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Mauritania19 March 2007

Second round presidential election coverage heavily skewed in favour of Ould Sheikh Abdellahi

Reporters Without Borders said today it had uncovered a major imbalance in election coverage of the two candidates to the presidential election run-off, ex cabinet minister Ould Sheikh Abdellahi and long-time opposition figure Ould Daddah, after a third week of monitoring state-run media.

Since official results were announced, on 12 March 2007, public media gave little air time or press coverage to news of the two candidates, but the principle of fairness had not been observed at all in media coverage of announcements of support for Ould Sheikh Abdellahi and Ould Daddah, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

It is obvious that these endorsements by some first round candidates constitute air time in favour of the candidate whom they backed.

RADIO AND TV. Reporters Without Borders noted that, from 13 to 16 March, the Télévision de Mauritanie gave 16 minutes 57 seconds air time to Ould Sheikh Abdellahi and 16 seconds to Ould Daddah. The Radio de Mauritanie spent 20 minutes 35 seconds covering news about Ould Sheikh Abdellahi and two minutes 50 seconds on news about Ould Daddah. Ould Sheikh Abdellahi alone spoke on Radio de Mauritanie (6 minutes 48 seconds).

WRITTEN PRESS AND AGENCY. Reporters Without Borders found that for the same period, the Arabic-language daily Chaab and the French-language daily Horizons devoted 68% of their space to news of Ould Sheikh Abellahi compared to 32% for Ould Daddah. Only the Agence Mauritanienne d’Information distinguished itself by releasing the same number of reports on each candidate.

The discrepancy in coverage was mainly due to the greater number of former candidates who announced they were supporting Ould Sheikh Abdellahi during the period studied. But, Reporters Without Borders stressed that media coverage between the two rounds should respect the principle of strict fairness in the allocation of air time, speaking time and editorial space between the two candidates.

The High Authority for Press and Broadcasting (HAPA) has noted these imbalances and wrote to the media concerned, on 19 March, to remind them of the importance of respecting equal access to public media for candidates during the election campaign, despite the absence of an official campaign between the two rounds.

Recommendations

In the light of the major imbalance uncovered since results were announced on 12 March, Reporters Without Borders recommends:

• That public media restore the balance as quickly as possible, as was done in the first round, in the coverage of election news of the two candidates so as to ensure strict equality of air time, speaking time and editorial space.


Monitoring role Reporters Without Borders is monitoring election coverage of the state-run media - Télévision de Mauritanie, Radio de Mauritanie, the Horizons and Chaab daily newspapers and the Agence Mauritanienne d’Information - from 24 February to the end of the presidential election on 25 March. The public media were chosen because they are subject to electoral law, which guarantees equal access to all 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. Working method Reporters Without Borders calculates air time allocated to candidates and the time given to them to speak on air on all Mauritanian TV and radio news programmes. The organisation also measures the square centimetres of page space they are given in the Horizons and Chaab daily newspapers, and the number of references made to them in AMI dispatches. Air time: This 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 speaking directly on air. The monitoring is being carried out with financial support from the European Union and the International Organisation of Francophone Countries (OIF).



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