Rabat - Some years ago, the late Larbi Messari, journalist, newspaper editor and former minister of communication told the press that Moroccans were “audio-visual migrants” because they spend most of their time watching foreign television, especially since the advent of the digital era.
Rabat – Some years ago, the late Larbi Messari, journalist, newspaper editor and former minister of communication told the press that Moroccans were “audio-visual migrants” because they spend most of their time watching foreign television, especially since the advent of the digital era.
This behavior clearly denotes the Moroccan public’s weariness towards its national channels that do not meet its television expectations. They prefer to seek quality elsewhere. And by so doing, totally ignore the national media landscape.
Today, people’s distaste hasn’t changed. Worse, viewers find that national channels are not only unprofessional, but they, also, blatantly insult their intelligence and do not bring them any added value either in the entertainment, information or education.
Arrival of 2M
In the mid-80s of the last century, when there was only one channel in the Moroccan media landscape, monotonous and rather propagandistic in character, the government created a private fee-paying channel cloned on the model of France’s Canal+: 2M. Just like its French counterpart, it was broadcasting entertainment programs, documentaries and films in encrypted format. Besides it, also, offered unencrypted programming including talk shows, using bold political tone, especially at a time when Morocco was still in the throes of the era of bloody repression of political opponents of Hassan II’s regime, known as: “Years of Lead.”
The talk shows, in question, had a high rate of viewing and were followed with great diligence by common people especially in big cities, as 2M’s signal was not available in many regions of the country. But, unfortunately, because of the narrowness of the Moroccan market, in terms of paid subscriptions, this channel soon went bankrupt and fell under the control of the Moroccan state to become, with time, yet another monotonous, insipid and bland TV state channel.
Consequently, 2M quickly lost its avant-garde identity it acquired while being a paying channel and became public like RTM (Radio Television Marocaine), with the unscripted mission to stupefy the Moroccan viewers with anesthetic programs , shows, series and multitude of Egyptian , Lebanese , Mexican and Turkish soap operas, as well as, singing and dancing shows and endless newscasts. Moroccans, feeling insulted, turned to watching videotapes they rented, for almost nothing, from video clubs that sprouted everywhere like mushrooms. This was an unexpected opportunity for Moroccan viewers to flee the systematic dull and unimaginative two national TV channels.
However, in the 90s of the last century a technological breakthrough brought unexpected relief through satellite television. Desperate, Moroccans deprived themselves from their national couscous meal, initially, to use its dish to receive the signal of entertaining and varied French TV stations. Then, one day, came about the satellite TV and Moroccans migrated happily to it, for good. Few years later, this migration became final with the arrival of digital technology and the Internet with its wide choice. It was a big relief for Moroccan people hungry for quality TV programs and quality news and news analysis.
Moulting without renewal nor rebirth
In the beginning of the third millennium, a huge transformation happened within Moroccan television. The big change started giving hope to people that Moroccan TV would eventually become citizen-sensitive, responsible and respectful. But unfortunately, none of this occurred. RTM became SNRT, a TV company, then a bouquet of channels were created: a cultural channel, a sports channel, a religious channel, and local and international channels. But in the end, all these channels were only dismal clones of the former boring RTM, which is now calling itself al-Oula, meaning the first channel. For some viewers, it can only claim the first rank or place in stupidity and absurdity. It turned out later that this change of RTM into SNRT, as expected, was no more than a legal transformation with no qualitative corollary, whatsoever.
In the end, the creation of the SNRT and a bunch of channels did change neither the program content nor the television policy of this state-owned media. It is no more than what it was in the past, a propaganda tool totally gagged by the establishment and entrusted with promoting subliminal self-censorship, blatantly.
What do people blame SNRT for?
The blames are multiple from viewers, TV critics and external / internal journalists.
Program content shows a certain lack of professionalism, realism and truth:
- News broadcasting:
News casting is endless and without any substance. Information broadcasting never obeys to the importance and relevance of the event. It follows a formal classification of activities and events according to the importance of the person concerned: royal, prince-related, ministerial, economic, social, regional, sports and weather. News of utmost or great importance rarely make it to the beginning of the newscast contrary to what happens in western TVs where royal or presidential info goes to the end of news broadcasting if it is of ceremonial importance only.
Moroccan television never calls on experts, analysts, specialists and university professors to dissect information and analyze it thoroughly, but, instead, it is always asking ministers or other officials to give tasteless descriptions of meetings, conferences or official openings, and these happily waffle endlessly, irritating viewers beyond belief.
There are very few talk shows in SNRT’s programs. Those that exist do not have any audio-visual value because producers and presenters usually invite their acquaintances, relatives or friends. So, consequently, the content remains poor and uninteresting. To avoid any political overflow, talk-shows are all taped in advance, and only a handful are performed live, and their participants are carefully handpicked.
- Musical programs:
These evening musical programs of singing, dancing and total relaxation abound. Although they are expensive, they do not require much intellectual effort. They are about inviting a bunch of musicians, singers and folk groups, one or two comedians and one or two celebrities who are interviewed by a presenter and or male/female presenter duo. They sing and dance, and that’s it. These programs are aired on Friday, Saturday and holiday evenings. They are entertainment programs that numb one feelings and sense of existence and discernment greatly.
- TV movies:
They are generally of good quality and texture and deal with social problems of everyday life of ordinary people, but they are rare.
- Documentary films:
They are generally good and well appreciated by the general public because of their educational content. A case in point is the excellent documentary of the discovery of Morocco entitled “amoudou.”
TV magazines, without any exception, all adopt the same format: two so- called experts are invited to the studio to discuss a given subject related to politics, society, economics, education, religion, etc. The producers will interview few people in the street, a common practice referred to as radio trotoir to introduce some variety. But, all in all, these magazines never deal with the sticky national issues and if they ever do, it is in a superficial manner. Thus, these programs are mostly hollow and far from the required quality.
Moroccan TV journalists excel in sweet talk and cajolery, using a jargon and clichés that viewers reject and regard as a flagrant insult to their intelligence and moral integrity. Some of these are as follows:
- Morocco is the most beautiful country in the world;
- Morocco is an exception in the Arab world;
- Moroccan democracy;
- All is well and perfect in Morocco ( goulou l3am zin );
- Morocco is experiencing exceptional growth and stability like no other country in the Arab world, etc.
All the views presented by the channel, either in their external productions, newscasts, aim to praise the establishment and the government and participants are encouraged, indirectly, to make use of honeyed feelings and congratulating language and tone. Something that infuriates the ordinary viewer who endures daily corruption, nepotism, bureaucracy, unemployment, inequality and poverty and he is duly wondering where is the beautiful and generous Morocco portrayed in the national TV located.
Unfortunately, national television is very far from reality, it seems to be living in the shackles of a lie, an endless lie, where constructive criticism is banished, and where different perspective is limited. Consequently, the unpopularity of Moroccan television is, undoubtedly, the result of its permanent lie, its insulting behavior and its glaring lack of civility.
The holy month of Ramadan is the only time the viewer seems to be reconciled in good faith with national television. Thus, this “audio-visual migrant” deigns to return “virtually” to the country to watch local television, at least before and after “ftour,” while consuming nonchalantly his bowl of harira accompanied by Andalusian music and local entertainment. But every year, nevertheless, he feels betrayed: a lot of mediocrity, amateurism, and many lies as usual. It seems that in the national TV realm, nothing changes, just more of the same.
Candid camera is served each year along with the dates and milk of “ftour” seems to be an entertainment which, instead of making the viewer laugh, laughs at him in the end, and so he becomes the butt of the farce. Candid camera, which, in principle, is a hidden camera and aims to ensnare the average citizen or a star in a comic trap and sticky situations that generate spontaneous outbursts of joy or nervousness, is not finally as hidden as it is supposed to be, according to the national press. Indeed, it seems that candid camera is a real deception. The target citizen or chosen star have advance knowledge of the whole scenario and act accordingly , in return for a payment , a detail that spoils the charm and innocence of the program altogether .
Sit-coms products seem to be, somewhat, the exclusive realm of the company Ali & N of the pampered and golden boy of the seraglio Nabil Ayouch, who, somehow, seems to win all the big contracts of SNRT as to what concerns comedy and fiction. There was, however, last year and the year before, a real quality product entitled “lcouple” of two great Moroccan actors: Hassan Fad and Dounia Boutazout, who managed to combine, in a professional way, comedy and satire and had a dazzling success first in television and, on the web, thereafter.
While Ramadan TV movies seem to be wavering between good and bad shows, Moroccan theater seems to prance to the top of success with most plays making it to television. But Moroccan theater remains completely ignored by the government as what concerns aid, encouragement and promotion. But, despite all the difficulties it is facing, it is definitely successful: it entertains, educates and shows the critical problems of Moroccan society openly, with much determination and courage. Musical evenings, as usual, are tasteless and greatly lacking in imagination and inspiration. They exhibit alarming mediocrity in content and performance.
Television production companies
Apart from the news and some homemade magazines, the majority of the SNRT programs are produced by external production companies that are collecting a huge jackpot but are unable to produce quality material. Why?
These production companies have been extensively founded by former TV professionals, officials or journalists and continue to have acting and rewarding accomplices inside the institution that help them get fat contracts by unlawful means.
Tenders are launched by SNRT, production companies in question submit their offers. Thanks to their internal complicity, they manage to win the contract. This win-win fraud scheme is cutting is hindering the efforts and will of young companies to bring new blood added value to TV production and develop the concept of creativity, bringing quality and freshness without forgetting much-needed innovation.
But for now, it seems that instead of giving a chance to everyone, SNRT continues to pour into a primary tribalism and nepotism, common in the Arab world.Indeed, the golden boy of the seraglio, Nabil Ayoub, son of the Ayatollah’s official com, the great patriarch Ayouch, got a phenomenal multi-billion centimes contract from the two behemoths : SNRT Al-Oula and 2M , just because he is called Ayouch and that leaves no space for newcomers, in the least, and forces the exit of competition and quality.
Imperious necessity for the withdrawal of the state from the audio-visual landscape
Morocco cannot set claim to good governance as long as the state continues to control, directly or indirectly, the media. In the past, controlling the information outlets rhymed with the control of power. Today, it is synonymous with outright dictatorship, especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Because of this unjustified control on media, Morocco continues to endure unnecessary finger-pointing from international organizations such as Freedom House, Transparency International, Reporters without Borders, etc.
It is anachronistic that modern Morocco of the 2011 constitution, open on democracy and political progress can continue to control the media and, especially, television. It is counterproductive and bad for the image of the country. Time has come to give national media unrestricted full freedom and open the audio-visual sector to private broadcasters to bring quality and innovation and the added value that will result, ultimately, in economic, political and social development.
It is also inconceivable that Moroccans would continue to pay a fee, hidden in their water and electricity bills for an antiquated television that does not meet their expectations. A television that seems to be more interested in paying lip service all that is official rather than dealing professionally with the serious ailments and headaches of the country, such as:
- Rampant youth unemployment;
- Corruption ;
- Nepotism ;
- Poverty ;
- Power abuse ;
- Bad governance ;
- Poverty and lack of solidarity and sharing ;
- The indecency of the political class ;
- Sexual harassment;
- Identity issues;
- National cultures : Amazigh, Darijophone, Hassani and Jewish;
- Failure of the national educational system; etc.
Unfortunately, Moroccan television is only interested in inaugurations, celebrations, speeches and official activities, official statistics, etc. This television is heavily weighed down by its official identity that is making it lose all credibility vis-à-vis of the public who is forced to migrate to foreign quality TV stations.
The television of Rabat
Many Moroccan citizens living in the countryside are calling the SNRT, with all its numerous useless clones: tilifizyoun dyal rbat “Rabat television.” It is a popular judgment full of teachings, but also very critical of this institution, which is supposed to represent and serve all Moroccans, without exception but fails miserably to do so, regrettably.
The SNRT, in its current form should consider creating a rural television that would provide entertainment and deal with the concerns of half of the population of the country, such as: agriculture in all its aspects : modern irrigation techniques; use of fertilizers; drought-resistant crops, plants, and fruit trees; rural needs in education; health and infrastructure; rural solidarity twiza , etc. Television could possibly study and get to know habits, customs and manners of rural groups of physical and human geography of the hinterland bearing in mind that urban Moroccans ignore everything about deep Morocco.
It is absurd that the Moroccan television that has over 52 years of age has never thought to undertake sociological field studies to see how it is perceived by the Moroccans it is supposed to serve. Secondly, it is inconceivable that this television has ever thought about starting an external evaluation system on its programs as well as an internal one.
The evaluation culture has never been the strength of this television and it may not be for long. This attitude seems to be telling Moroccan citizens: we do not need to be evaluated, we know that we are on the right path: the official path, of course. Indeed, even the French audience measurement company MarocMètrie, that was hired to conduct audience measurements, seemed to be only interested in its big contract money. Its measures are sporadic and are ignoring many salient social aspects. In France, where the outcome measures are published weekly, as for Morocco it is seasonal , and the worst is that there is some aspect that this audience measurement does not take into account, official TV business, on account of fear of alienating the establishment and consequently losing the lucrative contract it gets from it .
The television of Rabat, which is broadcasting 24 hours a day, could have used some of the time slots for functional literacy, women empowerment, good citizenship, but it is not. For many people, the television of Rabat is not a citizen television, but television of singing, dancing and relaxation: tilifizyoun chti7 ou rdi7 .
Reinvigorate the Moroccan audio-visual landscape
Moroccan television, in its current format, will continue to cower in its mediocrity, because in a sense, it has a monopoly of the Moroccan audio-visual landscape and does not have to face any form of external competition, so it is by no means forced to innovate to please. It is indulging in its monopoly status and it is just perpetuating itself magnificently without any fear of the outside world, at all.
To end this situation that does not please the Moroccan public, it is urgent for the government to liberalize the Moroccan audio-visual landscape by offering television operating licenses to private companies to stimulate the sector and allow the Moroccan public to choose the entertainment they want.
Moroccan television is a television from the Neanderthal age, in a figure of speech, in the sense that it is only aping world TVs in providing the service without caring about quality and is, in no way, encouraging innovation and creativity, and owing its survival to the protection of the state and not to any of its dynamic achievements.
In one word, it’s a television of another time, another era, which should, in principle, exist only in museums and history books and not in reality, because it does not serve society but only serves itself, alas.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu