The present policy paper aims to inform the public and policy debate in Morocco on the regulation of children’s media in the digital age. It is an output of a collaboration between two researchers from Mohamed V University’s sociology department in Rabat, Morocco and the University of Westminster’s Communication and Media Research institute, a world leading university in media research.The collaboration is part of a British Academy mobility scheme, designed to foster dialogue and research collaborations between UK researchers and the international academic community.
This paper aims to foster a public debate in Morocco around the regulation of Moroccan children’s screen media content. In order to do this, developinga policy community in Morocco,comprising of different stakeholders including academics, media regulators, media producers, educationists and members of civil society groups is a necessary step.
Based on ethnographic research findings (2015, 2019) conducted by Dr Tarik Sabry and Dr Nisrine Mansour of the university of Westminster which explored how Moroccan children aged between 7 and 12 used and engaged with screen media texts1, and on the outcome of three workshops organized in London and in Rabat, including media regulators, media academics and media producers from both Morocco and the UK, this paper argues that the regulation framework in Morocco is mainly protectionist, thus overlooking the relationship between provision of appropriate content and participation as well as protection. The paper identifies three key problems facing the regulation of children’s content in Morocco. These, in turn, we argue are the product of three key deficits:
I. The theoretical deficit
After having studied key regulatory and research initiatives led by the two key media regulators in Morocco HACA and ANRTand after our engagement in workshop discussions both in Morocco and in the UK with different stakeholders with interest in children’s media and regulation, it became clear to us that media regulatory debate in Morocco is too media-centric. Therefore, it tends to ignore wider and fundamental socio-cultural determinants such aslived experience and everyday life. We’ve also noted that the theoretical debate around childhood and children audiences is deeply entrenched in outdated theories and modalities (both explicit and implicit) of thinkingabout media audiences. Media regulatory frameworks in Morocco are, in the main, inspired by positivistic models of media effects which privilege protectionismover creativity, reflexivity and agency.Children in the digital age are not just mere passive recipients of media texts; they are also producers of media content and members of online communities engaging in complex forms of communication that have yet to be studied systematically.
II. The methodological deficit
The methodological and theoretical deficitsare strongly linked. From our workshop discussions in Rabat and London with different stakeholders and after listening to and studying recent research initiatives conducted by HACA and ANRT it became clear to us that policy on children’s media content in Morocco is largely driven by survey research. It is also influenced by an outmoded theoretical framework that frames the concepts of childhood and youth within discourses of paternalism and victimization. This theoretical deficit has serious repercussions for methodology. The fact that no research funding has as of yet been invested by the Moroccan media regulators into ethnographic studies of children’s media uses is suggestive of a research culture that treats children and their experiences as being inadequate. This is tied to an outmoded theoretical wisdom that could be traced back to Jean Piaget (1926, 1929) that a universal individual must develop through particular stages before reaching adult maturity.We for example learn from ANRT’s 2017 national survey that Moroccan children’s media consumption is increasingly taking place over the mobile phone. We also learn from a 2014Maroc Numeric Cluster/Averty study, based on 1000 respondents, that 82 percent of social media uses in Moroccoare for the purpose of accessing information. However, survey data of this kind, either demonstrating shifts in media technology access or shifts inaudience patternsdoes not, by itself, teach us much about how children audiences decode texts, nor does it teach us much about children’s lived experiences, habitus or sociocultural environment and most importantly what the children themselves think of the media and their world.Lack in ethnographic research on children and the media (which is endemic across the Arab world and not just in Morocco) is symptomatic of a deficit in theory and methodology. Thus, it has major consequences for policy and media regulation in Morocco.
III. Lack of continuity within media regulatory institutions
We have learnt from discussions with both ex and current media regulators at HACA that periodic changes in personnel in HACA contributes to lackof continuity at the level of research and policy and seriously impedes the development of a more coherent and systematic regulatory framework focusing on children and their media uses. In order to deal with these three deficits, this paper recommends the creation of a sustainable media policy community in Morocco that would help policy makers in Morocco to provide appropriate guidance, regulation and policy that favours the emancipation of children and youth especially in this age of digital media where children and youth no longer only consume but also produce and share content.