A series of prosecutions of independent weeklies, the most outspoken and critical sector of the Moroccan news media, show the continuing limits on press freedom in that country. The courts over the past year have convicted at least four weeklies, or their journalists, on criminal charges of libel, publishing false news, or insulting a foreign head of state, and are trying a fifth for undermining the institution of the monarchy.
One weekly, Le Journal Hebdomadaire (The Weekly Journal, French-language, hereinafter Le Journal), may be forced to close if it is forced to pay the record 3.1 million dirham1 judgment against it that an appeals court confirmed on April 18. There is, furthermore, evidence that authorities orchestrated street demonstrations in February against Le Journal. These demonstrations added a newly menacing tone to government pressure on the independent press, as did the state televisions one-sided, uncritical coverage of those protests.
In the past fifteen years, Moroccan media have enjoyed growing freedom to cover sensitive issues, including human rights, social and economic problems, and corruption. Independent weeklies, and to a lesser extent certain dailies, have tested the limits of this new freedom both in their editorial tone and through investigative reporting. They are among the most outspoken media in the Middle East and North Africa, outside Israel.
Moroccan radio and television have meanwhile remained close to the official line, although officials promise that the licensing of new, privately owned stations in the coming months will diversify the broadcast media.
Despite these advances, the 1958 Press Code,2 as amended in 2002 under the present king, Mohamed VI, contains numerous provisions incompatible with the full exercise of freedom of expression, including several that provide prison terms for speech offenses. The frequent application of these provisions against journalists contradicts the image Moroccan authorities seek to project, of commitment to human rights and to freedom of expression in particular.
Moroccan judges, for their part, do not seem to weigh freedom of expression, both as a public good and as a right enshrined in Moroccos constitution,3 when ruling on alleged infractions of the Press Code, and when setting damage awards in libel cases. Although the courts have sentenced no journalist to actual time in prison time under the Press Code during the past year, they have given at least five journalists suspended prison sentences and slapped outspoken magazines with arbitrarily high libel judgments that seem intended to financially squeeze them or force their closure. Among these cases:
 The Moroccan dirham, or DH, is worth US 11.5¢.
 Dahir no 1-02-207 of October 3, 2002, promulgating law no 77-00, modifying the Press Code of 1958.
 The 1996 constitution, in Article 9, guarantees all Moroccan citizens freedom of opinion, of expression in all its forms No limitation, except by law, shall be put to the exercise of such freedoms.