This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement nº 613174
Alternative media in Morocco: Comparing the cases of Lakome and Mamfakinch
Monday 24 April 2017, Fadma Aït Mous & Driss Ksikes
Université Hassan II de Casablanca et CRESC-EGE de Rabat & Director of Cesem-HEM
The comparison of both media organisations, one based on citizen volunteers (Lakome.com, 2010-1013) and the other on a hybrid model of “mediactivists” (Mamfakinch) is undoubtedly enlightening. It first tells us that these media organisations assert their alternativeness on the grounds of their suspicion towards the traditional media. As stated on Mamfakinch’s front page, the website defines itself as “citizens’ media that believes in the right of access to information. We mean the information that is often ignored if not distorted by official media”.
The image of the traditional media all over the world is negative because of the allegiance of press companies to the politico-economic world. It is precisely this tarnished image that is retained by the public and which consequently urges them to become their own source of information by creating alternative media. And it is this perception and mistrust of the classical media, practicing self-censorship and deprived of “the audacity to tackle certain sensitive subjects” which was at the origin of the creation of both Lakome and Mamfakinch. In this regard, they respond to youth hankering for uncensored truth. Since the virtual reader “... chooses his readings knowingly, where he feels that the traditional media try to bluff or blur the cards”. By taking this supposedly pure stance, the alternative media are, by the same token, represented as marginal.
Secondly, we notice that, created in a semi-autocratic context, these media outlets are bound to a “liberal” moment perceived by the actors as a favourable political opportunity, unable to go further and forced towards death or self-limitation when the political tension is lower or public attention elsewhere. Interestingly enough, while their motivation is the expansion of freedom of speech, their demise signals the scope of tolerance in their country. In this sense, they play the role of barometers of hybrid regimes, indicating shifts from permissiveness to arbitrariness.
Thirdly, it would be misleading to believe that being “citizens” would mean these media are morally “good”. Despite – and maybe because – of being based on values of participation, these media are also ethically biased by the urge to share more and more information, while sometimes deprived of professional backgrounds and know-how. This is mainly true of Mamfakinch whose founders started by creating a blog, where all the information was dumped in bulk. They later confessed that they made mistakes, namely publishing erroneous information without checking it as professionals would.
In both these online media organisations, the mix of would be, supposed and experienced journalists and activists sometimes led to publishing erroneous or raw, insufficiently cross-checked information. In that sense, “citizen” could also mean “common” media, sometimes displaying news of lesser quality. It could cease to practise citizens’ journalism when it comes to filtering opinions and forums of discussion. This is partly an indicator of their belonging to “hybrid” contexts but also a proof that the promotion of one’s own opinion and propaganda is also a corollary of the citizens’ media. In that sense, these media outlets are not “neutral” and “objective” but militant and committed.
One of the main paradoxes we could discern in the cases of these media websites is that the more they strive to depart from classical media models and restrictions, the more they look for classical media recognition or at least reproduction to gain more visibility. That is exactly what happened in both cases, when internationally renowned media like Al Jazeera, Le Courrier international or El País quoted them or re-published some articles. But this classical media recognition also becomes a source of trouble since the limitations and pressures they receive happen every time later. As if being alternative condemns them to targeting only a minority. And that’s where their paradox lies. Alternativeness brings reputation, which brings, in turn, surveillance and control.
Of course, this tragic circle is made inevitable because of the scarcity of financial support and the precarious state of these media structures and their human resources. The business model of both alternative media outlets we studied, when not based on volunteering, relies at best on low salaries and international unofficial NGO subsidies, which makes them vulnerable.
Finally, it looks like the hybridity framework helps understand how the political economy configuration in which the alternative media are born makes them even more fragile. This doesn’t exclude actors’ interventions and interactions. It encompasses them. But the arbitrary status of these political contexts doesn’t seem to leave enough space for risk-taking in public spheres, which makes younger generations indifferent, frustrated, struggling for voice or looking elsewhere.