(Updates with official comment)
By Souhail Karam
RABAT, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The Moroccan government said on Friday it was withdrawing the accreditation of an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent, accusing him of casting doubt on the monarchy’s neutrality in an election.
In a statement carried by state media, the government accused Omar Brouksy of “unprofessional” reporting on Thursday’s vote in Tangier, a re-run after a parliamentary election last year.
“AFP conveyed allegations that involved the monarchy in this election, which took place in a transparent environment, thereby undermining its neutrality and role as arbitrator that sits above any electoral competition between political parties,” it said.
A senior government official said AFP had published a story on election day that said the poll in Tangier pitted moderate Islamists of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) against “candidates close to the monarchy”.
“We consider this to be a serious professional error ... to falsely involve the monarchy in an election race on the day it was taking place. It sends a confusing message to voters,” the official said.
AFP Global News Director Philippe Massonnet said: “The report in question had no motive other than to inform and provide context, with no intention of harming anyone whatsoever.” He said AFP’s Rabat bureau had “the full confidence of the agency’s management”.
The French Foreign Ministry said France was in touch with Moroccan authorities over the issue.
In December, the PJD became the first Islamist party to lead a Moroccan government after winning a parliamentary election that King Mohammed had brought forward to prevent any spillover from the Arab Spring uprisings. It formed a coalition government with three other parties.
The election results for Tangier were scrapped after the PJD was accused of using religious symbols during its campaign. The poll was re-run on Thursday, and preliminary results had the PJD winning two of the three seats.
The PJD’s closest rival in Tangier is the secular Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), set up in 2008 by Fouad Ali Himma to counter the rise of Islamist parties. Himma is now an adviser to King Mohammed.
The official said AFP had later changed the wording of its report to say the candidates were from PAM, but the government had already taken the decision to punish the news agency.
Himma, a former schoolfriend of the king, is regarded as the most influential figure after the monarch and a pillar of the Makhzen, a secretive court elite that has nominated some officials and set major policies.
He quit PAM in May 2011 at the height of mass protests demanding political reform. After PJD’s election win, King Mohammed appointed Himma as his adviser.
Morocco is ranked 138th in the 2011-2012 global Press Freedom Index of countries compiled by Reporters Sans Frontieres. The state controls television, and outspoken publications have been forced to close, mostly by what they call political pressure on advertisers.
Brouksy, a Moroccan national, was manhandled and slightly injured by police last month as he covered a pro-democracy protest in Rabat.
The government this week appointed a committee to draft a new media bill meant to give the press greater freedom. (Reporting by Souhail Karam; editing by Andrew Roche and Janet Lawrence)