7 February 2013

Mauritania: Nation's Press Freedom Tops Arab World

Nouakchott — Reporters Without Borders ranked Mauritania ahead of all Arab countries.

Mauritania topped all Arab countries for press freedom, according to the annual report from media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

For the second straight year, Mauritania placed 67th on RSF's Press Freedom Index, released Wednesday, (January 30th). Mauritania ranked ahead of all Arab countries.

Tunisia, the first country to usher in the Arab Spring, ranked No. 138 on the index.

Mauritania's retention of its index ranking demonstrates that the country is consolidating the progress it has made in easing government controls on press freedom, said Ambroise Pierre, who heads RSF's Africa Desk.

He praised "steps taken by the Mauritanian High Authority for Press in the field of control and regulation to urge journalists to be responsible without reducing their margin of liberty".

Among measures that eased state restrictions on the press, the Mauritanian government in 2011 authorised private television and radio stations.

"There is no doubt that pluralism in the Mauritanian media became available by freeing the audio-visual space and launching private and serious channels and radio stations," said Abdallah Ould Bay, head of the National Council for the Justice and Development Party.

"This represents an outlet for us as well as the abolition of the prison penalty for journalists. However, I as a politician register some flaws with regard to the handling of the official media of some political parties as well as differing or double standards," he added.

RSF's 2012 Press Freedom Index noted that Mauritania rose "thanks to the adoption of a law on the electronic media, opening up of the broadcasting sector and other developments".

Sheikh Naji Ould Sidi Salem, the news director at state-run television, greeted news of the Mauritanian ranking by saying that more could be done to push his country higher up on the Press Freedom Index.

"My confession of the progress made doesn't make me refrain from asking for more, nor from expressing the ambition to see the areas of freedom expand and to overcome existing shortcomings. I note our ability to improve our performance and our work, and to protect the gains we have achieved," he told Magharebia.

Yet not all Mauritanians think that commercial TV and radio news stations - which have cropped on the media landscape through the easing of state restrictions on the press - have done consistently serious journalism with all that relative freedom.

"In recent years, our press has made important strides in the field of freedom of opinion, quality content and commitment to national issues," Amna Mint al-Moukhtar, a civil society activist, told Magharebia.

"But I record negligence in the performance of audio and visual journalism because their coverage of community issues and human rights violations vary depending on the periods. Sometimes, under pressure, they pay attention to this area and sometimes they completely ignore it," she added.

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