The manufacturing of the consensus
Review of press from the Moroccan newspapers. The French speaking newspapers are "Le Matin", "Aujourd'hui", "Au fait". The Arabic speaking are "Al Alam", "Al Maghribia". International news look like anywhere else. Local one are talking about politic, many trivial events, sport, tv. Nothing distinctive. Nothing different. Nothing but one theme. Everyday for now more than 30 years, all Moroccan newspapers are dealing with one question: the Western Sahara. But there is no question. Just one certainty: Western Sahara is a part of Morocco which is fighting for a National Union and the Integrity of his Territory.
Western Sahara's history
Western Sahara has first been colonised by Spain, which wanted this desert land as a protection for his Canary Islands few kilometres from the coast. From the 60's started manifestations against this occupation, strongly repressed by Spanish army. The situation changed in the 70's when another protagonist decided to declare this territory as his own and to fight for the return of this land to the "Great Morocco"
When king Hassan II organized the "Green March" where 350 000 Moroccans entered in the so-called "Spanish Sahara", "without any weapon but the holy Koran" said the king, his strategy was much more that a peaceful wish to free Sahara. After two coup d'état and many manifestations against the monarchic regime, Hassan II needed not only to bring together Moroccan people around a common cause, but also to preserve himself from military leaders which had already tried twice to kill him. Saharan situation appeared like the perfect event to solve both problems.
But the peaceful Green March saluted by the International Commitment looks like a military annexation. The General Dlimi and the Moroccan army immediately entered in the Saharan territory, just after the marcher passed the symbolic border. In Hassan II's plan, only one factor was unknown: the Sahrawi's resistance. Organized from 1973 as a front for Saharan freedom called Polisario, Sahrawi's insurrection against this new colonisation turn to war during 16 years. Exiled in the desert land of Tindouf in Algeria, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is waiting for the independence referendum promised by United Nations. Today, Western Sahara is still the last African territory waiting for the end of colonisation on the UN calendar.
From the cease-fire in 1991, Morocco increases his politic of occupation and colonisation. After the evident politic advantages of this colonisation, Morocco also profit from many gifts of this land like phosphates and fishes. More than the soldiers, Moroccan police is omnipresent in Western Sahara, trying to control every breath of the Sahrawi's population. Manifestations are forbidden, journalists controlled, activists looked after. Today, 34 years after Morocco entered in Western Sahara, the kingdom is still raping international laws by refusing the referendum, stilling the country from his own natural resources (see Western Sahara Resource Watch), and ignoring Human Rights by oppressing Sahrawi's population.
But one more point: Morocco is lying everyday to his own population. One of the main purposes of the kingdom was and still is to persuade Moroccan that his policy is the good one, legal and recognized by the international commitment. For years, Moroccan newspapers, television and radio are still telling same old story: how Morocco is the victim of the Polisario's attacks, how his intention is just to free this land in the name of liberty, how Morocco just wants to deliver Moroccans from Saharan provinces from an unfair separation. Day after days, year after years, the same talking in the newspapers has succeeded in creating a national consensus about Western Sahara.
What do newspapers say about Western Sahara?
If we daily read Moroccan newspapers, we can first notice that there is nearly everyday one article about Sahara. Most of the time, articles are coming from the same journalist (like Latifa Cherkaoui for "Le Matin") or unsigned from Maghreb Arab Press, the national news agency. Articles are speaking about Saharan crisis and mostly how Morocco is acting to solve the problem; how Polisario is acting to destabilize the negotiations; how human conditions in the refugee camps of Tindouf are terrible; how UN and other nations are supporting the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco.
Journalists have created their own vocabulary for Western Sahara (word they never use preferring "Moroccan Sahara" or "Saharan provinces"). If we have a look to the words used in the articles, we can quickly see that this subject only allows one vision. Every time a journalist is writing about "Moroccan Sahara", the expression is associated with the further words: "Our provinces, sacred union, national sovereignty, unanimity, territorial integrity, international legality, Moroccan people, motherland, national pride, unity, sacrifice".
When the articles are about the autonomy plan, the vocabulary is not only orientated, but it gives no chance for another point of view. Moroccan position is always qualified as: "fair, serious, credible, realistic, reasonable, without any ambiguity".
Many expressions are used: "politic and definitive solution. Saluted by the Security Council and the international commitment. Serious and credible alternative. Negotiated peace. Only and ultimate democratic reliable and valid solution". These expressions are used, word for word in all the different medias.
The same strategy is used when journalists are qualifying the independence movement. When Polisario and the Tindouf camps are mentioned, they are linked with: "Mercenaries from Polisario, Polisario indoctrinate in Cuba, Terrorism action, pseudo SADR, connexion with terrorist movement, raping Human Rights, secret prison, sequestrate population, racist treatment, Stalinist seclusion, torture, no freedom, shame's camps".
The vocabulary is more violent and aggressive and the subjects are also. The journalists are now building a new image of Polisario, more "modern": Last articles are explaining how Polisario is selling weapons to terrorist groups, how it is linked with Al Qaida, how the Front is in fact composed of drug dealers who come to Morocco from Algeria to sell drugs and cigarettes, etc.
When we see how aggressive is the newspaper's attitude about Sahara, by using everyday the same unilateral vocabulary and by linking it with the more popular demons of our society such as drug and terrorism, we can just remember this definition:
"The secret of modern propaganda: simplify complex things so that the less clever one could understand what I say. Simplify then repeat everyday. Simplify and repeat, here is the secret of modern propaganda."
This definition of propaganda comes from Fritz Hippler, film director from the 3rd Reich.
No alternative opinion possible
Why is there no alternative to this daily-imposed opinion? One of the answers is inside Moroccan law itself. If you look at Moroccan constitution and press code, you will see that any offence to the king or to the "territorial integrity" can be sentenced. Talking about Western Sahara or any alternative position from the Moroccan one is then immediately repressed. This law not only exists to protect the king and the Moroccan point of view, but it is the legal way to prosecute every activist, every journalist, every citizen who doesn't want to follow the Moroccan vision. Court is now condemning many Sahrawis to several years of jail because of this law. Taking part of a manifestation is then enough to go to prison, and police brutalities are legitimised by this law.
Moroccan journalists are the victims of this law. Ali Lmrabet, editor of "Demain Magazine" is waiting for the court decision and the 3 to 5 years jail sentence for "insulting the person of the king" (See the article from Reporters Without Borders: "Warning for the independent press"). The right to freedom of speech is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but the Moroccan constitution found the solution to preserve his people from this liberty. Morocco, and the new king Mohamed VI wanted his new constitution as "modern", "democratic" and "respectful". Finally, press and journalists are still not free to write, citizen can still be sentenced when they speak about the king or the "national integrity", even homosexuality is still consider as an offence (see Amnesty International 2009 report).
Notice that a lot of Moroccan newspapers are closely linked with the regime. Their leaders, their owners and stockholders, the companies which pay adverts, all of them are already part of the system managed on the top by the king Mohamed VI. For example, Moulay Ahmed Alaoui, Hassan II's cousin and ex-minister, is the president of "Maroc Soir", the press group publishing "Le Matin", where he is also "politic director". Another daily paper, "Al-Anbaa", is simply managed by the ministry of information.
The manufacturing of the consensus about Western Sahara is an every day work for Moroccan newspapers and Moroccan authorities. The role of the media is to stun Moroccan population with the official point of view. Authorities can forbid any other opinion by sentencing the "no-conform" thinkers. They can also use other strategies such as closing the access from Morocco to ARSO (www.arso.org) which is the most important website about Western Sahara.
The manipulation of the public opinion and the very active and aggressive lobbying used by the kingdom to impose his plan face to the foreign countries are the most important weapons of Morocco in this conflict. But they are also the reasons of the no-ending situation, the brake for any solution in Western Sahara.