Newsletter No 8 29 November 2005
 
News from the Media Scene:
Mauritanian Press Set to Change

The Mauritanian military government that emerged after a coup d’etat in August has promised to bring democracy to the country. Mauritanian newspapers are guardedly optimistic about their future.

“The most remarkable step is that we do not need to deliver copies to the Ministry of Interior in order to get approval for publishing. Formerly, each issue had to be read by the Minister systematically, which does not happen now,” says Hindou Mint Ainina, Editor-in-Chief at Le Calame, an independent weekly.

Mamadou Sy, publisher of L’Eveil, the oldest independent paper in the country, and president of the Independent Press Publishers Association (AEPI in French), agrees.

“There has been what we can call a thaw. Authorities are seeking media advice in the country’s new path to democracy. A big step has been the official approval two months ago of the AEPI, ten years after its creation,” he says. “However, we have to be on alert because you never know what will happen when the army is around.”

Both see the changes as an opportunity to develop the press industry. “We want to become a daily,” says Mint Ainina, “but we have to wait until new legislation is set. And we will have a big need for money, especially when it comes to buy a new printing press, our biggest need. The state-owned printing press is a primitive one; we are still using offset. A new one would help us improve the quality and therefore attracting advertisers.”

Mamadou Sy said: “Going daily will demand enormous human, financial and technical investment. The most important problem we have is printing. We cannot be really independent as long as we continue to use the state-owned machines.”

AEPI is trying to create a public fund to support the press. It is also participating in negotiations between the government, media and civil society representatives to establish new press legislation. “Our main expectations from these negotiations are the creation of such a fund, the establishment of an independent body to regulate the press, and the creation of a code of ethics for journalists,” says Sy.

“In every neighboring country there is a fund to support the development of the press. We want the new authorities to help finance the press as they do with political parties. And it seems that the new authorities are aware of the role independent media must play in order to achieve democracy,” he says.

Other obstacles facing Mauritanian independent newspapers are the lack of advertising revenue and distribution systems. “Formerly, we had neither public nor private advertising because of our critical position in front of the government. Today we have started to have public ads but private companies do not come to us. We are trying to set strategies to attract advertisers. However, the lack of printing quality is a big obstacle for us,” said Mint Ainina.

One of the goals of the AEPI is to create an independent body to oversee that public sector advertising is not used to pressure newspapers to change their editorial line.

When it comes to distribution, Mint Ainina says Le Calame can only distribute the paper in Nouakchott, the capital. L’Eveil is distributed in the main towns, “but we have to rely on street vendors,” says Sy.

Both are looking forward to obtaining external and public support to overcome all those odds. “We will have to wait until the new legislation is approved,” says Mint Ainina. “It will allow the establishment of real press groups. From that moment, we intend to begin entrepreneurial partnerships with other groups and get public subventions.”

L’Eveil has already obtained three computers from the French daily Ouest-France, “but we need at least three more”, says the publisher

Facts about Le Calame and L’Eveil
Both papers are weeklies, since the restrictive press law of 1991 makes it almost impossible to publish dailies. There is not a single independent daily in the country. L’Eveil was founded in 1991 while Le Calame was first published two years later.

Le Calame is distributed Wednesdays in French and Sundays in Arabic, while the French-speaking L’Eveil hits the streets every Monday.

The two papers are published in a 12-page tabloid format and have a small circulation: 3,000 copies for Le Calame and 2,000 for L’Eveil. Subscribers represent 50 % of the last sales while Le Calame claims between 20 and 25 % of subscribers among its total circulation.