quinta-feira, 4 de dezembro de 2008

McDonald’s, Wikipedia targeted by Morocco

In its efforts to win the propaganda war against Western Sahara’s exiled government, Moroccan authorities and groups it employs abroad are targeting international companies such as McDonald’s and Wikipedia.

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony occupied by Morocco since 1975, despite numerous UN Security Council resolutions calling for a referendum over independence, is regarded as an "integrated part" of Morocco’s territory by the Rabat government. No other state, however, has recognised this annexation and the freedom movement Polisario has formed an exiled government that is a full member of the African Union (AU).

The Moroccan subsidiary of the US hamburger chain McDonald’s this week fell victim of Rabat’s wreath for going by international, not Moroccan, standards. Its internationally marketed "Happy Meal" includes children’s toys, out of which some include a small map. International maps, as the "Happy Meal" maps, always include a border between Morocco and Western Sahara. Moroccan maps do not.

As Moroccan authorities were made aware of the children tools with maps according to the international standard being distributed at McDonald’s in Morocco, the US company was immediately addressed. The "wiping off" of Western Sahara from Moroccan territory was presented as a scandal by the powerful news agency ‘MAP’, which is controlled by the Royal House.

Today, the Moroccan subsidiary of McDonald’s had to announce its retreat. "The toys included a small map on which the borders were incorrectly drawn. We profoundly regret making this mistake and we apologise to our loyal customers and our fellow citizens," said McDonald’s Morocco in a statement released today. According to ‘MAP’, McDonald’s Morocco would withdraw the "offending toys" from the Moroccan market.

In Morocco, there usually is a full control on every public statement relative to the government’s claim on Western Sahara. Even independent media are obliged by law to report according to the government line on Western Sahara. Newspapers that have written only slightly out of line with these norms are immediately shut down.

But also abroad, Moroccan authorities are trying to gain further ground by investing large sums in media advisors, lawyers, lobbyists and "independent" pressure groups. In particular in the United States, this propaganda drive has started to bear fruits. Here, pro-Saharawi groups are poorly organised, coordinated and funded, giving much room for groups on the Moroccan Foreign Ministry’s payroll.

One of these groups, the US "Morocco Board", today started a new propaganda drive targeting the global encyclopaedia Wikipedia, written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. According to the Morocco Board, Wikipedia articles about the Kingdom "are sadly not always accurate as fanatic pro-Polisario activists abuse of the free global encyclopaedia to push anti-Morocco propaganda."

The pressure group with royal funding thus is urging Moroccan all over the world to "participate actively to stop this." It asks Moroccans to enter Wikipedia articles about the Kingdom and the Western Sahara conflict and to edit them, giving instructions about how this is made and how they can avoid being banned by Wikipedia editing rules.

In other developments, the Moroccan propaganda war in Denmark is continuing. State-controlled media had announced that the Polisario representation in Copenhagen had been expelled by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After afrol News revealed this was not a fact, even more Moroccan media reported about this.

Even ‘TelQuel’, Morocco’s most outspoken independent media, this week fell into the government’s propaganda trap, quoting "well informed sources" that had confirmed that "Danish authorities have closed a non-recognised underground office" of Polisario in the capital.

Polisario’s representative in Denmark, Abba Malainin, on phone from Copenhagen, earlier had denied this to afrol News. Yesterday, Danish Foreign Ministry official Klavs A Holm confirmed Mr Malainin’s statement: "This is just not right," he said. Mr Holm further emphasised that the Ministry was not engaging in which foreign organisations establish information offices in Denmark "as long as one speaks of legal activities." Polisario’s activities were not considered illegal.

The Moroccan propaganda initiative regarding Polisario’s office in Denmark has been seen as an effort to cover up a sex scandal at the Moroccan Embassy in the Nordic country, which was largely reported in the Danish press. Moroccan media have so far avoided reporting on this sex scandal, rather concentrating on the fabricated news about Polisario being "thrown out".

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