Nouakchott — The communication ministry gave a green light to new private TV channels, but critics are sceptical about their ability to compete.
The Mauritanian government last week asked the High Authority for Press and Broadcasting (HAPA) to invite all interested parties to bid for three new private TV stations.
The move is "an important positive development in the liberalisation policy of the audiovisual space initiated by the Mauritanian government last year", the communication ministry said in a statement released on October 21st.
The HAPA promised to proceed "immediately" with the legal and administrative procedures to grant licenses to three private channels.
The decision is part of the government strategy to set up five private TV channels and five radio stations.
The first such procedure, launched last September, led to the creation of TV stations Mauri-Vision and Television Wataniya and radio stations Sahara FM, Radio Cobenni-MAPUCO, Mauritanides FM, Radio Tenwir and Radio-Nouakchott.
Meanwhile, the Mauritanian media scene witnessed the unauthorised launch of two channels, "Chinguetti" and "Al Mourabitoune ". These stations, however, have failed to provide a real alternative to state television, media professionals say.
"Most of the crews of these channels and radio stations are just amateurs, not professionals," Mohamed Lemine Ould Mahjoub, head of the youth section at Mauritania's official radio station, told Magharebia. "Also, investors in the field of independent media look purely to profitability and therefore refuse to pump in more money to ensure a product of quality that is professionally competitive."
Ould Mahjoub further explained, "With regard to the content of the material provided, it is too weak, despite an editorial line that is different from the official line. These broadcasters lack both quality and professionalism, hence making an increased number of licenses of new channels unproductive in the media arena."
For his part, journalist Abubakar Ould Mami noted that private radio stations have become "an incubator for topics that were limited in the past to newspapers".
"Political and intellectual elites have become interested in these radio stations in order to transmit their messages and visions. Perhaps the reason for this is the low financial cost of the radio and its technical simplicity," added Ould Mami, who hosts cultural and political programmes at Nouakchott Free Radio.
"As for the television channels that have defined the scene over past months, their performance still stutters," he commented. "The problem today is not the addition of new channels, but their sustainability. Therefore the question is - will they actually succeed in overcoming this obstacle?"
Limited content may also keep private media outlets from attracting new fans.
"Despite the fact that private channels are sometimes aggressive in addressing topics considered taboo, technically they are still closer to a level of trial transmission due to the repetition of programmes and news bulletins that are poor and repeated throughout the week," said Bab Sek, who works for a public information NGO.