By Neaman Lerhmari
Rabat – In their comprehensive investigation into media ownership in Morocco, Le Desk and Reporters Without Borders have found that the country’s media industry suffers from a severe lack of transparency when it comes to advertising.
The report, covering 44 print outlets and 17 news websites, aims to shed the light on Moroccan media ownership, revenues, and transparency.
A market bathed in fog
The report considers the advertisement market to significantly lack transparency, the absence of mechanisms bathing having bathed the market in fog. However, Media Ownership Monitor Morocco’s team managed to obtain information about the market’s weight: advertisers spent USD 386 million in 2016, with the three national telecommunications companies providing a quarter of this demand.
Due to the success of television advertisement, it rose to become the advertisers’ preferred medium, accounting for 39.8 percent in market shares during 2017’s first semester, followed by the radio which plummeted to 16.7 percent in shares. In 2016, both mediums totaled USD 219 million, three times the revenue generated by the press.
With the advent of the digital era and the plethora of new media, advertising revenues fell sharply. This affects the most marginalized category in the market, namely the pure-players of online press for whom it’s getting harder to establish a viable business model. According to the report, investors’ tendency to opt for Google and Facebook ads rather than newspapers puts the local press’ future in jeopardy. These unfavorable conditions give online media outlets a Hobson’s choice: to opt for “branded content,” a type of advertisement that is said to severely hinder journalism independence and quality, or cease to exist.
Le Desk, an online newspaper and co-author of the investigation, announced their shutdown in October 2016 due to financial issues. The French-speaking pure-player was the first to introduce a model based on paywalls and digital subscription in a market characterized by a race for audiences. However, Le Desk quickly withdraw the shutdown decision by the end of the month.
Audience measurement, a tricky business
Online advertisers consider Google Analytics to be the most accurate representation of site visits. The metrics collected through the Google platform are publicly available, even though website owners often opt out of making the data available to their audience and competitors.
There are numerous ways website owners can cheat the metrics, the most notorious ones being the purchase of traffic and fake clicks in an attempt to lure advertisers into believing the website is more popular than it has presented.
For the print media, the Moroccan Organism for Justification and Diffusion (OJD) controls printed outlets’ circulation, distribution, and sales numbers on a trust basis, as provided by the media themselves, and then proceeds to random checks. In 2007, the OJD reprimanded newspapers La Nouvelle Tribune and Aujourd’hui Le Maroc for purposely providing misleading and inflated sales numbers.
Some outlets, namely L’Opinion and La Nouvelle Tribune, issue “2.5 to three times more than their number of paid individual purchases,” the report adds. Opting for unpaid distribution and “complacency subscriptions” is a way to inflate an outlet’s exposure.
The investigation also notes “methodological weakness” in radio audience measurement, for which the Center for Radio Audience Measurements (CIRAD) has been responsible of since 2010, in conjunction with market research firm IPSOS. “The panels of individuals used for research change all the time,” argue the investigators. “Using independently pooled panels makes it impossible to compile unbiased audiences over a large period of time.”
The body in charge of measuring the television audience, the Interprofessional Centre for Audience Measurement (CIAUMED), is an economic interest grouping of SNRT, the oldest state-owned channel, SOREAD 2M, the semi-private television and radio company, the Régie 3 advertising agency, the Moroccan Advertisers Grouping (GAM) , the Union of Communication Advisory Agencies (UACC), and Medi1TV, the private channel. Although the responsible entity has three television channels, the investigation considers the CIAUMED to be a reliable source for media and advertising sector.
The Moroccan investigative media outlet Le Desk partnered with Reporters Without Borders to investigate media ownership in Morocco, presented in a website titled Media Ownership Monitor Morocco.
The team investigated 44 print outlets, 21 in French and 23 in Arabic. Seventeen of them are dailies, nine weeklies, 10 monthlies, three bi-weeklies and five bi-monthlies. The newspapers were selected on the basis of paid individual purchases, as provided by the Moroccan Organism for Justification and Diffusion.
The investigation, available in French, English and Arabic, also covered 17 online newspapers, based on from Alexa/Amazon ranks, correlated with Similar Web.