Although the print media is oppressed, the press still plays a noteworthy role in analysing the political situation and promoting freedom of expression in the country. The historical change in press ownership highlights the crackdown on freedom of expression and the political and economic influence that the regime uses to control the press. For example, Alintibaha and Sudan Vision are both pro-government papers, therefore, they are rarely confiscated and they receive the most commercial advertisements. While Almidan and Alayaam, a Communist Party affiliate, are targeted by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and have their papers regularly confiscated. In addition, government business groups do not use their papers for advertisements.
In the period between 2005 and 2011, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) article 10.4 between South Sudan and Sudan brought some stability in the country and allowed a free press empowering many independent and opposition parties to establish newspapers during the period of the CPA moving towards the Southern Sudan Referendum.
During the 5 years of the agreement, the government maintained its control over the NRTC, but the agreement also introduced private media outlets such as a UN radio to promote the peace agreement. The print media, however, had the biggest advantage from the agreement and its progress moved the country’s rating from 86 to 76 according to the Freedom House Annual Report. The country recorded 10 percent less than the overall rating in the past 10 years compared to the scores of the top free countries in the world. Between 2012 and 2017, the situation has continued to worsen and the regime’s systemic oppressive approach increased, affecting both the print media and the journalists. The country’s press freedom rate went up from 78 in 2012 to 86 in 2017.
The declining situation in media freedom has affected overall consumption, the market and the performance of journalists. Media consumption is very centralised and the government controls the market forces to promote the message that serves the regime’s interest. Therefore, the public seeks alternative sources of information in social media, diaspora channels and the foreign media. The market control, press censorship and economic hardship in the country have affected the consumption and production of newspapers. In 2016, the Press Council stated that newspaper distribution had declined by 21 percent and highlighted that the distribution rate was 69 percent and comprised of only three newspapers. The daily circulation during this period was 24 to 25 thousand copies for the same three newspapers. This percentage of distribution and circulation, however, might not reflect the actual readership and consumption, as consumers tend to exchange the papers to avoid the cost of buying them due to the economic hardship that the country is experience. For example, one person may buy a paper, but ten people may read it.
Based on the 2017 newspaper circulation report, there are 45 newspapers (ie, 29 political newspapers, 10 sports newspapers and 6 entertainment newspapers). Unjustified confiscation of newspapers and the arrest of the journalists creates huge financial losses for the newspapers. Absenteeism due to arrests and the fear of arrest results in lower individual production and forces many journalists to look for new jobs in other sectors away from print media. For example, in 2016, during a period of ten days, seven newspapers were confiscated causing financial losses to owners, most of whom were not ruling party affiliates.
Therefore, due to these restrictions over the media in general, it is very hard to find information about revenue, also because of the complicity of the ownerships and their relationship with the regime. Also, the current economic policy to lift the fuel subsidies has created an increase in production and distribution of the newspapers.
For example if the highest circulation is 25,000 copies per day for one paper and the cost of a newspaper is SD7, the revenue per day is SD175,000. Given the recent spike in the inflation rate of the Sudanese currency (ie , $1= 42 SDG), daily revenue would be less than $5,000. Again this is not a scientific or accurate estimation as the advertisement is not included, but it demonstrates the scale of printing revenues.
In the public discourse of the media, revenue in general is declining as social media is taking over. However, media revenue in Sudan is questionable as there are no industry or market studies of the economic environment of the press. Most of the papers make their revenue from advertisements and few have subscriptions with institutions as individuals buy directly from distributors. These institutions often support the regime policies and only buy those papers that support them. Therefore, opposition papers or independent papers suffer, as most private sector companies are committed to the regime’s message. Accordingly, the annual circulation of political papers in 2016 indicated that 57.7m papers were printed, however, only 36.2m papers were distributed due to press censorship. Specifically, 7 non-government newspaper were confiscated and some papers were blocked more than one time. Although the number of the newspapers increased from 43 in 2016 to 45 papers in 2017, the government continues to control the market and pro-government newspapers record the highest levels of distribution. For example Alintibaha, a pro-government newspaper, had a high level of distribution in 2017(i.e., 19,347 daily newspapers), however, its popularity is attributed to the regular subscriptions of government institutions, agencies, offices. Accessibility to the non-government newspapers remains weak and there is no scientific research, but the annual circulation for newspapers in 2017 suggests that the reading percentage across the country is 7 newspapers for every 1000 people.