Sudanese journalists are up in arms over a move to send controversial media laws to Parliament before consultations between different players are over, writes Dennis Itumbi for journalism.co.za.
The Sudan Journalist NetworkÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s newly elected chairman, Maaz Alnugomi,Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â said in a telephone interview from Khartoum that "the move is a serious threat to the freedom of expression which is already constrained".
"Already state police are deployed in newsrooms to make sure we do not publish what they do not want and demand removal of articles unfavourable to the regime long before publication, and now they want to take away even the little we have?" said Maaz, who is also a newspaper editor in Sudan.
The official Sudan News Agency (SUNA) has reported that Joseph Okello, The Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, has deposited the draft law with the clerk of the National Assembly.
The draft was one of many laws that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) were deadlocked on.
The changes were meant to make laws conform to the constitution and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and South in 2005.
The draft law gives wide powers to the Sudanese president with regard to the press, including the appointment of a third of press council members, approving the councilÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s budget and setting the state policy on journalism.
Furthermore the proposed law imposes hefty monetary fines on violations byÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â newspapers, which some journalist say would effectively paralyze them.
Sudanese authorities have stepped up censorship of the press since the coup attempt against Chadian President Idris Deby, which was backed by Khartoum.
The Sudanese spy chief, Salah Gosh, at the time accused some journalists of receiving money from Western embassies but declined to give names.
Security services are dispatched at night to review newspapers before they are published and have the power to remove any articles and in some cases ban entire editions.
The newspapers are particularly screened to censor any articles appearing to be sympathetic with the International Criminal Court (ICC) which last month issued an arrest warrant for president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.
Last November Sudanese authorities arrested over 70 journalists who demonstrated outside the national assembly to protest against press censorship.
The head of SPLM bloc in the national assembly Yasir Arman said that they are open to discussions with other parties and journalists to make changes to the draft law.
But an NCP official at the national assembly Mohamed Al-Hassan Al-Amin dismissed SPLM claims that they were not involved in writing up the draft and stressed that it was adjusted to incorporate the southern ex-rebels demands.
He also maintained that further amendments can be made should the SPLM ask for it.
However critics say that the ruling NCP is capable of adopting laws using its majority in the national assembly even without the consent of other parties.