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SUDAN: Print more news, please

May 19, 2010 |  6:38 am

Newspapers Khartoum AP While newspapers in the U.S. and other countries are facing dwindling pages and Internet pressures, Sudan is taking a different approach: The government has ordered the nation’s dailies to print more pages.

The strategy seems odd in a country where about half the population can’t read, but the government of President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir says it wants to promote the print media. Naturally, journalists are suspicious, and it appears that the intentions by the Sudanese Press and Publication Council are less about press freedom than making money.

Most of the country’s printing houses are owned by businessmen with close ties to the government.

“The press council wants to increase the revenue of the printing houses,” said Mohammed Ali, a bookshop owner. “This decision is unfair.” 

Publishers and editors complain that additional pages will hurt them at a time when advertising and revenues are declining against rising distribution costs. Many newspapers doubled their newsstand prices to the equivalent of 50 cents last year and cannot risk losing readers with another increase. Sudan has more than 50 newspapers, and a number of them cannot afford to publish every day. 

“The new law is baseless,” said Raja Elnuweri, editorial advisor to the Sudan Tribune newspaper. “Our readers are satisfied with the number of the pages and the content. We are having problems printing, and we will not survive by this decision. More pages mean less quality. They should have concentrated on quality.” 

At least 10 newspapers have appealed the decision. Sudan’s media faced two bitter decades of civil war that ended in 2005. Since then, newspapers have tasted a bit of freedom and clout in a country with low Internet penetration. Some readers pay a fraction of the price of buying a paper if they quickly read the copy and return it to the newsstand; university students chip in for a paper and take turns reading it.

The challenge now is how newspapers can survive by adding more pages.

“For a country like Sudan, a newspaper should be the cheapest thing, because we need to our country to join more civilized nations,” said Ibrahim Younis, a university student. “I don’t buy newspapers because I don’t have enough money. I only go and look at the headlines.” 

-- Alsanosi Ahmed in Khartoum, Sudan

Photo: Newspapers on sale in Khartoum. Credit: Associated Press