Director and co-owner of the recently closed Mauritanian Sahel TV channel Salek Ould Abah said that he was forced to close the channel after the two shareholders decided to stop funding it. Speaking to Arabstoday, Ould Abah who owns only 15% of the channel, said that his two other partners who own the rest of the shares told him that they will no longer fund the channel because its target audience is black Mauritanians.
The director of the channel said: "Since this channel was founded I vowed that it will be a channel for all the Mauritanians whether they are Baydans, Haratines or black. This can be proved with the fact that 64 percent of the channel is in Arabic, 20 percent in French and 16 percent for black dialects. There is no justification to allege that Sahel TV was biased or racist.”
Ould Abah insisted “the staff were carefully selected in a professional way, with no bias towards any tribe unlike many Mauritanian media organisations who are racist.”
Ould Abah said that variety in the Mauritanian media is needed because the population relies on television to get the news. Newspapers aren’t very popular as the rate of illiteracy is very high.
Salek Ould Abah was one of 60 Mauritanian media experts who took part in drafting broadcast media laws back in 2005, after former President Muawiyeh Ould Tayea’s regime was overthrown. The ratification of the law was delayed until the President Mohammed Ould Abdelaziz took office. Abah criticised the president, saying that he only ratified the law in order to improve his public image as the opposition party was becoming more popular.
Ould Abah explained that he was forced to bring two other shareholders to fund Sahel TV because the governmental criteria states that a TV channel will not be licensed unless it has at least three co-owners. But the contract stated that Ould Abah was editorially responsible of the channel.
He added that the government deliberately put the big spenders in control over the media outlets as the licence fees for radio stations went from $ 17,000 in 2007 to $ 35,000 in 2012, while the fees for a TV station jumped from $ 52,000 in 2007 to $ 105,000 in 2012.
"This rise has been an obstacle against the foundation of new media outlets. Our neighbouring state, Mali has more than 600 independent stations. That shows that Mauritania is very far behind" Said Ould Abah.
He also criticised the state-run media outlets, which he said are only working on improving the ruling regime's image.
"Only 20 percent of the Mauritanian viewers are watching the state-run TV now, the other 80 percent rely on Al Jazzera for news and the foreign movie channels for entertainment." he concluded.