Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Significant progress has been made in opening Mauritania’s media environment since a bloodless coup in 2005 overthrew the existing authoritarian regime. The transitional military government has since followed through on a number of promises to reform archaic press laws; however, the government still maintains a monopoly over the radio and television broadcast sectors. In 2005, the Military Council established the National Commission in Charge of the Reform of the Press and Broadcasting, which in March 2006 submitted a report on the reforms the government should design and implement in order to democratize the media. An ordinance based on the commission’s report was adopted in June, eliminating the previous requirement for prepublication government approval of all newspapers while still requiring publishers to submit a copy of each issue to the government prior to its distribution, even though its approval was no longer required. The new law also transfers responsibility for journalists’ registration from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Justice and gives journalists the legal right to protection of sources. In addition, in October 2006 the government created the High Authority for the Press and Broadcasting (HAPA), the first nominally independent media regulatory body in Mauritania. Nonetheless, the HAPA’s independence is far from certain, as the president is responsible for appointing three of the body’s six members, including the chair. The HAPA has been tasked with monitoring public communications and ensuring equal access to the state-run media outlets. It is also intended to lead the process of creating independent, private television and radio stations; in 2006, it began accepting applications, though no new television or radio outlet had been created by year’s end.
Although no journalists were formally arrested or charged in 2006, a few reporters, including international correspondents, spent time in temporary detention. In one instance, security authorities detained a correspondent for the Iranian satellite channel Al-Alam who was also the chief editor for Mauritanian TV, after a guest on the state-run television station accused the government of neighboring Mali of carrying out extrajudicial killings against opposition Tuareg activists. After being accused of “aiding someone hostile to a friendly nation,” the correspondent was fired from his position on Mauritanian TV. Separately, in April two journalists for the weekly newspaper Ahira complained that they were treated harshly by police while covering the president’s visit to a local town. In February, armed men raided the daily Al Akbar in search of editor in chief Khalil Ould Jdoud, who had sanctioned a story the day before about investigations into an embezzlement of bank BACIM. Police later arrested Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Deh, who is indirectly affiliated with the bank.
The government owns 2 daily newspapers, and approximately 40 privately owned newspapers operate on a regular basis—nearly double the figure from the previous year. In the new press law passed in 2006, privately owned newspaper operators and book publishers are exempt from all taxes on material used in their production. Nevertheless, a large and persistent impediment to a genuinely free media environment is the government’s monopoly of all broadcast media. Internet access is available and has been unrestricted by the transition government, but less than 0.5 percent of the population has the means to access it.