Morocco bans newspaper sharing in public places to save struggling publishers

RABAT - Morocco has banned the sharing of newspapers in public areas to force readers to buy their own copies in its latest effort to protect its struggling print media which has been bleeding millions in revenue each year.

The country's Minister for Communications Mustapha Khalfi also announced in May plans to subsidise Morocco's newspaper industry, as well as the formation of a committee to stimulate newspaper buying, The Telegraph reported.

The decision was made after the Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FMEJ) appealed to the minister for help, claiming that Moroccan publishers have "lost approximately US$150 million (S$203 million) per year due to the population's access to newspapers that are left behind in public places", according to the Morocco World News website.

"According to the FMEJ report, each newspaper copy is read by an average of five people," Mr Khalfi was quoted as saying by the Huffington Post Maghreb.

"Newspaper editors are undergoing a crisis and we need to limit the damage."

A spokesman for Mr Khalfi told the Telegraph: "Reading newspapers in public spaces is permitted. What is in question here is lending newspapers to others, or the free reading of newspapers in cafes and restaurants, which is detrimental to the rights of publishers and their intellectual property."

The communications ministry also said it would help FMEJ in its negotiations with Facebook and Google over the "unfair position" of online news providers in Morocco which have greater access to advertising revenue, according to The Telegraph.

According to a report published by international advisory firm KPMG, "readers of written press constitute merely 1 per cent of the Moroccan population", or not more than 330,000 people. KPMG attributed the low figure to "various socio-economical factors including Morocco's low literacy rate and the low and ineffective distribution of newspapers".

Literacy rate in the North African country was estimated to be 68.5 per cent in 2015, according to statistics compiled by KPMG.

Netizens have slammed the tough stance on free-riding newspaper readers with some questioning how the new regulation would be enforced.

"Amazing... almost unbelievable. One would have thought that the Newspaper czars would be happy to see their papers getting such a wide reading. Will this mean creating a special uniformed Newspaper Police to arrest, detain 'illegal' readers and seize the offending newspapers - perhaps to be burned in the public square?" said facebook user Ken Burns.