After its first week of monitoring media coverage of Mauritania’s election, Reporters Without Borders today said it was pleased to report that the public media are apportioning their coverage of the 19 candidates in a relatively equitable manner. This is reflected in the implementation of the requirements of the High Authority for Press and Broadcasting (HAPA), above all that each candidate should receive free newspaper space and air time.
Also the government has complied with the requirement to adopt a lower profile during the campaign, which has been reflected in the fact that the broadcast media have dedicated more of their news programmes to the candidates (41 hours, 56 min, 53 sec) than to government activities (28 hours, 44 min, 38 sec).
Adjustments are nonetheless desirable. Aside from the individual candidate spots and announcements, there has been a slight imbalance in favour of certain candidates in air time and newspaper space in the public media.
RADIO AND TV: The state TV news programmes gave more air time to two candidates - Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi (44 min, 11 sec) and Messoud Ould Boulkheir (44 min, 4 sec). Overall, they had a total of 15 minutes more than the other candidates during the week, a little more than two minutes a day. The state radio’s “Campaign Report” gave most time to Ould Abdellahi (27 min, 43 sec) but not a lot more than the others.
PRINT MEDIA AND NEWS AGENCY: The Arabic-language daily Chaab and the French-language daily Horizons assigned slightly more of their available space to Ahmed Ould Daddah - 10.32 per cent, against 9.50 per cent to Mohamed Ould Mohamed El Mokhtar Ould Tomi and 9.40 per cent to Mohamed Ould Maouloud. The state news agency AMI evinced a similar bias, with 14.14 per cent of its dispatches referring to Ould Daddah, as against 11.11 per cent to Ould Abdellahi and around 8 per cent to most of the other candidates.
Finally, some candidates received little media coverage aside from the individual spots and announcements. This was above the case with Isselmou Ould El Moustapha, Ba Mamadou Alassane, Rachid Moustapha, Mohamed Ould Ghoulam Ould Sidati, Sidi Ould Isselmou Ould Mohamed Ahid, and Ethmane Ould Cheikh Ahmed Ebi El Maali. The imbalance was attributable in part to the fact that these candidates or their parties had fewer campaign activities.
It should be noted that one candidate used the national flag during his free television spots. The electoral law forbids this, and it was stopped after the HAPA intervened.
The role of public media journalists assigned to cover candidates often lends itself to confusion, with some broadcast journalists speaking on behalf of candidates in the free spots. In the absence of any clarification, viewers and listeners are not in a position to say whether these journalists are acting in a personal capacity or as public media representatives.
In the light of the results obtained during the first week of the campaign, Reporters Without Borders recommends that:
Aside from the individual candidate spots and announcements, the air time and newspaper space assigned to candidates should be adjusted by public media editors during the second week of the campaign so that it is distributed more equally. They should also pay particular attention to the “minor candidates” whose campaigns were not adequately covered during the first week.
The HAPA and radio and TV directors should ensure that journalists assigned to cover candidates refrain from promoting any of these candidates.
Monitoring role. Reporters Without Borders is monitoring the electoral coverage of the public media - the public radio and TV stations, the Horizons and Chaab daily newspapers and the Agence Mauritanienne d’Information - from 24 February and until the end of the presidential election. The public media have been chosen because they are subject to the 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.
Method of working. Reporters Without Borders calculates the time candidates are being covered and the time they are speaking on the air on all Mauritanian TV and radio news programmes. The organisation also measures the square centimetres of page space they are assigned in the Horizons and Chaab daily newspapers, and the number of references made to them in AMI dispatches. Air time: Includes speaking time and the duration of all forms of coverage (quotes, reports, comments, studio interviews and so on). Speaking time: Time spent by candidates or their representatives speaking directly on the air.
The monitoring is being carried out with financial support from the European Union and the International Organisation of Francophone Countries (OIF).