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Moroccan minister hails reforms

GMT 14:45 2013 Sunday ,17 March

Arab Today, arab today Moroccan minister hails reforms

El-Khalfi believes there is no future without free press
Rabat - Manal Wahbi

El-Khalfi believes there is no future without free press Rabat - Manal Wahbi Morocco's Communication Minister and government spokesperson Mustapha el-Khalfi has hailed the gains which the media made through the constitutional reforms adopted by the country. The reforms were approved in a referendum in July 2011 as part of a series of political reforms in a speech by King Mohammed VI's historic on March 9 2011. Speaking on the subject of media development and changes which Arab societies are undergoing in Doha at the seventh al-Jazeera Forum, the minister hailed the new Moroccan constitution's media stipulations. The constitution, he said, grants the rights to free speech, publication and access to information as well as safeguarding press freedom and prohibiting the imposition of any restrictions on it. He said that Morocco's new press draft law removes incarceration as a potential sentence and that an elected "national press council" will be created. Also in accordance with the new constitution, new media regulations had to be adopted to ensure linguistic, cultural and political plurality in the media. Bills have been drafted to "translate" constitutional reforms into legislation, el-Khalfi said, and are now under study by a committee chaired by an independent figure. Speaking about electronic journalism, the minister referred to a "boom" in the industry. "There are around 500 Websites in Morocco," he said "It's a pioneering sector in the region and the continent because of the high level of Internet penetration." Morocco has Africa's highest Internet penetration rate at over 52 percent. He said electronic journalism is "a reality we must learn to live with" and referred to talks which he conducted a year ago with Website owners and which concluded that this medium must receive legal recognition and state support. He said a committee had been formed which is currently completing a document known as "the White Book" about developing e-journalism. El-Khalfi said 2012 was "a testing year" for the ministry as it worked to apply constitutional reforms in media. "No journalists were jailed in 2012," he said, praising the Moroccan judiciary for its handling of cases involving the media. The minister said media governing bodies "encouraged journalists to develop ethical monitoring mechanisms in line with globally-recognised professional ethics, and expanding the space for freedom." These measures, he said, resulted in a more mature level of discourse, but was accompanied by "tensions that were concluded in a manner that did not damage constitutional gains and the will to translate them into laws." He also referred to an agreement signed between the government and the Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FMEJ) which was aimed at providing newspapers with economic backing to help them face the challenges of the "revolution in technology." The government spokesperson also told attendees of the government initiative to draft "scope statements" for audiovisual media, similar to ones used in France and Britain. These statement, he said, inspired "democratic dialogue and political action" for a year. In the end, conclusions were reached that included creating an ethics committee inside media establishments, laying down rules regulating dealings with production companies and respecting the principle of equal coverage in a pluralistic system. At the state's own news agency, el-Khalfi said a committee of journalists was formed and tasked with overseeing the appointment of journalists and adopting a charter of professional ethics, among other things. According to el-Khalfi, the democratic movement in the Arab world can have no future "without a free and responsible press." He said the region is faced with the challenge of balancing freedom and responsibility and creating elected bodies capable of advancing press freedom, to which he referred as "the oxygen of democracy."

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