Newsletter No 25 11 April 2006
News from the Media Scene:
US Funds for Independent Press Refused in Morocco and Bahrain

The US Middle East partnership Initiative is failing in Morocco and Bahrain, where authorities and publishers journalists associations have rejected any attempt by the US administration to provide financial aid to independent newspapers.

The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the Bush Administration's response to calls for change in the Middle East, recently closed the deadline of a program offering seven grants up to 1 million USD for independent media in the Arab countries.

Moroccan Minister of Information Nabil Benabdallah told US Ambassador to Rabat, Thomas Riley, on 20 March that the American offer contradicts Moroccan laws that prevent local media from receiving direct or indirect subsidies from foreign parties. The same argument was presented by the Bahrain Journalists Association to reject the US initiative and to condemn any newspaper that accepted such support.

Moroccan Federation of Newspapers Publishers and the Moroccan Journalists Union have also turned down the MEPI grants program. According to the Moroccan French Language daily Aujourd’hui Le Maroc, the Journalists Union considers this initiative an action plan to manipulate the Arab press in the name freedom of the press and democracy. Morocco approved in 2005 a 4,5 million euros annual plan to modernize the press sector. The plan was reached between the government, journalists and publishers.

In Bahrain, Issa Al Shaiji, President of the Bahrain Journalists Association and editor-in-Chief of the “semi-official” newspaper Al Ayyam, met MEPI’s Regional Director, Hans Wechsel on 5 April to express him his reject of the initiative. During the meeting, Wechsel explained that the aid is limited to technical and material support, and that it does not offer direct funding.

Al Shaiji  said the program contradicts Bahraini laws and that it could lead to a lose of independence among newspapers. Any journalist accepting direct or indirect financial support from a foreign body can be fined up to BD 1,000 (USD 2,650) according to Bahraini laws.

Wechsel, who has assured that the US does not want to control the media in the Middle East through its MEPI program, said that hundreds of journalists in the region have already benefit from training programs financed by his country and others, and that Arab media outlets continue to be interested in these programs. He added that MEPI has been asked by media outlets in the region to enlarge its fields of support.