Morocco's minority community kicks off station

After funding shortfalls, false starts and years of broken promises, Morocco’s minority Amazigh community launched its first web this month.

Amazigh TV, which debuted on Jan. 6, is the first to broadcast exclusively in the Amazigh dialects of Tachelhit, Tarifit and Tamazight. Ahmed Boukous, the director of the Royal Institution for Amazigh Culture (Ircam), called it a “historic event.”

Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said the new channel would “bring huge added value, because it will play a part in promoting the Amazigh culture and language, a major pillar of Moroccan identity.”

The Amazigh — commonly known as Berbers in the West — have inhabited North Africa since antiquity, with more than 20 million scattered across North Africa today. The name “Berber” was introduced by Arab invaders in the 7th century, and is considered by most Amazigh to be a derogatory term.

In Morocco, at least one-third of the population claims Amazigh ancestry, though the actual number is believed to be much higher. Although Arabic is the official national language and French is also widely spoken, nearly half the country’s 33 million citizens speak some Amazigh dialect.

We’re all part of one society,” Said Ameskane, spokesman for the Popular Movement party, told Morocco’s Magharebia website. “No Moroccan can say he is either 100% Arab or Amazigh.”

Amazigh TV’s debut is a triumph for the minority group, which has frequently accused the government of marginalizing its language and culture.

Plans for an Amazigh channel were first discussed in 2006, but financial difficulties put the project on hold.

In 2008, several rights groups issued a joint statement accusing the government of an official policy of discrimination against the Amazigh community. They criticized the country’s pubcasters, the National Radio and Television Co. (SNRT) and the Moroccan Broadcasting Network (RTM), of failing to live up to commitments to include Amazigh-language programming in their scheduling.

Officials are insisting on not fulfilling their obligations as far as the existing television station programming is concerned,” the statement said.

But the government renewed its commitment to developing a channel for the minority group that same year, granting the net a four-year budget of 500 million dirhams (almost $65 million). SNRT is providing the web with a headquarters, while the Royal Institue for Amazigh Culture is training staff.

The channel will initially broadcast for six hours a day during the week, and 10 hours a day on the weekend, offering “discussions of politics, economics, sport and religion, alongside evening entertainment programs aimed at children and young people,” according to station manager Mohamed Mamad.

Some Amazigh have already complained that the net won’t do enough to increase the group’s presence on TV, while officials have argued that the station lacks enough qualified Amazigh journalists to maintain the current level of programming.

But so far, most of the Amazigh community have applauded the move.

It’s a kind of reconciliation with the Amazigh,” said Brahim Baouche, of the Amazigh Citizenship Network.

Added Boukous, of Ircam, “This new channel belongs to all Moroccans.”

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