wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy  Privacy
06RABAT507 2006-03-21 18:14:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  


pdf how-to read a cable

1. (C) Summary: Minister-Delegate for Foreign Affairs
Fassi Fihri and Communications Minister Benabdallah told
Ambassador Riley March 20 that media outlets accepting MEPI
grants or other foreign funding would constitute a violation
of Moroccan law, punishable by fines and imprisonment. They
emphasized that while the GOM supports MEPI, it is illegal in
Morocco for publications to receive direct subsidies from
foreign sources, but hastened to add that the prohibition
does not apply to the types of training and invitational
travel opportunities that the U.S. has provided to
journalists for many years. Ambassador Riley explained the
objectives of the MEPI initiative and assured the GOM that
any applications from Morocco for the regional MEPI program
would be carefully evaluated to ensure that proposals funded
do not violate local law. End Summary.

2. (C) Ambassador Riley met with Minister-Delegate for
Foreign Affairs Taieb Fassi Fihri and Minister of
Communications Mohamed Benabdallah March 20 at Fassi Fihri,s
request. The DCM accompanied the Ambassador, and MFA
Americas Director Abdallah Tazi was also present. Fassi
Fihri said that the King had asked that he and Benabdallah
meet with the Ambassador to discuss reports that the U.S.
sought to provide direct subsidies to newspapers and media
outlets in the Middle East/North Africa region, including
Morocco, because the independent press needs support to
compete with government-owned press. Fassi Fihri said that
he was surprised by the press reports because he had not
previously seen the MEPI program offer direct subsidies to
the media, although Morocco and the U.S. had worked closely
together to create the Foundation for the Future which would
provide support to NGOs. He asked for consultation between
the USG and GOM before MEPI-funded programs of this nature
are announced to the public.

3. (C) The Ambassador replied that the U.S. did not intend
to provide direct subsidies to Moroccan media, and observed
that the U.S. has long provided training and other types of
assistance, including exchange visits to the United States,
to Moroccan journalists. He provided Benabdallah and Fassi
Fihri copies of the MEPI Request for Applications for grant
assistance. The Ambassador and DCM reviewed the details and
objectives of the RFA. The DCM noted that a March 14
briefing on the request for proposals provided by a
representative of the regional MEPI office in Tunis had
generated a strong positive response from Moroccan media
representatives present, although the representative of the
Moroccan press union has voiced negative views (reftel).

4. (C) Fassi Fihri again emphasized the importance of
consultation on MEPI initiatives in Morocco. He said that he
understood the U.S. goal of strengthening independent media
in places where the media is controlled by the government.
In Morocco, however, the press is essentially political,
Fassi Fihri said, with many publications controlled by
political parties. (Comment: implicit in Fassi Fihri,s
remark was the suggestion that U.S. grants to such
publications would be viewed as a subsidy to the associated
political party.) Morocco supports MEPI, Fassi Fihri
underlined, and "we are partners in this process. We want to
see how to ensure the maximum possibility of success to
initiatives like this."

5. (C) Benabdallah then cited the legal concern raised by
journalists in the March 14 MEPI workshop, pointing out that
it is a violation of Moroccan law, punishable by fine and
imprisonment, for owners of Moroccan media to accept direct
or indirect support from foreign government or non-government
sources. Benabdallah pointed out, as he has in the past,
that the government intends to reform the press law to
eliminate any prison sentences for press law violations, but
for now the law remains in force.

6. (C) Benabdallah described the current GOM practice of
providing subsidies to newspapers in Morocco. The subsidies
go to independent newspapers as well as those allied with
political parties to support press development, without any
political conditionalities or connotations. He said that the
subsidies, restricted in the past to certain publications,
are now being generalized and granted to fund projects that
will help modernize and restructure press operations. The
GOM has a budget of 50 million dirhams (about $5 million) for
this program, Benabdallah said. He said that the grant
awards are determined by a committee composed of five
government representatives and five press representatives.

7. (C) Ambassador Riley noted that the U.S. has long
provided exchange visits and other training opportunities to
Moroccan journalists. "No problem," Benabdallah replied,
pointing out that training did not involve the receipt of
funds. Benabdallah said that training, including the
provision of travel expenses, was allowable whether provided
in Morocco or abroad. Benabdallah observed that the premise
of the MEPI program is that independent press in the region
is disadvantaged. In Morocco, he said, that is a false
premise, since subsidies go to state-owned as well as
independent press. Benabdallah summarized that both the
legal and political constraints he and Fassi Fihri had
described impact the proposed MEPI grant program.

8. (C) The new press law, Benabdallah said, will create a
National Press Council - an independent organ to manage
development of the press in Morocco as well as ethical
standards. In the future, it would be possible for the U.S.
government to work directly with this organization, which
would not be an arm of the government. Both the journalist
syndicate and media owners have asked that aid be provided
via a public organization, and not directly to media outlets,
he said. The national press council will have 15 members -
five representatives of media owners, five of the
journalists, syndicate, and five civil society members. The
DCM noted that resources will be available this year for
grants to the media. He asked Benabdallah when the
legislation was likely to be passed and the new national
press council formed. Benabdallah replied, "If the council
sees the light of day this year, fine; if not it will be next

9. (C) Fassi Fihri again emphasized that the U.S. should
not interpret the meeting as a negative reaction to MEPI, but
rather as an explanation of Moroccan constraints. He
expressed his view that the U.S. will receive a number of
grant proposals from Moroccan media outlets, and hoped that
the Moroccan government would not be in the embarrassing
position of having to intervene in enforcing current law.
"How can we avoid that?" he asked.

10. (C) Ambassador Riley assured Fassi Fihri that proposals
are not automatically accepted as proposed, and are subject
to discussion and negotiation with the applicant. He
emphasized that the funds available were for use throughout
the region, not solely in Morocco. He said that the U.S.
would closely evaluate proposals received and make sure that

any activity we fund does not violate Moroccan law through a
careful dialogue with the applicants.

11. (C) Comment: This meeting highlights the challenge of
addressing freedom of expression in Morocco. Benabdallah has
talked for many months about the proposed press reform
legislation, but has made little visible progress toward
finalizing the legislation and submitting it to parliament.
Support to the prospective National Press Council is a
component of the Mission,s plan to support democratic reform
in Morocco, but progress has been stalled by the delay in
moving the legislation forward. We should take advantage of
high level dialogue - including Fassi Fihri,s forthcoming
meetings in Washington on the Western Sahara - to emphasize
the importance the U.S. attaches to freedom of expression and
the advantages to moving forward on Morocco,s long-promised
press reform and decriminalization of libel. End comment.
Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website;