There is one guiding principle regulating the media and communications sector in Morocco: the private sector is submitted to strict rules while the public sector is not submitted to any of them.
Like the previous Constitutions since 1962, the 2011 Constitution (SEE HISTORY) guarantees freedom of expression and requires the State to assist the media sector (Articles 25, 27 & 28).
Three specific laws exist to regulate the media sector in Morocco:
- The post and telecommunications law (1997) to set the legal framework of the liberalisation process of the ICT sector
- The broadcast law (2005) regulating the broadcast media and ending the state monopoly over the sector;
- The Press and Publications Code (2016), hailed by the government as a major overhaul of the press code that was adopted in 2002 and to implement the rights enshrined in the 2011 constitution. This Code abolished prison time as punishment for journalists for example.
To the day of the publication of this study in 2017, no law regarding online media exist. Only the Press and Publications Code does provide a framework for online media insofar as it submits them to the same obligations as the print sector. Hence, they have to register with the Moroccan Royal prosecutor.
No specific rules for vertical concentration
The ownership structure of media companies is subject to the approval of regulatory bodies before granting or renewing a licence. They are also submitted to the same regulation as any company when it comes to monitoring ownership, through the National Competition Council. But this Council has very limited powers and in general, there is no specific indicator or method being implemented to evaluate media concentration in Morocco.
The legislation does not take vertical concentration (SEE INDICATORS) into account. However, according to the Press and Publications Code, an operator in the broadcast sector cannot hold an investment in the capital of more than one company possessing print outlets. A natural or legal person owning 30% or more of a company owning newspapers in the print sector has to declare it to the national Press Council (Conseil National de la Presse [CNP]) – which has yet to be established. The same goes for any company of the print sector owning 10% or more in the capital of another company of the same sector.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot own part of the capital of another ISP (SEE Regulatory Safeguards: horizontal concentration).
In the past five years, no contentious or disputed case related to media concentration has been publicly revealed or bought to justice. However, it is to be noted that the notion of joint penal liability (responsabilité pénale solidaire) that can be brought against journalists, publishing directors, owners and printers for press offenses (violating security of State for instance) hardly encourages cross-media ownership of the creation of media oligopolies.
However, these rules do not apply to state-owned medias. As such, state-owned companies are the most important cross-media owners in the country (see Regulatory Safeguards -cross-media).
In Morocco, there is one regulating authority for each sector. There exists no system to hold them accountable to the public. The ownership structure of each media outlet is submitted to the approval of its given regulating body before getting or renewing licence. Media companies are also submitted to the same regulation as any company when it comes to monitoring ownership, through the National Competition Council (see below).
The national telecom regulator (Agence Nationale de Réglementation des Télécommunications [ANRT]) was created in 1998 after the 1997 law on telecommunications had been passed. It is a public institution in charge of :
- managing and monitoring the attribution of the radio spectrum by granting frequencies to public telecommunication networks and to independent networks;
- receiving all complaints linked to interferences.
The broadcast authority (Haute Autorité de la Communication Audiovisuelle [HACA]) was created in 2002 in order to supervise the opening of the broadcast industry to the private sector and structure it through the selective granting of broadcasting licences. In 2011, the HACA became a Constitutional institution for « regulation and good governance ». As such, it is in charge of :
- advising the King, Parliament and government about any issue related to the broadcast sector;
- regulate the broadcast sector (this includes attribution of licences and frequencies, approval of the functional specifications of the broadcasters, monitor diversity of opinion on the broadcast sector and equal speaking rights when it comes to electoral campaigns) and decide the norms for audience measurement (SEE AUDIENCE MEASUREMENT).
The national Press Council (Conseil National de la Presse [CNP]) was created through the Press and Publications Code in 2016 to regulate the private print and online media sectors. It does not apply to the public sector and is not yet installed. As of today, the Ministry of Culture and Communication is still ensuring the allocation of the press cards. When installed, the CNP will be in charge of:
- implementing internal disciplinary jurisdiction (Art. 46 of the 2016 Press and Publications Code);
Proposing the withdrawal of State subsidies to a specific news organisation (Art. 46 of the 2016 Press and Publications Code);
- monitoring the voting rights and capital divisions of news organisations;
- Granting press cards.
The National Competition Council (Conseil de la Concurrence [CC]) is a Constitutional institution, like the HACA. It was created in 2008 to fight against anti-competitive practices and regulate competition on the Moroccan market. As such, it does not apply specifically to the media sector. Up until 2014, it was known to be a toothless regulation body as it had only an advisory role. In 2014, the CC underwent a series of reforms and has acquired decision-making, investigating and sanctioning powers. Companies involved in any decision made by the CC can always appeal.
Despite their sanctioning powers, these regulating bodies are no exception to political interference. This can be explained by the arbitrary nomination process of those entrusted with leadership positions within said bodies and had implications on the media sector.
Executive interferences and their implications on regulation
After ending the State monopoly on the broadcast sector, the licencing process for radio and TV was supervised by the HACA (SEE RADIO). Mid-2008, the regulatory body opened a bid allowing projects to compete for two TV channels of which they had the intention of opening up (meaning allowing through new TV licenses). However, by early 2009, HACA communicated its decision to a surprised public, according to which no new TV licenses were awarded and justified this decision by the pressure it would induce on the existing outlets by adding competition in the advertising market. To support this argument, they used as an example the only TV license issued in 2006 to Medi 1 Sat (now known as Medi1 TV) which was, at the time, undergoing financial problems. At the time, when Medi1 TV was privatised, the HACA did not open any bid. As the HACA remains adamant about the reasons for this position reversal, this account of the scarcity of advertisements and thus potential non-viability of new TV outlets has been severely criticised by media owners. The HACA cannot be held accountable by the general population, and thus the ground for refusal of licence attributions does not have to be disclosed.
Another political interference was observed in 2016, when Azeddine El Mountassir Billah, the general director of the ANRT, was fired without ensuing explanations. This happened the day after the ANRT addressed a warning to Maroc Telecom (Itissalat Al-Maghrib, IAM) of which the Moroccan State is a shareholder (30%).