Morocco: Another Magazine Bites the Dust

The infamous 2006 cover of Nichane that sparked a two-month ban

When Nichane launched in September of 2006, it quickly became the country's most popular Arabic-language weekly, its pages filled with taboo-tackling stories not unlike those of its sister publication, Francophone TelQuel. As the only weekly magazine published in the local Arabic dialect, darija, Nichane filled a niche in Morocco's ever-growing publishing industry, covering topics from a point of view usually reserved for the country's many French-language publications.

From the outset, Nichane was plagued with troubles. Just four months after it launched, the magazine was hit with a two month ban, and its editor-in-chief, Driss Ksikes, and journalist Sana El-Aji fined and given three-year suspended sentences after the magazine published an article on popular Moroccan street jokes. In 2009, Moroccan police destroyed 100,000 copies of the magazine in retaliation for printing an unauthorized approval poll of King Mohammed VI. Now, following a long-running advertiser boycott led by the royally-owned ONA Holding Group, Nichane is shutting its doors once and for all, unable to remain afloat without advertising.

Moroccan bloggers have generally been supportive of Nichane over the years, with even those who oppose the magazine's approach supporting free speech. In 2009, the “Je Suis 9%” (I'm a 9%”) campaign made international headlines as bloggers protested the seizure of Nichane and TelQuel. And now, many bloggers are lamenting the magazine's closure.

Issandr El Amrani of The Arabist expresses bewilderment at the circumstances that lead to Nichane‘s closure:

It's mind-boggling that the Moroccan regime, which has banked so much on an image of democratization both domestically and abroad for the past decade, is acting so aggressively towards independent media. And the growth of other supposedly independent magazines that tow the line, such as Actuel and Le Temps, or even the taming of Rachid Nini and his (admittedly horrible) al-Massae, is making for a soporific, cheerleading media scene where there used to be vibrancy. But the damage may be even worse than merely press freedom: the closure of magazines is beginning to look like a direct consequence of the all-devouring appetite of the monarchy in the business sphere.

The blogger adds:

It's already a bad thing to be a country with no freedom of the press, but it is an altogether worse thing to be a country with no transparency on its economic governance where the population is beholden to artificial monopolies. In the Nichane case, you have the combination of both.

Kacem El Ghazzali of Bahmut's Blog [ar] questions the logic of such a popular magazine closing its doors:

”نيشان” أول مجلة بالمغرب ستتناول قضايا الأقليات وتحاول ايصال رؤاهم للمجتمع من خلال ملفات أقل ما يمكن ان توصف به هو انها جريئة، داخل بيئة سلبية أنتجها واقع أمي يعاني فصاما نفسيا متعفنا. اليوم تقبر” نيشان” وتتوقف عن الصدور بعد ان مرت بسياسة تجفيف المنابع بحرمانها من الإعلانات، ”مما أدى لإفلاسها” وقد لا أتفق ! فهي من أكثر المجلات مبيعا فهل هذا يعلل منطق الإفلاس؟

“Nichane” is the first magazine in Morocco that addresses and issues of minorities and attempts to relay their visions to the community through daring investigations. It operates in a negative environment produced by an illiterate schizophrenic status quo. Today, “Nichane” is being laid in its grave and will not be issued anymore after suffering from an advertising deprivation policy which led to its bankruptcy. I may not agree! “Nichane” is a best-selling magazine, how can it be bankrupt?

Popular blogger Larbi presents on his blog a detailed account of censorship and police and judicial harassment of the press in Morocco over the past in relation to ownership of each publication and says:

Doucement, et assez intelligemment, le paysage de la presse écrite s’est métamorphosé ces deux dernières années. Le pouvoir a diversifié ses méthodes de prise de contrôle, direct et indirect, de la presse écrite au Maroc, si bien qu’aujourd’hui personne n’attends plus la sortie des hebdos le week-end et leurs dossiers qui, il n’y a pas si longtemps, pimentaient la vie politique marocaine.

Au fil des années, le pouvoir s’est constitué une panoplie riche d’outils pour museler la presse écrite et la garder sous contrôle.

Gently, and quite cleverly, the landscape of the press has metamorphosed over the past two years. The authorities have diversified their methods of taking control, direct and indirect, of the press in Morocco, so that today people no longer expect the release of weekly newspapers on the weekend and their articles which not so long ago spiced Moroccan political life. As years went by, the people in power built a wide range of tools they can use to mute the press and keep it under control.

On the group blog C.J.D.M. (“Cercle des Jeunes Débiles Marocains” or “Circle of Young Moroccan Idiots”), blogger aboulahab presents a satirical “letter” from a high-ranking member of the Makhzen (Morocco's ruling elite). An excerpt:

Vous comprenez maintenant les raisons de ma joie. Nous avons réussi en dix ans à faire taire à peu près toutes les voix dissidentes de ce pays. Nous avons diversifié nos actions, procès, saisies illégales, intimidations … Nous avons monté les journalistes les uns contres les autres. Vous vous rendez compte, dans une profession souvent accusée de corporatisme primaire, rares sont les journalistes qui soutiennent leurs collègues quand ils subissent une injustice. N’est ce pas le plus beau pays du monde ? Vous m’en voyez heureux.

You now understand the reasons for my joy. We have succeeded for ten years in silencing almost all the dissidents in this country. We have diversified our actions, lawsuits, illegal seizures, intimidation … We have pitted journalists against each other. You realize, in a profession often accused of primary corporatism, few journalists support their colleagues when they suffer an injustice. Is this not the greatest country in the world? You see I'm happy.

Not every blogger sees the story as black and white. Xoussef, who readily admits he's “not completely a fan” of the magazine, is waiting to see what happens next:

What bothering me though is the whining. Not Nichane's people, but some people commenting on this bit of news here and there. It's irritating, I want to tell them it's hardly a surprise, if it's nothing else, it's an acknowledgment of Nichane's voice. I want to tell them to suck it up and focus on what's next, but that's irrelevant because, strangely, Nichane's people are not the ones whining, and that's forcing respect.

On the other hand, the other “independent” Arabic press is engaged in an entertaining, though pathetic, catfight complete with figurative slapping, scratching, hair-pulling, and shirt-shredding over failed mergers and acquisitions.

Anyone still wonders why newspapers don't sell in this blessed country?

Meanwhile Sumayya, of Reading Morocco, acknowledges that her blogging team are “too ‘conservative’ to really mourn the passing of Nichane” but notes that regardless, “we do mourn the further loss of open public discussions and the continuing polarization of all the ‘sides.'”

Meanwhile, the Blogoma continues to mourn the loss of Nichane on Twitter.


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