Mauritanian printing press on the verge of collapse | Part One

Mauritania's only printing press could be on the verge of collapse. Some media workers fear this will be the end of print journalism in the country as many newspapers are being forced to resort to cut-and-paste journalism. Mohammad Salem reports.
Mauritania Printing Press
Newspaper's fear being shut down as the only printing press in Mauritania is faced with a financial crisis.

NOUAKCHOTT, June 30, 2009 (MENASSAT) - Censorship, one of the biggest obstacles to a free media, is no longer the major concern of Mauritanian journalists. Already faced with minimal financial support from the government, a diminishing independent media, and a small readership, newspapers are now threatened with the possible collapse of the only printing press in the country.
The official national printing press has been, since the implementation of democracy in the early 1990s, the main source of printing in the country.

The national printing press was established in the late 1980s, and still has a mural on the wall reading, “A present from the German People to the Mauritanian People.” It remained the vein of many Mauritanian institutions.

Although most Mauritanian officials refuse to discuss the financial status of their institutions, recently, information about the printing press’ troubles was leaked.

A high-ranking official at the printing press, speaking on condition of anonymity, told MENASSAT that, “The printing press’ financial situation is not as complicated and serious as some say, and the problems can be quickly solved. This matter is related to procedures that the Finance and Media Ministry took without considering the financial status of the institution. And the press couldn’t pay its dues, causing the institution to take a financial hit.”

“The huge financial cuts the Information Ministry imposed on the Mauritanian media led to an imbalance in the finances of the printing press and since the concerned ministries didn’t compensate for the losses, they eventually became much larger.”
According to a report in the Nouakchott Info newspaper, the expenses of the national printing press grew tremendously after 2006 due to the increase in number of publicly subsidized newspapers while contracts with official newspapers al-Shaeb and L’Horizon were never updated. Not to mention the cuts imposed for printing independent papers.

The article also said that the printing press received a statement from a European supply company demanding that they settle a bill of 117,000 Euros, and threatened to cut the supplies if the payment is not made.  

According to sources working in the financial and administrative sectors in Mauritania, problems at the national printing press were felt in 2009, because off government cutbacks in the past few years. In the period of 2006 to 2008, the Mauritanian government cut one million dollars from the printing press’ budget. In 2009, the cuts continued with 260,000 dollars subtracted from the institution’s funding.

Racing against time

While the government decreased the printing press’ funds, the number of independent newspapers printed increased from 165 in 2006 to 265 in 2009, and the press faced losses of one million dollars a year.

But an official at the printing press said that the financial problems are not severe and can still be salvaged if governmental institutions adopt a fair policy in regards to funding. “Despite its financial problems, employee salaries have not yet been affected.”

In fact, when Mauritanian newspapers used to pay about 115$ a day to publish, the printing press was doing well, but the cut to 42$ for 45 newspapers almost destroyed the financial stability of the institution.

“What made the situation worst was the decision by Mauritanian authorities to offer equal cuts for all newspapers. This resulted in a tremendous increase in cost for printing newly established publications, in a country where copy-paste online journalism is a widespread practice by newspapers whose printing costs is covered by the printing house up to 70%”.     

Some media outlets have reported that the financial situation of the printing press is becoming worst because some ministries are refusing to pay their dues. The printing press is asking the Finance Ministry for $363,141, of which the Ministry was supposed to pay the first payment in June.  However, the deal has yet to be signed.

The closure of the national printing press does not only affect the media, as most government documents and official exams are printed there.

Habiballah Ould Ahmad, editor-in-chief of al-Fajr newspaper believes that the collapse of the printing press could mean the collapse of print journalism in Mauritania.

“We are now forced to finish editing the content in the newspaper by 5 p.m., which means that we can no longer wait for major events that occur in the evening. And that is when most major events take place. Every journalist waits for the last 15 minutes to get the latest news and updates.”

“This crisis has caused many problems. On the professional level, we are utterly confused, and our editors suffer from being able to properly cover the news.”

“We are mainly counting on news websites and on cutting and pasting, rather than on producing, editing and interviewing sources ourselves. Some newspapers that reach the printing press on Thursday are only published on Sunday for they can no longer print all the newspapers on time.”

Ould Ahmad urges the Mauritanian authorities to take effective measures to solve this crisis or else the newspapers will collapse along with the printing press.

To be continued.