State of the media

The media in Mauritania are in transition. The military coup in 2005 has created an opportunity to reform the press law and to regulate the sector. While optimism about the future seems to be warranted, it yet remains to become seen how the press will develop. Other problems that hamper the development of the press are the high prices of newspapers, poor distribution networks, and insignificant market for advertising. Journalists in Mauritania also lack professional training and free access to information. Written press The government continues to own two daily newspapers in Arabic and French, and approximately 24 privately owned newspapers were able to publish on a regular basis. The most important newspapers are al-Qalam/Le Calame, which has the record of being the most censored newspaper in Mauritania, and Akhbar Nouakchott. The Islamist al-Rayah was banned from publishing and is now an electronic publication. Audiovisual media Mauritania's TV and radio stations remain state-owned. However, it is expected that the state monopoly on broadcasting will be lifted to allow for private and independent broadcasters. Radio counts as the most important source of information, due to very low circulation numbers for newspapers. Online media Internet became available in 1997. There are about 25 Internet service providers. The majority of Internet users access the Internet in Internet cafes because of the high cost of computers, subscriptions and bad connections. According to an 2004 estimate there are about 14,000 Internet users in Mauritania, but this number may have increased. Under the former regime authorities closely monitored the Internet, and internet cafe owners were required to submit copies of email messages received or sent from their cafe. However, the new government is not known to be restricting the access to the Internet. News agencies The country’s news agency, Agence Mauritanienne d’Information (AMI) – formerly Agence Mauritanienne de Presse, is controlled by the government. According to observers the agency is now freely covering political and other news. Media organizations There is no professional journalists association as such. However, the Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l’Homme is working in the field of press freedom, for example with Article 19. Since 2006, UNESCO is working with Mauritanian journalists to set up a Media House which is to serve as a platform for various media actors. Media policies The 1991 constitution of Mauritania provided for freedom of speech and of the press. However, this freedom was severely limited by a restrictive press code and its notorious Article 11, under which the Ministry of the Interior was able to ban and censor newspapers for articles that violated public security, threatened national unity, or contradicted Islam. After the military coup, the notorious article 11 of the constitution was declared obsolete. The new leaders promised to reform the press laws. A National Commission for Press and Audiovisual Reform adopted a new law abolishing censorship and providing for the decriminalization of press offences. Furthermore, a Higher Authority for the Press and Broadcasting has been formed in October 2006. However, the new government has not expressed any intention of reforming the penal code, under which journalists are subject to one to three years in prison for such press offences. Media developments and trends The Higher Authority for Press and Broadcasting is expected to work on the reform of the press sector. Among the main issues is the opening up of the radio and television market, which was monopolized by the former regime, and the opening of the state-owned media to opposition leaders and a variety of other political opinions.