The Moorish Wanderer

Unfair Rankings? Morocco’s Persecutory Delusion

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?

Morocco's good regional ranking belies a small decline in its pre-Arab Spring score.

Morocco’s good regional ranking belies a small decline in its pre-Arab Spring score.

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 growing gulf since 2011 is an indication of Morocco's failure to live up to its expectations.

The growing gulf since 2011 is an indication of Morocco’s failure to live up to its expectations.

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.