Worldfocus interviewed her about why the Moroccan government shut down the independent news outlet last week.
Worldfocus: What happened to Le Journal Hebdomadaire?
Aida Alami: The police came Wednesday to take control of our newsroom and change the locks. By Thursday, we were completely finished. This came after we lost a trial and had to pay huge amounts of money to several people. Money we didn’t have.
Actually, we had already been dropped by 80% of our advertisers over the past few years. I heard that the king’s right-hand men got together last year with the advertisers and asked them to boycott us.
This wasn’t a surprise or a shock to me. I knew it would eventually happen. I haven’t been taking my laptop to work because I knew they would come, and I didn’t want them to take it!
We’re giving a press conference tomorrow to discuss the issue. I am not sure if they will let us go through with it — or interrupt it and kick everybody out.
Worldfocus: Will founder Aboubakr Jamai start a new magazine?
Alami: Aboubakr could start a new one. He did it once before, but I doubt there is money to do so today.
Worldfocus: What will you do now that you’re jobless?
Alami: It’s really discouraging. Everyone I know outside of Morocco has been emailing me, but here, no one cares. People I’ve known for 20 years haven’t even contacted me.
I am sure that if something similar had happened in France people would be camping outside of the president’s residence to protest. I don’t think they see it as something important. It’s hopeless.
I won’t be looking for work in Morocco. We were really the only independent news outlet here. I don’t see myself working anywhere else.
Worldfocus: Do most Moroccans value independent media?
Alami: In the Reporters Without Borders 2009 Press Freedom Index, Morocco ranks 127th.
The public doesn’t want to hear the truth about issues. The magazine had no friends. Even people who are high-income just saw us as anti-patriotic — too critical and undermining the country. Personally, I’m not political. I am just doing my job.
We drove people away for several reasons. Many people considered us elitist because of the language — French and too eloquent. As opposed to other magazines, we didn’t have covers with sex and stuff that sells. We were too serious and dealt with real issues that people were not necessarily interested in reading about.
I think that the public doesn’t really care. If they did, they’d be writing letters now. But they aren’t. My personal feeling is: why fight for people like that? The upper class has its own interests — to be close to power. Of course they’re not going to want to criticize our government or king.
Then, you have the small middle class who sympathize and are intellectual. Then there are the barely literate masses. Our readership was not that important. It was around 40,000.
However, our impact was a lot more important. Stories told in that magazine were told nowhere else.
Worldfocus: What was the trigger issue that motivated the government to close you down?
Alami: We often covered [Western Sahara indepedence activist] Aminatou Haidar, who was on hunger strike in Spain after having been kicked out of Morocco. They had taken her passport.
The entire country had extreme and very one-sided coverage and called her a spy, traitor, etc. During her hunger strike, we interviewed her every week and we even sent a reporter to Laayoune, her hometown, to interview her family. We were the only ones to give full coverage of the story. The coverage was terrific, and I am very proud of what we did.
Our editor, Aboubakr, wrote editorials arguing that Morocco was was making a huge mistake diplomatically. And that we [Moroccans] would end up looking like fools. TelQuel, our biggest competitor, never interviewed her.
I think that’s when the government decided, “We need to shut them up forever.”
As I said in my article published in the Huffington Post:
Many people have called us traitors because we were too critical. I think it’s the opposite, we are all people who loved their country enough to never sell out. We gave our readers the best we could and kept them informed like no other news team. The legacy left by Le Journal Hebdomadaire will stay with all of us no matter what, and the fight for freedom cannot stop here. I hope that reporters of the new generation will not compromise and will take on the fight Aboubakr Jamai started 13 years ago.
– Ben Piven