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Will Morocco’s Draft Law Penalizing Defamation Help the Country Combat Misinformation?

Khadija Boufous Khadija Boufous
17th January 2023
Will Morocco’s Draft Law Penalizing Defamation Help the Country Combat Misinformation?
The draft law would strictly deal with misinformation (Getty)

Morocco has recently announced its plans to penalize defamation in news reporting as well as on social media, with the country's Court of Cassation ruling for social media posts to be tackled under the Penal Code.

Morocco’s Draft Law Against Online Defamation

This step will allow the Moroccan government to tackle defamation and misinformation shared via social media under the penal code instead of the Press and Publishing Code.

According to the Moroccan Justice Minister Abdellatif Ouahbi, the upcoming draft law would seek to “strictly” deal with defamation and “Fake News.”

Following this new perspective, measures are being taken to strengthen legal actions against content that undermines others’ privacy and freedom.

Mr. Ouahbi recently announced this new legislation during a parliamentary session. He confirmed that the draft law will soon be submitted to the government, Morocco World News reported.

The Minister emphasized that online defamation will be strictly dealt with, asserting that “the dignity and privacy of others are precious and untouchable.” He added that this draft law would force the Public Prosecutor’s Office to implement criminal law on social media related issues.

For Mr. Ouahbi, implementing this new perspective became an international commitment and legally binding agreement following Morocco’s signing of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime last year after four years of talks.

This ruling came after a Moroccan local news outlet, Achkayn, published an article targeting Moroccan football player Zakaria Aboukhlal and accusing him of religious extremism. 

After the claim turned out to be false, Morocco’s National Press Council issued a press release condemning the outlet’s inaccurate reporting.

Will This News Draft Law Help Combat Misinformation?

Concerns were raised about this draft law's efficacy after the Moroccan Justice Minister, Abdellatif Ouahbi, said that this draft law aims to strictly deal with defamation and Fake News.

For Said Mchak, an International Law professor, criminalizing defamation and misinformation will inevitably contribute to reducing and preventing such transgressions. However, criminalization and punishment “have never been the only solution to eradicate crimes. It is only part of the solution that should be comprehensive. The action should include journalism training, sensitization, and awareness raising,” the law professor told Misbar.

According to Mr. Mchak, most international experiences prioritizing restraining and punishing crimes related to social media content eventually led to a decline in the freedom of expression indicators. Moreover, similar measures did not lead to a tangible impact in preventing misinformation and defamation.

From another perspective, Ahmed Hidass, a Media Law professor, told Misbar that “subjecting the repression of cyberdefamation to the Penal Code seems logical.” As the Press Code applies to journalists and newspaper managers, social networks are a medium and a cross-border space. “Hence the need for appropriate instruments like the Penal Code at the internal level of the countries and an international consultation framework commensurate with the social networks themselves, such as the Budapest Convention of 2001,” Mr. Hidass suggested.

However, as the Moroccan minister plans “severe measures” against cyber defamation, professor Hidass warns that these measures could disrupt the balance between freedom of expression and human rights on one hand and privacy on the other hand.

Finally, Mr. Hidass clarified that the legal repression of such crimes will always remain insufficient to regulate the excesses of social networks. “Legal repression must be backed up by good media education from primary school onwards as many international organizations recommended, including UNESCO,” he concluded.

Misbar’s Sources

Morocco World News

Budapest Convention