While Mauritania is set to allow private TV stations, some are concerned that licensing requirements will allow the government to maintain control of information.

By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 19/09/11

Mauritania will soon open the nation’s airwaves to private media. The High Authority for Press and Broadcasting (HAPA) promised Thursday (September 15th) to open the field to private enterprise no later than November 15th.

The agency said that it “invites all interested parties to show their desire to create commercial private radio and television stations in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania”. Fees for television applications amount to 500,000 ouguiyas, versus 200,000 ouguiyas for radio station applications.

“In the first stage, the government will allow the creation of five television satellite channels and five radio stations in the commercial field,” Mauritanian Information Minister Hamdi Ould Mahjoub said.

The minister said that “the government has established a broadcasting company, and the ball is now in the court of private investors to submit their applications for creating satellite television channels and radio stations.”

The head of the Union of Mauritanian Journalists, Houssein Ould Imedou, praised the move an important step towards ending the state monopoly on media.

“This decision will enable citizens to own media outlets that would represent their views and expresses their desires without any censorship or dictates,” Ould Imedou told Magharebia.

The union chief said that he expects the media reforms to boost competitiveness “with the entry of new actors who will be forced by the logic of competition to improve their output and respect professionalism and viewers”.

On the other hand, writer Said Ould Habib voiced concerns that state control would continue through other means.

“I think that opening the media field for the private sector under a broadcasting company belonging to the state would further consolidate the latter’s domination over the media scene,” he told Magharebia. “This doesn’t constitute a serious will to have media freedom because the government would still be able to control the output of these private media outlets, and in this way, freedom of media would have no meaning.”

Media professional Mokhtar Ould al-Tameen also believes that press freedom is needed but he wondered about the ability of independent media to improve Mauritanian journalism.

“We’ve had written press since the beginning of the 1990s, but it has committed major mistakes and has been largely corrupt,” Ould al-Tameen said. “Then came the electronic press that made the sector even more corrupt, and when the new television channels open, they will join the same circle and won’t be an exception.”

“We should have improved the level of written and electronic media so as to be prepared for opening radio and television stations,” he added.

In his turn, sociologist Ibrahim Ould Sidi expressed fears that private radio and television stations would be dominated by tribes, adding that this would be “at the expense of professionalism and efficiency”.

“And since the channels that are allowed in the initial stage have a commercial nature, we are afraid of the spread of patronage, abuse of power and businessmen’s monopoly of the media scene, in which case professionalism will be absent,” he added.

However, young political activist Jeddou Ould Ham believes that independent media is an opportunity for various political forces to express their views without harassment.

“Politicians have long criticized the pro-regime parties’ monopoly of official media, especially radio and television stations. With the opening of independent channels, everyone will have multiple opportunities and the monopoly of a certain group will be broken,” Ould Ham said.

“We understand that there will be shortcomings in the beginning,” he added. “However, the positive points will be more than the negative points.”

Source: Magharebia.
Link: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2011/09/19/feature-02.