanied the Ambassador. The Ambassador opened by asking Naciri
for an update on the long-promised revised press code, noting that
its passage was a top USG policy priority. Naciri stated that this
was one of his two top priorities as well (the other being
liberalization of the audiovisual sector - see para 6 below). He
stated that the previous government had hoped to finalize and
introduce it to parliament last year, but the government had run out
of time because of parliamentary elections. Naciri repeated a
familiar refrain that the Ministry of Communications had been caught
in the middle between the competing interests of the media community
(which wanted to see the draft further liberalized), and the
Ministries of Interior and Justice (which had taken a more
conservative stance). Naciri stated that he had already held
consultations with all the key stakeholders, and was in the process
of collecting final comments.

3. (C) Naciri's goal was to reach consensus on a final draft text
that would be more liberal than the existing one, but which would
preserve key "precautions," including prison sentences for a very few
"extreme cases," notably concerning the three red-lines: Islam, the
monarchy and "territorial integrity" (read: Western Sahara).
Journalists had expressed concern that the provisions of the new law
were too vague, but Naciri argued it was not possible to have an
exact recipe for what constituted a transgression. Nevertheless,
"you will see that the new text will be a step forward . . . a very,
very liberal text," he stated, taking into account the views of all
the stakeholders, and in which prisons sentences would be very
limited.

4. (C) Naciri stated that application of the law was as important as
the law itself. The new press code should be considered in the
context of a Moroccan Government commitment to openness and
democracy. He noted that prison sentences existed in the French
press code; they were never applied, but were nevertheless maintained
as a precaution. He stated that fundamentalism was one of the main
political forces confronting the Arab world today; Arab governments
could not allow this phenomenon to be reinforced, and provocations
against Islam, he stated, fed the demagoguery of the fundamentalists.
"We must not allow democracy to be used by those who want to
destabilize it," he stated, which was the underlying reason for the
existence of the red-lines in the press code. Every day, Naciri
stated, there were examples of transgressions of the red-lines in the
press, which the Moroccan Government chose not to prosecute. This
demonstrated that, regardless the text of the press code, the
government was committed politically and philosophically to
permitting the maximum possible freedom of the press; "This
government will not threaten freedom of expression," he averred.

5. (C) The Ambassador stated that Morocco was known internationally
for its advances in the area of press freedom, but it was important
to remain vigilant. He commented that international organizations
and non-governmental watchdog groups evaluated press freedom as much
by the written law as by its application; this was a reality that

underscored the need for a revised press code. Naciri responded that
the GOM was endeavoring to strike a balance. He reminded the
Ambassador that he was first and foremost a human rights activist,
and that he understood the point of view of such NGOs. "I am imbued
in the human rights philosophy," he stated, which "does not change
just because I am a minister." (Note: Naciri previously participated
in an international visitor program focused on human rights issues.
End note.)

6. (C) Naciri stated that his second priority was the further
liberalization of the audiovisual sector. In this regard, he
expected that the Higher Audiovisual Communications Authority (HACA)
would be issuing additional licenses for private television and radio
stations this year. He also discussed the planned launch of a
publicly-financed Amazigh (Berber) television channel in the coming
months. Naciri stated that the core team was already in place, with
plans to begin broadcasting six to seven hours per day, but that the
Minister of Finance had not yet approved the expensive budget for the
project.

-----------------------------------
Video Piracy Bad for Moroccan Image
-----------------------------------

7. (C) Naciri, who heads a governmental committee on the enforcement
of intellectual property rights (IPR), stated that the promotion of
the film industry in Morocco was an additional priority. He
acknowledged receipt of a letter from the Ambassador expressing
concern about the availability in Moroccan markets of a high-quality
pirated version of Ridley Scott's latest film "American Gangster."
Noting the key economic role played by the film industry in Morocco,
the Ambassador reiterated his concern that this pirated video went on
sale while Scott was filming his latest film in Morocco. He also
related a conversation he had had with a well-known Moroccan singer,
now living in Europe, who was one of the most popular singers in
Morocco but had sold only ten legitimate copies of his latest CD in
the whole country. He expressed concern that Moroccan artists could
not survive without moving to Europe.

8. (C) Naciri stated flatly that Moroccan did not want to be
associated with this sort of piracy. Naciri assured the Ambassador
that the Moroccan security forces were on board regarding the need to
enforce IPR.

--------------------------------------
Using the Airwaves to Combat Extremism
--------------------------------------

9. (C) Expanding on his earlier discussion of the threat of Islamic
fundamentalism, Naciri raised GOM efforts to promote a moderate
vision of Islam on the government-owned Mohamed VI television and
radio network, which is focused on religious issues. Such
programming was intended to counterbalance fundamentalist messages
about Islam that were circulating widely in Morocco via Arab
satellite networks such as al-Jazeera, as well as from Europe,
advanced by preachers of a "catastrophic vision of Islam." "We are
in a difficult battle," he stated. The strategic objective of the
GOM was to promote, via Mohamed VI television and radio, an
alternative mindset, in order to influence Moroccans in Morocco, and
Arabs living in Europe, to embrace moderation. (Note: Mohamed VI
television and radio, part of the government-owned television and
radio corporation SNRT, was founded two years ago as a venue for the
GOM to broadcast moderate perspectives on Islam. It is available via
both local and satellite broadcast, and is piped in to mosques
throughout the country, allowing the government to provide AV
content, such as sermons and lessons on Islam, that conform with its
moderate vision. End note.)

--------------------------------------
Promoting Professionalism in the Media
--------------------------------------

10. (SBU) IO provided Naciri a briefing on USG efforts to promote
professionalism and the ethical practice of journalism in Morocco.
Over the past ten years, the USG had sponsored the participation of
roughly 100 journalists in a variety of exchange programs in the
U.S., the IO noted, as well as in reporting tours abroad in places
such as Pakistan and Mali. The USG had also provided in-country
training, conducted by American and local experts, on issues ranging
from investigative reporting, to journalistic ethics, to citizen and
electronic journalism. Naciri expressed enthusiasm for these
programs, and hoped to reinforce and expand them.


-------
Comment
-------

11. (C) Naciri's comments on the revised press code confirm concerns
expressed to us recently by senior members of the Moroccan press
establishment that short-term progress is unlikely, and reinforce our
impression that nothing will happen absent a clear expression of
royal will. Notwithstanding Naciri's assurances that a new draft
would be very liberal, the prison sentences he pledged to maintain
are a non-starter for local publishers, editors and journalists.
Moreover, given that Moroccan law continues to be deployed on a
sporadic but regular basis to stifle press freedom, it is unlikely
that anyone in the local press community would be assuaged by
Naciri's statement that prison sentences will be used sparingly. We
will continue to press this issue at every opportunity with senior
GOM officials. Naciri's statements on promoting moderate Muslim
messaging demonstrate the GOM commitment to creatively employing its
own substantial resources to combat extremism. End comment.

Riley