- Press freedom groups monitoring Mauritania's presidential elections last weekend praised state-controlled media for the "fair" coverage of the polls. Only a few years ago, the press in Mauritania was heavily censored and public media only published government propaganda.
After its second week of monitoring domestic coverage of Mauritania's presidential election, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF) said it was "pleased to report that the public media are covering the campaigns of all 19 candidates fairly."
"The public media have complied strictly with the instructions of the High Authority for Press and Broadcasting (HAPA) to assign free newspaper space and air time to each candidate for their individual spots and announcements," the group noted. In addition to the free space, coverage of the candidates' campaigns had also been more fairly apportioned during the second week.
In state radio and TV, there had been a "slight imbalance in favour of candidate Ould Cheikh Abdellahi," RSF noted. This imbalance in the TV news programmes and radio news bulletins noted during the first week of the campaign however were corrected during the second week, it added.
All the presidential candidates had been given access to Radio de Mauritanie's "Campaign Report," RSF found. Télévision de Mauritanie had also improved its distribution of air time to the candidates.
The same tendency was noted among public print media and the state news agency. The Arabic-language daily 'Chaab', the French-language daily 'Horizons' and the state news agency, the 'Agence Mauritanienne d'Information' (AMI), all increased the volume of coverage given to Ould Cheikh Abdellahi, thereby reducing the advantage Mr Ould Daddah enjoyed during the first week.
In light of the results obtained during the first two weeks of monitoring, RSF made several recommendations for the second poll round between Mr Abdellahi and Mr Ould Daddah. "The HAPA should issue directives to the public media as regards coverage of the political activities of the two candidates in the second-round runoff, in particular, the need to apply the principle of strict equality in the distribution to the candidates and their supporters of air time and speaking time in the broadcast media and space in the two dailies, Horizons and Chaab, and in the AMI's dispatches," the report said.
RSF also urged that public media "should ensure strict equality of air time and talking time in their coverage of electoral news between the two rounds. They should also continue to correct any imbalances that could result from the activities of differing degrees of importance of the candidates and their supporters."
The French press freedom activists are monitoring the electoral coverage of the public media from 24 February until the end of the presidential election. The public media had been chosen because they are subject to Mauritania's electoral law, which guarantees equal access to all the candidates and parties participating. As a public service financed by the state, they have to a duty to behave in an exemplary manner during the elections.
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