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Depending on life support -
Media under control

Despite the opening of the broadcasting sector and the diversification of the press with the apparition of new outlets and the growth of the online sector, a large part of the media sector has remained under the control of key economic players.

The case of the French-language print sector

Historically, the French-language press has been targeting and catering to the country’s elite. The MOM study shows this has not changed and a number of possibly interested investors keep it on life support. With the creation of popular Arabic-language newspapers, such as Al Massae and Al Akhbar, and the increasingly wider use of the darija language in society, French language newspapers are ever less popular. However they are kept alive by key economic and/or political players of the country.

The French-language print press represents 19.73% of overall surveyed readership. Amongst the titles included in this study, only L’Economiste passes the bar of 5% readership with an average sales of 12 999 per issue, thus showing the marginality of this section of the print press in terms of readership numbers.

Out of the eight non-partisan French-language outlets selected, one has a Saudi millionaire listed as investor, Le Matin; four have one or both currently serving ministers, billionaire Aziz Akhannouch and Moulay Hafid Elalamy (La Nouvelle Tribune, Aujourd’hui Le Maroc, La Vie Eco, Les Inspirations ECO); the royal holding group SNI is present in the capital structure of the Ecomedias group as well as in La Nouvelle Tribune (directly through their subsidiary OHIO and indirectly through the company Attijariwafa Bank Group); and politician and businessman Khalid El Hariry is the sole owner of the weekly Telquel.

Investing in influence with negative returns

To these investors, while investments outweigh returns, the loss remains marginal compared to their income from their other, main activities. This is the case of the royal family holding SNI for example.

The survival of these outlets is due not in little part to the fact that they are closely affiliated with various entities of power. Each outlet’s editorial line, besides Telquel, tends to focus on economic and business-related topics, and is designed to promote and stabilize, rather than question or even jeopardise the economic, political and social order.

Furthermore, key economic players such as Akhannouch and Elalamy are investing in potential influence through their respective outlets, that may benefit them in their political and business ventures. This is all the more striking when investments are put in perspective with readership numbers: the outlets targeted are by no means the most popular. Thus, it is not so much audience numbers that are at play here but rather the very selective, elite target group of the media outlets in question, keeping this artificially inflated economic model as a specificity of the French-language print press alive.

Impossible transformation

While the state monopoly over the broadcasting sector was set to disappear following the liberalisation process started in 2006, radios and TVs remain largely under its control. The state-owned company SNRT, across all of its radio channels, represents 26.73% of audience concentration and 8.67% of the TV audience, while the private/public SOREAD, represents 5.62% of audience share in the radio landscape and one third – 33% with a single TV channel alone. Their net results, however, tell a different story and show struggling companies that have yet to prove their economic model: SNRT’s net result is - $US 700,000 while SOREAD’s averages - $US 6.1 Millions.

One of the apparent ills of the TV sector in Morocco seems to be the perpetuation of a state-media model and the tight editorial line that ensues when it comes to SNRT’s channels and the SOREAD’s 2M.

In fact, since international channels became readily available to the population, through dishes and satellite receivers - and the emergence of important pan-Arab channels, Moroccan TV outlets would have needed the necessary tools to compete on a world stage. To the contrary, they remained heavily supervised and thus hindered in their evolution by overly restrictive Cahiers des Charges. Given the state's intent on controlling this most popular media platform that is television, it has chosen a decisively protectionist approach and put a clear limit on potential competitiveness of national channels. This resulted in the need for the investment of ever-greater sums of money without seeing any positive returns. Today, we observe a pernicious model that has shown its limits. At the time of the MOM project’s launch in Morocco, three TV channels had started or were about to start production in Morocco while being re-transmitted from abroad. This allows them to bypass the process of licensing by the State.

Even if it seems too late and almost impossible for a transformation, a decision will ultimately have to be made for a sector that continues to drains state-funding - the SNRT alone benefits from 88% of public funding dedicated to the whole media sector - without showing any positive returns or potential for future improvements.

Note: non-partisan means not directly owned by a political party.

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