- The transitional government of Mauritania at an extraordinary cabinet meeting this weekend has examined and approved a bill providing for the creation of a High Authority of the Press and Audiovisual Sector. The definitive approval of this bill will be an important step in the large and painful march towards a total liberalisation of the media sector, and in particular in the very "delicate" area of radio transmissions and the powerful television media.
This new step is produced in a political context marked by Mauritania's electoral fever, and is part of the many important goals to be reached during the political transition. It is seen as "vital" for the political parties that have been formed ahead of elections, as it is to civil society that needs to be heard as it develops and presents its plans for development. They have all been deeply involved in reaching this benchmark, in particular when it comes to assure their access to the many state-controlled media.
The bill, which very soon is to be presented for approval to Mauritania's ruling Military Council for Justice and Democracy (CMJD), describes the High Authority as a body that is to "regulate" the press and the audiovisual sector. Its role has been on the table since the frame agreement on how to reform the sector was approved of in December 2005. The Authority is to manage the issue of licences and authorisations for the use of broadcasting networks.
The new media regulating body has only been decided upon following a large process of discussion and consultancy. The operation has been coordinated by a National Consultative Commission, charged with the reform of the sector and whose recommendations finally became the basis of what has later become the current bill. Media organisations were strongly involved in the Commission.
The creation of the High Authority is also in line with the willingness and promises of Mauritania's new military rulers - who staged a bloodless coup in August 2005 - to create any conditions necessary to promote democracy and justice. This had also been the conclusion of the national days of consultancy 25-29 October 2005, where the broad aims of democratisation were defined.
During the old regime of autocratic President Ould Taya, press freedom had been limited to the utmost. Only very few independent newspapers had survived, while almost the entire press was controlled by the state or the ruling party, including privately-owned media. Newspapers were subjected to censorship after being printed - when one story was found unsuitable, the whole edition was confiscated.
Immediately after last year's coup, practical conditions for the media improved. While the old structures still existed, practices such as censorship ceased to exist. Also, state media started to give access to all parts of society, also those opposing Mauritania's new rulers. A very large number of new independent media has started up during the last year. The new legislation will assure that the situation stays this way after the elections.
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