Morocco: Draft Bill on National Press Council threatens independent media 

Morocco: Draft Bill on National Press Council threatens independent media  
 - Media

Parliament building in Rabat, Morocco. Photo: UN Women/ Younes El Moumine/Flickr

The signatory organisations express their deep concern about the new Moroccan government’s draft bill, which includes regressive measures that would prejudice the gains of self-regulation and the press towards increasing government control over the National Press Council and media in Morocco, having a negative impact on press freedom. 

The creation of the National Press Council under the Press and Publishing Code, and the inauguration of its members in 2018, was an important achievement in limiting government control over the media sector. Following the expiration of the National Press Council’s mandate in October 2022, new elections should have been held. However, the Moroccan government intervened on an ‘exceptional and temporary basis’ to extend the Council’s mandate for six months, arguing that the situation did not allow for the election of new members (Decree-Law No. 2.22.770).  

After the failure of the first attempt to revise the law on the National Press Council on 13 April 2023, the government approved Bill No. 15.23, which seeks to establish a temporary committee to conduct the affairs of the press and publishing sector and to replace the Press Council for the next two years. The Bill must be approved by parliament. A review date has not yet been set.

Under the Bill, the scope of intervention of the temporary committee has been expanded. In fact, in addition to preparing and organising the elections for the members of the National Assembly, the committee will exercise all the functions typical of the National Press Council, including the power to impose disciplinary sanctions and grant or withdraw the  professional journalist documentation card. The draft also renewed the mandate of some of the current members of the Council, namely the President, the Vice-President, the Chairman of the Professional Ethics and Disciplinary Issues Committee, and the Chairman of the Professional Press Card Committee, outside any electoral legitimacy; at the same time, other elected members were excluded for the first term of the National Press Council, namely the Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Publishers and the National Union of Press, Media and Communications. The head of government was given the power to appoint three members to the temporary committee, in addition to the government delegate.

Therefore, the signatory organisations emphasise that self-regulation is recognised as the best regulatory mechanism to ensure genuine accountability of the press to the public while protecting its independence. It should be strengthened, not diminished, in order to improve press freedom indicators in Morocco. The signatory organisations fear that proposed Bill will undermine the self-regulatory system in place since 2018, which has helped maintain a level of independence for journalists. We caution that these kinds of regulations are often restrictive in nature, making it easy for governments to use them as tools to abuse media rather than protect the right to freedom of expression and access to information.

We call on all institutional and civil academic actors to ensure that the Moroccan experience of self-regulation of the press in Morocco is fortified and strengthened, and to mobilise the support of partisan actors, especially within the legislative institution, before and during the presentation of this draft law to parliamentary debate. 

We also call on all press and media stakeholders to fully comply with international standards related to guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom and independence of the press in the country.

We urge the Moroccan Parliament in both chambers to reject the Bill because of the risks it poses to the role of self-regulation, independence and freedom of the press in Morocco, and to counter any legislative attempt aimed at restricting freedom of opinion, expression and the press. 

Signatory organisations:

  • Adala “for the right to a fair trial”
  • Citizen Initiatives Association (bawsala movement)
  • Rights and Justice Association
  • The national coordination of networks and coalitions working in the field of the rights of persons with disabilities in Morocco
  • Forum of Alternatives Morocco (fmas)
  • ISRAR Coalition
  • Moroccan Truth and Justice Forum
  • African Organization for Common Ground