In its report on press freedoms in Western Sahara, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) sheds light on a territory cut off from the rest of the world, a veritable news black hole that has become a no-go zone for journalists.
“Western Sahara, a desert for journalists,” is the first-ever work of research into press freedoms in this non-autonomous territory, which RSF’s Spanish section is unveiling in Madrid on 11 June.
A forgotten story
The silence enveloping the area stems principally from the constant persecution and repression of Sahrawi journalists who endeavor to practice their profession outside official Moroccan channels, but also from the fact that it is impossible for foreign journalists to work there.
Morocco applies a quasi-systematic policy of turning back the foreign press trying to enter Western Sahara and of harshly punishing the local citizen-journalists who strive to give a version of the news differing from the official line, through social networks. Over the years, these two sorts of blockade have imposed a virtual news black-out on Western Sahara.
“Nobody talks about Western Sahara anymore”, said Alfonso Armada, president of RSF-Spain. “The territory, being neither at war nor at peace, is nowadays covered by foreign media only from the humanitarian angle, but the conflict has been dragging on inconclusively for four decades.”
The report examines the experiences of Sahrawi journalists, who are jailed and often sentenced to lengthy prison terms, but who have an essential role to play in peace in the region, and it allows their voices to be heard for the first time, along with those of experts on the conflict.
Moreover, in addressing the collective oblivion surrounding the Western Sahara issue, the report analyzes the essential role that is played not only by international media, especially Spanish and French media, but also by the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi people’s UN-recognized representative, whose communications sometimes amount to just repetitive propaganda, which young Sahrawi journalists are beginning to question.
Finally, the report introduces a new generation of Sahrawi journalists who, one way or another, manage to overcome all obstacles and who have become a valued source of information for the foreign press and international organizations.