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Mauritania27 March 2007

Public media rise to challenge of providing balanced, neutral coverage of historic election

After completing the job of monitoring the public media’s presidential election coverage from 24 February to 25 March, Reporters Without Borders today praised their sustained efforts to respect the rules of fairness and equality in their reporting on the candidates. This was achieved thanks to the diligence of the regulatory authority and the editors of the state broadcast media, newspapers and news agency.

Satisfactory first round, thanks to adjustments

The directives issued by the new media regulatory agency, the High Authority for Press and Broadcasting (HAPA), on the allocation of free broadcast spots and newspaper ads to each of the candidates were adhered to strictly by all the public media.

While the individual candidate spots and announcements were fairly apportioned, the leading candidates received rather more news coverage in the public media during the first week of the campaign, from 24 February to 2 March. The state radio and TV stations gave Ould Cheikh Abdellahi and Messoud Ould Boulkheir slightly more air time. The state news agency, the Agence Mauritanienne d’Information (AMI), referred to Ould Daddah in 14.14 per cent of its dispatches, to Ould Abdellahi in 11.11 per cent, and to the other candidates in about 8 per cent. The imbalance was attributable in part to the fact that the minor candidates had fewer campaign activities.

All the state media tried to correct this slight imbalance during the second week of the campaign, reducing the coverage granted to the leading candidates. A fairer distribution was achieved and a reasonable amount of airtime was accorded to those candidates who had received very little in the first week.

Overall the public broadcast media’s performance during the first round was therefore relatively satisfactory. Aside from the free spots, there were differences in the airtime accorded to the various candidates between 24 February and 10 March, but they were not enormous. Télévision de Mauritanie (TVM) gave 1 hour 13 min 47 sec of coverage to Zein Ould Zeidane, 1 hour 13 min 13 sec to Ould Cheikh Abdellahi, 1 hour 9 min 14 sec to Saleh Ould Mohamedou Ould Hanana, 1 hour 5 min 34 sec to Messoud Ould Boulkheirm, 59 min 49 sec to Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla, 58 min 52 sec to Mohamed Ould Maouloud and 45 min 40 sec to Ahmed Ould Daddah. All the candidates except Mohamed Ould Ghoulam Ould Sidati got airtime on TVM.

Aside from free spots, Ould Cheikh Abdellahi got the most radio airtime (54 min 28 sec), followed by Ould Zeidane (48 min 55 sec), Moulaye El Hacen Ould Jeyid (44 min 28 sec) and Ould Daddah (43 min 7 sec). None of the candidates got less than 11 min 44 sec of airtime on Radio Mauritanie during the first round campaign.

The public print media made an effort to reduce the imbalance in their coverage of the various candidates. The French-language daily Horizons and the Arabic-language daily Chaab dedicated 12 per cent of their non-advertisement space to Ould Daddah during the first round campaign, as against 10 per cent to Ould Hanana and 9 per cent to Ould Cheikh Abdellahi. Ould Daddah also got the most mentions (29) in the AMI’s dispatches, followed by Ould Cheikh Abellahi with 26.

Relatively balanced second round, despite an alert

Serious efforts were made to correct the situation that developed during the first week between the first and second rounds, when Ould Cheikh Abdellahi got more airtime. As the electoral code makes no provision for official campaigning after the first round, the HAPA took the initiative with TVM and Radio de Mauritanie to grant two minutes of airtime each time one of the losing candidates came out in support of one or other of the two candidates left in the race.

However, during the first few days after the first round, there were many more announcements of support for Ould Cheikh Abdellahi than for the other second-round candidate, Ould Daddah. Taking note of the resulting imbalance in airtime, the HAPA wrote to the public media on 19 March reminding them of the importance of even-handedness in their electoral coverage.

A clear effort was therefore made to restore balance from 16 to 25 March (the date of the second round), above all taking advantage of an increase in announcements of support for Ould Daddah. From 16 March until the poll, TVM managed to accord the two candidates almost exactly the same amount of airtime (30 min 37 sec to Ould Daddah and 29 min 43 sec to Ould Cheikh Abdellahi).

During the same period, Radio de Mauritanie tried to compensate for the preceding week’s imbalances by give much more time to Ould Daddah (19 min 20 sec) than to Ould Cheikh Abdellahi (6 min 51 sec). On 22 March, the two candidates participated in a face-to-face debate broadcast live on TVM and on radio, in which each one’s speaking time was controlled meticulously by the HAPA and equality was strictly observed.

If no account is taken of the live debate, the total airtime allocated to each candidate between the first and second rounds by TVM was 46 min 40 sec for Ould Cheikh Abdellahi and 30 min 53 sec for Ould Daddah. During the same period, Radio de Mauritanie allocated 27 min 26 sec to Ould Cheikh Abdellahi and 22 min 10 sec to Ould Daddah.

The distribution of electoral coverage in the two daily newspapers, Horizons and Chaab, between the two rounds was 58 per cent to Ould Cheikh Abdellahi and 41 per cent to Ould Daddah. The AMI distinguished itself by referring to each candidate an exactly equal number of times (14) during the same period.

Conclusion

Respect for the rules of fairness and equality is a complex exercise that was carried out relatively well by the Mauritanian public media. Beyond the imbalances in the figures, which are not spectacular, Reporters Without Borders would like to pay tribute to the good will and efforts undertaken by public media executives and editors during this historic and sensitive time, as well as the HAPA’s pragmatism and constructive approach.

Overall, Reporters Without Borders is satisfied with the way the campaign was covered by the public media and it hails the way journalists and editors working in the state broadcast media, newspapers and news agency rose to the challenge of providing Mauritanians with balanced and neutral coverage of an historic election.

Monitoring role Reporters Without Borders monitored the electoral coverage of the public media - Télévision de Mauritanie, Radio de Mauritanie, 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 were 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 elections.

Method of working Reporters Without Borders calculated the time candidates were being covered and the time they were speaking on the air on all Mauritanian TV and radio news programmes. The organisation also measured the square centimetres of page space they were assigned in the Horizons and Chaab daily newspapers, and the number of references made to them in AMI dispatches. Air time: Included 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 the air.

The monitoring was carried out with financial support from the European Union and the International Organisation of Francophone Countries (OIF).



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