The latest press statement from the Government’s Spokesperson does not deviate from an established line of argument whenever a global ranking does not square with the official claim of Moroccan progress. The latest of such event was the 2014 Freedom House ranking: Morocco ranked 147 out of 197, in the 75 lower percentile for Freedom of the Press. Without prejudice to Freedom House’s methodology, is there any way to verify the claim Morocco’s progress was understated in this ranking? And if so, where would we be?
A preliminary comparison does not put us in such a bad place after all, in view of the Arab Spring aftermath: Morocco ranks well among MENA countries, although this comes hardly as a good indicator, given the dramatic positive changes in Tunisia and Libya since 2010, and on the other side of the spectrum, Bahrain and UAE did worse.
Morocco however did not improve its ranking thanks to government policies, as the communique alleges, in fact, there has been a slight degradation with respect to its pre-2010 score, but not enough to affect its ranking. As the saying goes: in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed is king.
Taken to the global level, things are not as straightforward: on the one hand, the decline in Morocco’s score is not large enough to label it a regression in press freedom, on the other hand, global trends around 2010-2011 provide a good estimate for what should have been the trend score and ranking. In any case, Morocco did not do well enough, and probably does not deserve the improvement in its ranking.
The communique states:
Force est de signaler que certains pays qui ont connu des arrestations de journalistes, saisies de journaux et fermetures de portails web, ainsi que d’autres qui sont instables, ont toutefois occupé des places meilleures que celle du Royaume, qui n’a pas enregistré de telles décisions, a relevé M. Khalfi.
Of the 14 countries labelled ‘Not Free’ better ranked than Morocco, some did for some register arrests and/or censorship, but the fact of the matter is that Morocco’s weakness comes from its relatively low political sub-score: the final score is summed over three categories (Legal, Political and Economic) and the determining factor had been the sub-ranking on Political Freedom, where Morocco does comparatively worse. Per Freedom House’s methodology, the various initiatives heralded in Morocco do not meet the standard set by, among others, the Universal Declaration of Rights, and so do not register in favour of Morocco’s political sub-score. In short, the post-2011 reforms were not enough to overtake other countries, on par or slightly better ranked.
All of this does not absolve the Moroccan authorities: at the national level, the trend should have been improving since the mid-1990, which is not the case, and at the sample level, comparative benchmark point to a substantial improvement which did not materialize.
The graph on the right plots Morocco’s actual versus hypothetical scores between 1993 and 2013. A downward trend means an improvement in freedom status, and that was not the case for Morocco: the hypothetical trend is derived from the average performance of countries with comparable scores in 1993, and those have improved dramatically their score throughout, even as Morocco recorded a reversal as early as 2001 with no improvement ever since.
The increasing gap between Morocco’s actual and best-case scenario scores describes its failure to push through with the structural reforms carried out during the mid-to-to late 1990s; it also provides a stark reminder the ‘New Era’ of political liberalization started well before 1999, meaning all announcements made since have not translated into reforms strong enough to register as actual improvement in Morocco’s score and rankings.
Score break-down analysis allows to pinpoint the roots of this lacklustre performance, and provide pointers to the Moroccan authorities and the civil society in terms of reform priorities.
Recall overall score is computed on three components, and countries labelled ‘Free’ tend to exhibit a significant effect from the Economic Rights category: Free and Partially Free Countries experience a 24% lower Economic Rights score compared to the rest of the world. This relates directly to the main argument behind Morocco’s, particularly so in light of the established criteria:
1. To what extent are media owned or controlled by the government and does this influence their diversity of views? (0–6 points)
2. Is media ownership transparent, thus allowing consumers to judge the impartiality of the news? (0–3 points)
3. Is media ownership highly concentrated and does this influence diversity of content? (0–3 points)
4. Are there restrictions on the means of news production and distribution? (0–4 points)
5. Are there high costs associated with the establishment and operation of media outlets? (0–4 points)
6. Do the state or other actors try to control the media through allocation of advertising or subsidies? (0–3 points)
7. Do journalists, bloggers, or media outlets receive payment from private or public sources whose design is to influence their journalistic content? (0–3 points)
8. Does the overall economic situation negatively impact media outlets’ financial sustainability? (0–4 points)
These questions only show why the score is comparatively low for freedom of the press from an economic perspective, and those provide a good starting point for genuine reform if the Moroccan authorities were serious about the initiatives they mentioned in the communique.
I did not have time to blog about the second day last evening because of the exhausting flight route we took, a strange one in fact, as the flight from Washington DC to Minneapolis MI had to go through Atlanta GA, which is 872km South… (incidentally, I found out that Washington has a “small” national airport named after President Regan, while Atlanta was honouring the former Georgian governor and President Carter. It reminds me of places and significant infrastructure named after former significant leaders in Morocco as well…
The second day had a lighter timetable, and changed focus from official policy to a more grass-root activism in new social media use for advocacy and causes. The morning event was hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy, based too in Washington, with some significant panellists and organizations, notably Robert Guerra from Freedom House. The conference main themes evolved around the tools developed and used by cyber-activists, with an emphasis on the Arab Spring, as well as internet safety for these activists, and -surprisingly enough- how private corporations can indeed participate in this process by committing to what Susan Morgan (Global Work Initiative, GNI) described as a kind of ethical policy in protecting freedom of speech and digital gathering.
Of all four panellists, Meier’s contribution was interesting to listen to: his remarks focused on the live reports on the Internet during the Egyptian uprising, as well as the very promising Ushahidi project. He was quick to point out that the pure web-activism, in terms of time allocation and resources consumption, is comparatively less important (Meier gave a rule of thumb estimation of 10%) than the essential grass-roots work, to gather up testimonies, videos, pictures, and quite simply to report on the ground situation.
Though it was an NED conference, there were some interesting people attending the meeting, and among those were internews, who basically design softwares and train bloggers and cyber-activists on how to bypass governmental censorship (firewalls and others) and basically work on the ways and means to insure freedom of speech.
It was quite strange to notice that these people, even though they do receive some kind of public support, actually contribute more -in efficiency and resources- than the State Department. It might have to do with the fact that any support from an official body of the US government would be construed as foreign meddling in domestic affairs, and that the cause of Freedom of Speech, as the official goal of governmental policy, is best advanced with NGOs with seemingly no ties to any public American institution. So it was a bit peculiar for me to note that they are doing more on the ground by designing pieces of software and training cyber-activists how to use the internet safely, and by raising awareness among international -and in our case, American- public opinion. And quite frankly, my Bahraini fellow FPC blogger and journalist, Lamees, might actually benefit more from their support than that of the State Department’s.
The second day following touch down at Minneapolis was lighter, and we had the opportunity to visit the University of Minnesota’s‘ campus, more specifically the School Of Journalism who accepted to host a morning meeting for all of us. The talks evolved around the impact of use of the internet on reporting news. Now, because it is a school of journalism, and because the scholars and graduate students who attended the talks with us have a focus on Journalism, the various talks evolved around how journalists can use the social media to get the story out, especially in the case of the Tahrir Square rallies. There was also a discussion on the shortcomings of such tool, more specifically how to verify ‘the story’ and how journalists can make sure the local contacts are reporting genuine facts from the ground.
Today is the second day with NetRoot Nation 2011 Conference. Follow the Hashtag #nn2011 on twitter to keep updated on what’s happening!