Nouakchott — Journalists in Mauritania recently met to examine the difficulties of reporting on the crisis in neighbouring Mali.
Mauritanian Information Minister Hamdi Ould Mahjoub said in his opening speech that "events taking place in northern Mali are of concern to all Mauritanians because they are our neighbours, brothers and friends".
The December 20th seminar was organised the Association of Mauritanian Journalists in co-operation with the Mauritanian Press Coalition (RPM). Reporters, diplomats and leading figures from Mali also attended the event.
"If we look at this issue from a security angle, Mauritania can't be in security or stability if the press doesn't play its role in this conflict with great awareness in guiding and informing citizens," the information minister added.
The Mauritanian minister also said that "the role of press moved from propaganda in previous years to a role in which responsible freedom represents an important basis for spreading awareness, avoiding dangers and serving plural opinions and positions so that peoples can make their informed choices."
"The conflict in northern Mali is imposing a lot of challenges," he added. "As a state, political parties, civil society and journalists, we have to take this into consideration."
"What is happening in neighbouring Mali would take place here if we weren't extremely cautious," Ould Majoub concluded.
Sy Mamadou, a journalist and head of RPM, said that covering events in Mali was complex because it "exposes journalists to many dangers and restrictions, such as the danger of being exploited by the terrorist".
"Journalists are required to present news and information to citizens, but at the same time, they are required to be cautious about promoting extremist speech," Mamadou continued.
Moussa Ould Hamed, editor-in-chief of the Biladi daily and former director of ANI, said, "The Malian crisis doesn't concern Azawad alone, but is even intensely felt in southern Mali due to the absence of an administrative system. This further complicates the solution for problems in the north."
"However, all that is happening in Mali would reflect on Mauritania, and what is Mali now living gives a diagnosis of Mauritania's internal condition because there are no borders between the two countries," Ould Hamed added.
Ahmed Ould al-Nada, a journalist who just returned from northern Mali, commented that in addition to the lack of security, correspondents have to deal with conflicting parties with their own interests.
"It's very difficult for journalists to work professionally and neutrally," Ould al-Nada added. "They would necessarily serve some parties and hurt the interests of other parties, and therefore, they would always be exposed to killing, imprisonment and restriction of their freedom."
He concluded by saying that in order for Mauritania to control its border, it must know the nature of the party on the other side.
Other attendees at the event agreed that the solution to the Malian crisis would depend on Malians themselves, police commissioner Mohamed Abdellahi Ould Adda said.
In her turn, Zakiatou Walet Halatine, a former Malian government minister and a current activist in the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said, "The solution of the current Malian crisis would require the Malian state to restore balance to the Malian military and civilian institutions, and to ensure fair distribution of wealth so Touaregs can get their rights as first class Malian citizens."