Seven into one
The daily independent newspaper Al-Badeel
is to become a weekly. Reem Leila
examines the implications for Egypt's independent press
Readers of Al-Badeel will now have to content themselves with a weekly rather than daily edition of the independent newspaper, starting from 5 May. They will also have to fork out LE2 for the paper, rather than the LE1 it used to charge for the daily edition.
In its 8 April issue the paper announced that it was working to increase its capital from LE5 million to LE20 million. It blamed its current difficulties on the global economic downturn.
Editor-in-chief Khaled El-Balshi said the crisis had taken its toll on the newspaper. "We will have to wait until the financial situation improves. The newspaper will not lay off any of its 86 reporters, though all 50 part-timers and free- lancers will no longer have a job," he said.
Al-Badeel was launched on 16 July 2007. Its first editor-in-chief was political commentator Mohamed El-Sayed Said.
Galal Dweidar, secretary-general of the Supreme Press Council, said the council bore no responsibility for the controversial publication's financial problems.
"There is nothing the Supreme Press Council can do for newspapers apart from issuing licenses," Dweidar said.
El-Balshi says the board of Al-Badeel has agreed to form a committee that will seek to attract new shareholders in an attempt to increase funds. "As of now we have received promises from a number of businessmen," he revealed. "The promises need to be turned into action to allow the paper to continue. We have also collected around 5,000 new subscriptions."
In October 2007 Al-Badeel joined with other independent and opposition daily newspapers in a one-day strike to protest against jail sentences handed down to journalists for publication offences.
El-Balshi blames the Press Syndicate for withholding support from the paper. "On Sunday the syndicate set up a panel to discuss whether to accept any more reporters from Al-Badeel as members," he says. Only 40 of the paper's 86 reporters are members of the syndicate.
Adel El-Mashad, chairman of Al-Badeel 's board of directors, has revealed that since it was established 20 months ago the paper has been losing between LE500,000 and LE600,000 a month. "The newspaper has never reached a balance between expenses and income. On average it takes three years for any newspaper to reach this point."
"If it were not for the global financial crisis everything would have been affordable. As businessmen we were funding Al-Badeel from the profits of our private businesses. This is no longer possible because our businesses are no longer as profitable as before," El-Mashad elaborated.
Both El-Balshi and El-Mashad insist the newspaper will continue to appear on a weekly basis.
"If we make gains as a weekly publication there is every possibility we will return to daily editions," claimed El-Balshi.
El-Mashad was less willing to sound an optimistic note on the likelihood of reappearing on newsstands throughout the week. "We have to ask Barack Obama first to know when this crisis will end," he quipped.
That Al-Badeel, a well respected paper providing a superior news service to many of its competitors, could not survive the downturn has set alarm bells ringing among serious journalists.
Competence, depth of thought and sincerity, says journalist Salah Eissa, are clearly not enough to ensure survival. Al-Badeel 's retreat into a weekly edition, he argues, confirms that the political and economic climate has conspired to turn the press into the handmaiden of political forces, starting with the regime and its government.
"The decision to turn the paper into a weekly appears hasty," says Eissa. "It was not well discussed. There should have been a plan in place before taking such a step. A weekly publication is a totally different thing to a daily. It requires a different kind of reporting, layout, approach and writers."
Eissa fears that "as time passes the newspaper will not be able to hold on and will eventually be forced to close."
"It is very difficult to promote a weekly publication, especially given the market is saturated with them."