Communication Development : A "Priority" In Morocco
Morocco's proximity to Europe has played a major role in the country's ability to not only create and encourage a more liberal media environment, but also to keep pace with the technological revolution spreading across the globe as the country enters the 21st century.
Realizing the importance of communication, the Moroccan government stressed in March 1999 the "ongoing efforts" to reform the state-owned press organizations and maintained that communication development is a national "priority" with a "new, independent media system" in emergence. The entrance 35-year-old King Mohammed VI also promises to bring progressively more liberal changes to the country.
Print media have recently seen a "deep mutation" from previous years, marked by the renewal and modernization of equipment, the hiring of young executives and the revamping of articles and design of the newspapers themselves. The sector has become a "full-fledged component of the industrial and commercial fabric" of Morocco, with continuing initiatives to increase professionalism and advertising in light of the sector's move toward privatization. The country has also seen an increase in specialized newspapers, dealing with such things as economic, computer, sport and women's issues, which have "enriched" newsstands around the country.
However, observers remain "optimistic about the steady growth of pluralistic media" in Morocco, others remain concerned about the highly partisan character of the news itself. About 1780 domestic and foreign papers, magazines and journals are now in circulation in Morocco. But while newspapers and weeklies "across the political spectrum" publish freely, with views ranging from socialist to nationalist to Islamic, about 80 percent of the papers are highly politicized with allegiance to 1 of the 14 political parties. Thus, it is sometimes nearly "impossible to find out what is really happening unless you read several newspapers".
The nation's official press agency, Maghreb Arab Press, is a government-owned agency, inaugurated by the late King Mohammed V in 1958. In 1977, it became a state-owned corporation with autonomous legal and financial status and has since become one of the largest Arab, African and Islamic news agencies in the world. The agency now harbors 10 regional offices and 17 international offices in such cities as Madrid, Paris, London, Washington, DC, Cairo and Moscow. Its motto remains "News is sacred, comment is free." The government also owns an Arabic daily and supports two semi-official dailies, one in French-and the other in Arabic.
The government has traditionally played a major role in the media sector, providing subsidies to the rest of the press through price supports for newsprint and office space. While a 1958 decree grants the government the right to register domestic papers and journals, the government generally does not attempt to censor the media and "generally tolerates satirical and often stinging editorials" in opposition party dailies. Further, while "The Press Code" empowers the Minister of Interior to confiscate publications deemed offensive to the government and allows the Prime Minister to order the indefinite suspension of a publication, these powers are also rarely enacted.
A number of organizations stand to protect the rights of media workers throughout the country. The National Union of the Moroccan Press, for instance, was established in 1963 with the aim of "defending the profession and the code of ethics" in journalism. The group receives an annual state subsidy. Other groups include the Press Club, the Association of the Higher Institute of Journalism Graduates and the Moroccan Association of Professional Journalists, the latter of which focuses on the role of women in Moroccan media.
Morocco's electronic media sector seems to be at a "turning point," adapting to fit the global "revolution" of technological developments. Radio and TV networks now cover a majority of the country, and the number of radios and TVs has increased dramatically, with 1 radio per every 3 people and 1 TV per every 6. Further, the number of satellite dishes has "mushroomed", as dish antennas have become relatively cheap and permit free access to a huge variety of foreign programs. The government does not impede access to foreign broadcasting.
The government owns the Moroccan Broadcasting Network (RTM), which broadcasts in Arabic, French, English, Spanish and three dialects, tarifit, tamazight and tachelhit. With one main station and nine regional stations, the network is able to access nearly the entire country.
Medi I is a private station run by a Moroccan company and was established in 1980 as part of a Moroccan/French partnership. The station serves as a general bilingual station of international news and entertainment and can be received in parts of Spain, France and Italy.
The government owns the only television stations in the country, which can be received in most areas without the help of decoders or satellite antennas. In 1996, the country's only private station, 2M, was purchased by the government when its attempt to bring "pay service" television to the country failed. In order to save the station from bankruptcy, the government bought out a 68 percent share of 2M's stock, but says it plans to resell 2M to the private sector as the trend toward privatization increases. Moroccan TV programs are broadcast daily on EUTELSAT 2 and seen by millions around the world.
Morocco's proximity to Europe plays an important role in the Moroccan economy, as well as its continued move toward commercialization of the communications industry. Advertising has recently "conquered the national media space", and the Autonomous Advertisement Service (SAP) was established to make sure that TV ads remain in line with the basic goals of the national economy.
Morocco boasts one of the largest telecom sectors in Africa. While most of its operation is currently supervised by the state-owned National Post and Telecommunications Board, an increased tendency toward privatization and openness have seen new companies emerge to challenge its monopoly.
According to residents, the government does not restrict or censor Internet access. Accounts can be easily obtained from dozens of private service providers, and citizens can access the unfiltered World Wide Web from home, the office or cyber-cafes around the country.
Despite these freedoms, however, the Internet has grown slowly because of high costs and the lack of a focused national policy to promote its development. In early 1998, for instance, access costs ranged from US$ 40-50/month, which allowed for only 15 hours of service and cost an additional connection fee of US$ 2/hour. By 1999, the price had dropped considerably to US$ 20/month for unlimited access, but the connection fee remained US$ 2/hour.
Future of Moroccan Media
Morocco's "geo-strategic" position is probably one of its best assets in facing the 21st century, as its close association with Europe continues to provide a critical link in Moroccan trade and business, as well as a model of independent communication systems within the country. A multiparty system and a tradition of tolerance have also helped to create a more liberal atmosphere for the country's emerging press corps, which will most likely see continued development and progress through the next decade. The new king's affinity for new technologies and emerging entrepreneurs will also add to Moroccan development.