- International media are increasingly siding with the 1975 Moroccan annexation of Western Sahara, despite human rights violations that has left thousands Sahrawi population destitute in Algerian refugee camps. Pro-Sahrawi pressure groups demonstrate how Morocco slowly is winning the propaganda war.
Sahara activists, publishing news and analysis on the 'Western Sahara Info' blog, have tried to analyse why their part of the conflict seemingly is getting less attention in global media. In an analysis, they point to the "propaganda war" that has been going on between Moroccan authorities and the exiled government of Western Sahara, organised around the independence fighters Polisario Front.
Currently, reporting on the Western Sahara conflict is more and more based on Moroccan government propaganda, which links the Sahrawi government to terrorism, the activists note. Moroccan pressure groups had managed to plant rumours in Washington, indirectly linking the Sahrawi government to al Qaeda despite total absence of Islamic extremism among the Sahrawi population, they add.
"It should be noted that the Moroccan government during the last years has stepped up its propaganda war against the Sahrawis, spending large sums on lobbying particularly in the United States," the article read.
Three main sources of propaganda material are mentioned. These include materials from the Moroccan-America Centre for Policy (MACP) – a pressure group based in the US and financed by the Rabat regime - Maghreb Arabe Press (MAP), which is a Moroccan press agency controlled by persons close to the royal family; and finally Sahara Press service (SPS), a news agency controlled by Polisario and based in the Algerian refugee camps. Lately, MACP and MAP materials are widely quoted in the international press, while SPS materials are rarely used.
"Now, I am not saying the SPS is a much more reliable source than MAP or MACP. All three are propaganda outfits, spewing out press statements and communiqués in the hope of being picked up by some reputable broadcaster or furthered as an Internet newsblast," the analyst at 'Western Sahara Info' holds.
He further holds that journalism on Western Sahara often is based on picking press statement that fill up the foreign news section without balancing the information. In particular MACP markets its communiqués professionally, paying large amounts to have them distributed to journalists around the world through PR companies such as PRNewswire.
As an example, the renowned news agency Associated Press (AP) published an article a story of a man allegedly terrorised by Polisario, who flee the refugee camps. The man, who was sponsored by Moroccan authorities to go to the US, said there was no hope for Western Sahara under Polisario. In other stories, Sahrawis recounted their miseries about what happened if they were caught by Polisario trying to escape the refugees camps. Morocco for decades has tried to present the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria as concentration camps, where Polisario is holding the population detained, preventing them from leaving.
According to the analysis, the Moroccan government during the last years has stepped up its propaganda war against the Sahrawis, "spending large sums on lobbying particularly in the United States" ensuring that wealthy states turn their back on Western Sahara.
In January this year, also this media was manipulated by an MACP release distributed through PRNewswirer. afrol News soon thereafter apologised for having published an article about the Western Sahara conflict that was based on propaganda material planted by the Moroccan government, which linked the Sahrawi people to terrorism acts.
"Looking at how other mainstream media treat the Sahara issue, maybe we had no reason to apologise in January, but we were of course hurt in our pride having fallen victim for Moroccan propaganda for the first time,” comments afrol News chief editor Rainer Chr Hennig. "It is a petty that it is close to impossible to find non-propaganda sources to this conflict," he added, "and both sides are seriously lacking credibility in their statements and information."
Journalist Tsepiso Mncina, now covering the region for this media, notes that "efforts to resolve the Western Sahara conflict would be futile if the media continue to pay their attention on one side of the story." However, she adds, "reporting on Western Sahara requires knowledge and understanding of the region to maintain objectivity while at the same time giving out information."
Meanwhile, the 'Western Sahara Info' analysis has already triggered a wealth of comments by bloggers. Some hold that Spain – the ex-colonial power - is an exception, as media here remain well-informed about who is who in the conflict. Others blame Algeria for not aiding the Sahrawis sufficiently with funds and propaganda incentives. Algeria, contrary to Morocco, spends no significant resources on international propaganda.
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