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Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Morocco's TV clampdown
2mTV logo
Heads rolled at 2MTV after the Polisario story ran
In an apparent attempt to muzzle criticism of Morocco's policy towards the disputed Western Sahara, the Moroccan authorities have launched a media clampdown in recent days.

The government has sacked three managers of a state-run TV channel and banned editions of two newspapers for reporting interviews with a leader of the Polisario Front, which campaigns for an independent Western Sahara.


The government is committed to guarantee press freedom. But it will deal severely with those who plan to hurt Moroccan territorial integrity

Government statement

It is the latest setback for the media in a country hoping to experience political liberalisation set on course by King Mohammed VI's accession to the throne last July.

But despite assurances from Communications Minister Larbi Messari that censorship is a thing of the past, the number of newspaper seizures and bans has increased.

The media monitoring group Reporters Without Borders say seven foreign and local newspaper editions have been banned in Morocco since the start of the year.

TV managers sacked

Larbi Messari
Messari wielded the knife at 2MTV

On Monday, Mr Messari announced the sacking of three managers of the popular public broadcaster 2M Television.

Speaking on Moroccan TV, Mr Messari said the staff had made a "professional error" but "this does not mean any change in the channel's policy or its known line".

In a press review, 2M TV displayed the front page of the weekly Le Journal, which is printed in France.

But they showed the edition banned by the Moroccan authorities after the paper featured an interview with Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz.

Polisario chief interviewed

The Arabic-language newspaper Assahifa suffered a similar fate for publishing the same interview at the weekend.

Abdelaziz
Polisario's Abdelaziz filmed in 1995

"The government of His Majesty King Mohammed is committed to guaranteeing press freedom," a government statement explaining the newspaper ban said.

"But also it confirms its firm commitment to dealing severely with those who plan to hurt national feelings... and Moroccan territorial integrity and sovereignty," it said.

Press ban condemned

Le Journal's interview with Mohamed Abdelaziz was the first Polisario interview with the Moroccan national press since 1975, when Morocco invaded the territory after Spain abandoned it.


Contrary to what we thought, the authorities do not seem to be showing a genuine openness in matters of freedom of the press

Reporters Without Borders

Last week, UN envoy James Baker visited the region in an attempt to unblock the stalled self-determination referendum process.

Reporters Without Borders protested to Information Minister Messari earlier this year after the first newspaper bans began to be implemented.

"Contrary to what we thought several months ago, the authorities do not seem to be showing a genuine openness in matters of freedom of the press," it wrote.

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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