Deleting Digital Archives: New Tactic to Restrain Journalists

“A media institution I used to work with deleted my archive from its website because they didn’t want to keep any trace of my name or my work. They didn’t want me to claim my rights and entitlements,” said Sa’eeda Sharif, a journalist and the President of the Freelance Journalists Coordination Unit at the National Syndicate of the Moroccan Press (NSMP).

An archive is a significant asset for digital journalists. It allows their colleagues and hiring institutions to view their professional portfolios. When a journalist’s archive disappears, their chances of landing a job might diminish or become very slim.

In a conversation with SMEX, Sharif said: “We disagreed on several issues, the most important of which was my compensation. Not only was I not paid regularly, but they were also very unprofessional in handling the materials I sent them.”

Digital journalism allowed many to express themselves freely and boldly address topics the printed press was reluctant to tackle, all while reducing publishing costs. However, the digital infrastructure might be a drawback if archives are not protected. This infrastructure is insufficient, and governments should issue strict new laws to protect journalists’ intellectual property.

“Deleting of my archive was a desperate move by certain unprofessional executives to erase a journalist’s labor and credentials with the click of a button. It is a despicable act that reveals the malicious intent of some media websites or institutions and their lack of appreciation for journalists’ efforts,” Sharif added.

The institution, which closed its Morocco branch under the pretext of struggling due to the COVID-19 crisis, offered Sharif the option to submit her resignation for meager compensation. “I refused, of course, and resorted to the courts, which served my colleagues and me the justice we deserved,” she said.

“They erased my name from their website and removed it from all the articles I published with them. They could not, however, remove my name from the journal itself since I was the editor-in-chief,” she explained.

Sharif advises journalists to secure their works and “be prepared for all possible scenarios when collaborating with any party.” She urges them to protect their labor and ask for their rights, especially in the “highly advanced yet easily manipulatable digital field.”

In this context, Sharif told SMEX: “I was lucky I kept the email correspondence and screenshots or pictures of some of my work to serve as proof that I had previously worked for that institution. Moreover, some other media websites published my work online, with or without attributing it to me, which also helped me reclaim my rights.”

Retaliatory Motives
Deleting archives is not limited to some institutions evading paying journalists for their work, as was Sa’eeda’s case. It could also be a retaliatory measure.

Khawla Jaafri explained to SMEX that “digitizing media has become an urgent need, and it falls under the process of archiving journalists’ professional output.”

Speaking about her experience, Jaafri said: “I’ve worked for many years with national and international printed newspapers, most of which have turned digital and started publishing their content online, such as news stories, long-form interviews, investigative pieces, and major reports.”

She considers that digitization benefits journalists working in the printed press, as it helps them familiarize themselves with the broad audience of digital media and enriches the electronic repertoire of the websites to which they contribute.

Journalists: Victims of battles between publishers?
Journalists may arbitrarily find themselves as victims of battles between groups of publishers, as was the case of journalist R.A. who preferred not to reveal his full name. R.A. was surprised when his archive was deleted a few months after he had left the online newspaper where he had worked for more than two years. He was not given any reason justifying this deletion, and his former manager claimed it was due to a technical issue. However, a source who monitors the website revealed to SMEX that R.A.’s archive was deleted upon the manager’s request, not due to a technical error.

Intentional Deletion of Archives
Sometimes employers intentionally delete a journalist’s digital archive to harm them psychologically. They act out of resentment to inhibit their potential, aiming to minimize the opportunities available to the journalist after leaving the institution.

In this context, digital content management expert Saad Azwena explained to SMEX that “deleting archives is rarely due to technical issues alone. Those in charge of any website could retrieve the archive from the digital service provider if an error caused it to disappear.”

Azwena added that the provider, especially if they are external, cannot delete the articles; it is the press institution’s director who deletes materials intentionally as an act of revenge against the journalist.

Legal Provisions
Abdelmajid Al-Kouzi, a human rights activist, professor, and researcher in digital publishing laws, explained that “in principle, journalists work within the framework of the Constitution, which guarantees their freedom of speech and considers that what they write belongs to the public.”

Al-Kouzi added that “when journalists fabricate information, they are sanctioned under the Press and Publishing Law 88.13 in cases of defamation or when they plagiarize other people’s articles. Many journalists working in media organizations, whether printed or electronic, use a work computer belonging to their employer who pays them their due compensation in exchange for the articles.”

The university professor considered that digital rights are “completely disregarded in the Moroccan Press and Publishing Code” and that “journalists’ digital rights should be reconsidered.”

He also stressed that “media entrepreneurs take advantage of the lack of a reliable legal provision to delete journalists’ archives, while journalists do not have a strong legal basis to defend themselves.”

Al-Kouzi added that the Press and Publishing Law 13.88 includes provisions on defamation and other punishable acts that journalists may commit. Still, it failed to address journalists’ digital rights and contradicts Law 103.13 on protecting women against violence.

Involvement of the Press Syndicate
The National Syndicate of the Moroccan Press held a meeting with freelance journalists in Casablanca a few weeks ago in partnership with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The meeting addressed the problem of deleting journalists’ digital archives, and leading figures at the Syndicate stated that the latter is considering taking action.

Journalists’ archives encompass the professional portfolio they use to introduce themselves to their colleagues and institutions wishing to employ them. If this archive disappears, the job opportunities and the journalists’ physical and mental efforts over many years may disappear with it.

This page is available in a different language العربية (Arabic) هذه الصفحة متوفرة بلغة مختلفة

Yasser Fawzy