Public service television has been used to bring about rapid social change and economic progress for Morocco. Like many developing countries, and for many years, Morocco has sought the help of television to disseminate development ideas to its citizens.
The Moroccan government recently gave policy considerations to regulate the use of television and radio airwaves as important outside sources for promoting its development objectives.
In 2004, the High Authority of Audiovisual Communication (HAAC) promulgated the Audio-Visual Communication Law to put an end to the state’s monopoly over broadcasting, and provides the legal framework that allows for the liberalization of this sector.
The law assigns a public service mission and obligation to Al Oula and 2M. Al Oula was the first state-owned and state-controlled television station. Created in 1962, it functioned as a mouthpiece to the government and the palace, and it operated under the direct control of the Ministry of Communication. 2M was the Arab world’s first terrestrial pay-TV channel. It was established and funded by the largest Moroccan economic conglomerate, Omnium Nord-Africain (ONA). In June 1996, and due to financial constraints, ONA, the major shareholder of the station, withdrew from the management of 2M and sold 68% of its shares to the Moroccan government.
Television programming decisions in the two public television stations are influenced by the elite class that wants more entertainment and has less need for educational programs than their rural and urban-poor counterparts. Access and participation are the major cornerstones for the use of television for development. Moroccan public service television is in clear violation of its public broadcasting mandate, i.e. to appeal to all segments of Moroccan society, to offer opportunities for access and participation to its audiences, to stay detached from government interest, and to cater to national identity and community.
The two public television stations marginalize and dis-empower the very audiences they claim to serve. The two stations construct on a daily basis an undemocratic social order by acting as media by the elite and for the elite and by narrowing down the possibilities of participation for the underprivileged and the poor segments of Moroccan society.
The distance between Al Oula and 2M and their public service mandates may be traced to an utter lack of understanding, on the part of television producers, of the relationship between the television texts and the world they represent and understanding the processes by which the meanings of these texts are constructed. A TV text that represents an identity or state of being is a text that represents a particular conception of power and responsibility. Television producers seem to be either oblivious or indifferent to the impact TV representations may have on viewers’ perceptions.
Because there seems to be a lack of vision about what public service means, because TV producers seem to be assigned to produce programs for which they are not trained and/or fail to employ the necessary external input, and because frequent evaluation of the programs seems to be non-existent, the result is not likely to be what the public service mandate intended.
In order to successfully use television as an outside source for promoting the country’s development goals, HAAC needs to conduct large scale evaluation and assessment of the quality and quantity of the public service programming of Al Oula and 2M. TV producers need to undergo intensive training in critical media studies so that they become aware of the kinds of social constructs they disseminate each day to their audiences.
Professor Bouziane Zaid is the Communication Studies Program Co-ordinator at School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Al Akhawayn University, Morocco.
His book “Public Service Television Policy and National Development in Morocco: Contents, production, and audiences” includes content analysis, production study, and audience reception analysis. It examines Moroccan television from the perspectives of both the broadcasters and the audience.