Public subsidization for partisan press companies is a rent beset by many imbalances, which calls for institutional oversight in order to achieve efficiency, transparency and governance.
Moroccan partisan press companies receive multi-source financing support beset by many imbalances, which can be considered a “rent”. This calls for institutional oversight in order to achieve efficiency, transparency and governance, in addition to ensuring the right to access information.
Many Western countries, and some Moroccan political organizations, abolished partisan newspapers, some political parties continued to publish theirs, whereas others revived their stalled newspapers, all despite the significant decline in their sales and impact.
In 2019, the Moroccan partisan newspapers received direct financial support of nearly 13 million dirhams[i], in a context of no profitability, and a sharp decline in sales which did not exceed 25,000 copies[ii]; without forgetting that the partisan press enjoys three major sources of public money, namely direct support, party funds, and administrative ads. In light of the Covid-19crisisin 2020, partisan and private newspapers have benefited from the government’s rescue plan, with a value exceeding 200 million dirhams[iii] while allocating 75 million dirhams to pay their wages for three months[iv], with an extension for additional months[v]. This requires transparency and governance, as long as it is primarily related to the state’s finances.
The goal of the parties in issuing newspapers was to be able to directly address the public through a mass mechanism.However, today, this goal is no longer achieved despite the unlimited public supportthey benefit from. This brings us to the followingquestion:is the goal to spread or maintain support for this mechanism despite its failure? In the past and “during two decades, or perhaps for nearly thirty years, newspapers that declared their affiliation to a particular party, lived through one of the most glorious times of the partisan press in Morocco”[vi]. This is no longer the case today, yet “unlike Western countries that managed to abolish partisan newspapers decades ago, the majority of Moroccan political bodies have maintained their newspapers, which remained embedded in the history of Moroccan press”[vii].
Originally, financial support for partisan newspapers dates back to the 80’swhen “King Hassan II urged the then Prime Minister, to allocate 20 million dirhams annually to support the national press and assist political parties and unions. This royal decision came in response to a request by members of the Interior and Media Committees in the House of Representatives. Thereunder, the government allocated the said amount in the Finance Law of the following year 1987. Since then, the state allocates funds to finance political parties”[viii].
As a result of the major global transformations and their internal repercussions, Moroccan press, in general, and the partisan in particular, have experienceda decline in sales, a closure of many institutions, and a loss of influence on public opinion. The figures indicate that “in total, Moroccan newspapers sell less than 200,000 copies per day, which is very little compared to Morocco’s population of about 35 million, according to the latest official census”[ix].Thus, what are the imbalances in this field? To what extentthe principles of transparency and governance in the management of support derived from public funds are implemented? What are some possible alternatives?
First: the lack of transparency
Today, there are sixteen party newspapers and magazines owned by 14 political parties[x], twelve of which benefit from direct financial support of 13 million dirhams[xi], and from other sources provided by their political parties.Ten of them account for more than 50% of the administrative ads[xii] from state institutions, which bring in millions of dirhams, in addition to some advertisements related to public institutions. However, when examining every aspect of these financial resources, we will assess the extent to which the principles of transparency and governance are implemented.
Referring to the Broadcast Justification Office, known as OJD, it is noticed that data covers only six newspapers[xiii], although the amount of withdrawal for each headline depends on a certificate delivered by the office in order to benefit from the support granted to press companies. [xiv]Twelve newspapers benefit from this subsidization, therefore, obtaining it despite the failure to meet this condition raises a legitimate question about its entitlement, though some support is granted to small party newspapers on the ground of supporting multi-partism[xv].
In a diagnostic report, the Supreme Council of Accounts made several observations regarding the procedure for granting public subsidies to the press, including “the difficulty of classifying press companies, the lack of credibility of the withdrawal criterion, the lack of clarity about the criteria for supplementary or exceptional subsidies and the criteria for the cost of production, and the possibility of reducing the beneficiaries of print press subsidy”.[xvi]Additionally, it has been noted, in the discussions about the criterion of the amount of withdrawals, that “comparing the withdrawals with the number of copies sold shows a discrepancy between these two criteria.”[xvii]
2- Party support
The exact amount of financial support that political parties allocate to their newspapers, namely the support they receive from public funding, is unknown as the parties do not publish information about it. In addition, the reports of the Supreme Council of Accounts on the “annual audit of political parties” do not include any data on the transparency of this support[xviii].The council’s report indicated that the funding received by press companies working for political parties, and which is addressed to cover management expenses, “e.g. purchasing paper, printing, etc.… do not fall within the criteria for granting public support”[xix].
As a result of partisan newspapers combining several forms of support, the Supreme Council of Accounts demanded to “reconsider the method of calculating the support granted to the written press”, taking into account the performance standards and the transaction number achieved, as well as other subsidies received by some press companies, mainly the partisan press”[xx].
With reference to the last annual report on “Efforts to Promote Press Freedom”[xxi] issued in 2016, for example, we find that 11 party newspapers received over 2,000 administrative ads out of 4,605[xxii],which generated millions of dirham[xxiii].However, when the Ministry of Culture and Communication stopped issuing this report, the number of administrative ads granted to newspapers, including party newspapers, also stopped. Thus, we conclude that the direct financial support figures still maintain their publication character despite the shortcomings highlighted in the report. Nevertheless, the rest of the data is not available owing to the lack of publication, the absence of the right to information, without forgetting the ads from public institutions and companies, and the various tax exemptions.
The general conclusion is that the public subsidy provided by the state to private, independent, or party press companies, is the lifeblood of newspapers[xxiv]. Therefore, it must first achieve the intended efficiency of its creation while also besubject to governance and transparency controls. Finally, it must move towards building institutions to be financially independent, and this is where the sector is not responding.
The dramatic changes in the media field did not affect much the number of party newspapers, whose numbers had remained constant during the past two decades, as much as they affected their ability to spread, impact the public, and formulate public opinion. Thus, the big question for parties: is the goal to communicate the parties’message by the most widespread means? Or is it to preserve the means despite its little to no effect?
A simple comparison between a private (independent) and party newspaper reveals a paradox that “data in newspaper sales indicate that the total sales of a daily Moroccan newspaper (not affiliated with a political party or organization) exceeds the sales of all party newspapers combined”[xxv]despite the difficulties faced by private paper newspapers. This fact has been evidenced during the Covid-19 pandemic, where major private newspapers were unable to print and distribute, and instead resorted to online publishing.
Consequently, the partisan press is facing the same challenges as the print press, mainly linked to the poor dissemination, and to online media, which is taking advantage of the growth of modern media technologies.”In addition, this sector suffers from low advertising rate, compared to a high rate of other media, such as radio and posters. The total number of advertising revenues of the written press decreased in 2014-2015, whereas it increased for online press as it moved from 34 million dirhams to 49 million dirhams in the same period; an increase of nearly 44%”[xxvi].
Third: Why insisting?
The reasons behind keeping party newspapers and financially supporting them vary, as some people see that they are a “national patrimony” that must be preserved. This was expressed in an official report by the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, indicating that, in a general manner[xxvii]. “the development resulting from the emergence and spread of the online libraries across the world should urge the public authorities in Morocco to work to preserve the national patrimony (books, magazines, newspapers and all kinds of intellectual works)”[xxviii].
There are other motives related to the party and political interests of those in charge of the press projects, on top of which arenewspapersmouthpieces for parties.Moreover,newspapers are means to claim representative positions, including the National Press Council and other councils and bodies, within certain limits, and without violating the law.
Some people believe that party newspapers must be kept as they provide jobs, despite the recorded decline revealed by a simple comparison between the lists of press cards granted to journalists working in various media institutions for the years 2016 and 2020.For example, in 2016, 883journalists in total obtained their press cards, including journalists working in party newspapers[xxix], compared to only 98 journalists in online newspapers at that time”[xxx]. “The tide turned in 2019 and the number of journalists working in online newspapers who receivedthe card reached 1006, compared to559 in the print press”.[xxxi]This number rises steadily if the administrative, technical, printing and publishing staff are added to the number of journalists in party newspapers.
This brings us to the print press, headquarters and logistical devices as being among the reasons for continuity. Some newspapers are printed in printing houses belonging to party newspapers, which used to contribute to ensuring continuity, as the state provides exemptions for publication, sale and import of paper used in newspapers and Circulars, as well asfor the copyrighted works and their printing and delivery. In addition to this, reports of the Ministry of Culture and Communication focus on pluralism as a means to support party newspapers.
Public subsidy for press companies in general, and for party press companies in particular, might seem valid when it comes to the organizational and legal aspects, however, it can be rent-seeking[xxxii]. The Supreme Council of Accounts highlighted in its report some of the imbalances affecting public subsidies for the press; hence the oversight institutions, including the General Inspectorate of Finance, must act efficiently in this area. This was referred to by the Ministry of Culture and Communication in order to achieve efficiency, transparency and governance.
Today, in light of the lackof information, criticism of transparency and governance, and poor readability, Moroccan party newspapers are faced with three possible options:
The first option is supporting newspapers through public funds namely “basic, supplementary, and exceptional support,” state subsidies to political parties, and administrative ads despite the lack of concrete profitability, with the justification that these newspapers are a “national patrimony”;
The second option is for the state to take care of this sector to achieve a decent transformation,modeled on the digital and energy transformation, with conditional support according to a Statement of Requirements. In this regard, it is possible to adopt modern mechanisms that provide factors of mass spread and the ability to influence at a lower cost.
The third option is to discontinue the subsidy considering it a political rent after conducting an independent cost-effectiveness study. This may apply to the print press sector as a whole, not just the partisan press, as is the case in many countries that have abolished the partisan press.
[i]The Ministry of Culture – Communication Sector, the list of Moroccan newspapers, magazines, websites and partisan publications that benefited from the public subsidies granted by the state for the year 2019, the press website, published in:https://www.assahafa.com/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%B9-%D9%85%D8%A6%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AD%D9%81-%D8%A7
[iii]Morocco allocates 200 million dirhams to save the printpress, Hespress, June 26, 2020:https://www.hespress.com/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%BA%D8%B1%D8%A8-%D9%8A%D8%AE%D8%B5%D8%B5-200-%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1%D9%87%D9%85-%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%86%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B0-%D9%82%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84-570481.html
[v] The Moroccan government provides support to press companies due to Covid-19, Alaraby Aljadid, February 03, 2021: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/entertainment_media/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%BA%D8%B1%D8%A8-%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%AF-%D8%AF%D8%B9%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A4%D8%B3%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%A
[vi]Alaoui, Mohamed Bensaïd, The Partisan Press in Morocco, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Friday 20 June 2014, issue number .
[vii]Al-Mohafid, Jamal, the Partisan Press: resistance against the transformation and digital age, an opinion article published on Lakome: lakome2.com/opinion/232591
[viii]Youbi, Mohammad – Al-Yalawi, Nouaman, political parties manipulate public funds, details of the report of the Supreme Council of Accounts, Al-Akhbar newspaper, December 28, 2020: https://www.alakhbar.press.ma/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%AD%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%AA%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A8-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%85-121542.html
[ix]Kharachi, Youness, Print newspapers in Morocco.. Slow Dying, Assahafa Journal, Al Jazeera Media Institute, December 29, 2019: institute.aljazeera.net/ar/ajr/article/928
[x]There are currently 16 partisan newspapers, and according to the Supreme Council of Accounts there were 15 in 2016.
[xi]List of Moroccan newspapers, magazines, websites and partisan publications that benefited from the public subsidy granted by the state in 2019: lakome2.com/media/150079
[xii]Ministry of Communication, Annual Report on “Efforts to Promote Press Freedom 2015”, March 2016, p. 69.
[xiv]The “Contract between the Ministry of Communication and the Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Publishers regarding the Program for the Promotion of Press Companies,” p. 27, stipulates several conditions for benefiting from the such as the need for print media companies to be involved in the OJD. This condition was not met by some party newspapers – in addition to publishing the annual final account, and applying the collective convention for professional journalists.
[xv]The partisan publications are: Al Amal Al Maghribia, Al Wasat Al Ijtimai, Al Islah Wa Tanmia , and Al Alam Al Amazighi, according to the list of Moroccan newspapers, magazines, websites and partisan publications that benefited from the public support granted by the state for the year 2019: lakome2.com/media/150079[15
[xvi]Ibid, pages 573-574 : the main imbalances monitored by the Supreme Council of Accounts.
[xvii]Ibid, p. 573
[xviii]The Council did not mention any list except for some remarks relating to some newspapers, and the parties justifying their expenses.
[xix]Ibid, p. 573
[xx]Ibid, p. 575
[xxi]Ministry of Communication, Annual Report on “Efforts to Promote Press Freedom 2015”, March 2016, p. 69.
[xxii]Al Alam (174), Al Ittihad Al Ichtiraki (164), Rissalat Al Ouma (309), Al Monaataf(248), Al Haraka (267), Attajdid (419) was closeddown, Bayan Al Yaoum (280), Al Islah Wa Tanmia (143), L’Opinion (178), Liberation (119), Al Bayan (100). Find more information in the annual report of the Ministry of Communication, on “Efforts to Promote Press Freedom 2015”, March 2016, p. 69.
[xxiii]According to a newspaper employee, administrative and judicial advertisements are now subject to competitive fees after the Ministry was the one distributing them. The price of purchasing an ad space in a newspaper varies, as it is calculated by the number of lines, (the average rate is 1000 dirhams per ad). Sometimes newspapers that have Arabic and French versions may publish ads at two different prices as long as the law requires the publication of any ad in both Arabic and French.
[xxiv]The Ministry of Culture and Communication stresses “the effectiveness of the program contracts, thanks to which some newspapers continue to be published, and without them, they would have failed due to the decline in sales and limited readability.” The 2016-2017 annual report of the Supreme Council of Accounts, p. 579.
[xxv]Alaoui, Mohamed Bensaïd, Partisan Press in Morocco, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, June 20, 2014, issue number .
[xxvi]The Supreme Council of Accounts, Ibid, p. 571.
[xxvii]This is explained by the head of the National Union of the Moroccan Press, and member of the party of Istiqlal at the time, Abdellah El Bakkali, as he discussed the sectoral budget of the Ministry of Communication in 2015 saying: “In Tunisia, for example, the print media has been declared a national patrimony, which indicates the state’s direct intervention to preserve, value, and invest in it..”: https://chabatonline.ma/%D8%B9%D8%A8%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%B4%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%B2/
[xxviii]Economic, Social and Environmental Council, Report on the Promotion of Reading, Official Bulletin, No. 6836, dated December 5, 2019: adala.justice.gov.ma\production\rapports\AR\2019
In a previous interview with Al-Tajdid, he said: “Some Arab countries considered print newspapers to be a “national patrimony to which is supported exceptionally in order to preserve it,” 26/27/11/2016:https://www.bilakoyoud.com/index.php/presse/1020-26-27-11-2016
[xxix]According to the Ministry of Communication at the time, the number of journalists working in various partisan newspapers was over 200.
[xxx]The Ministry of Communications, Lists of journalists working in various media institutions, public and private, who have obtained a professional press card for the current year (up to June 30, 2015).
[xxxi]The Press Council delivers 2,928 cards to professionals, Hespress,
June 2, 2020 : https://www.hespress.com/%D9%85%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D9%84%D9%85-2928-%D8%A8%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%A9-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%87%D9%86%D9%8A-566007.html
[xxxii]The Ministry of Communication gave its feedback on the report of the Supreme Council of Accounts that “regarding the allocation of production cost support for the partisan press, despite the possibility of the latter benefiting from public subsidization directed to political parties, the bilateral committee in the current situation cannot verify this before deciding on requests. For this purpose, the partisan press will be required in the future to provide evidence that it hasnot benefited twice from the public fund” – Ibid. p. 580