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September 06, 2013

Cameroon Shuts Down 11 Media Outlets

by Moki Edwin Kindzeka

Cameroon's National Communications Council has closed down 11 newspapers, television and radio stations, for what it describes as disrespect of ethics and professional norms. But journalists say these private media outlets are being silenced because they are critical of the government.

On Friday morning, Cameroon's state radio CRTV announced the suspension of three radio stations, a television station and seven newspapers.  The report said Cameroon's National Communications Council also suspended a journalist and two publishers.

The journalists and media organs were accused of failing to respect professional norms and ethics. But Ngah Christian Mpipgo, publisher of the Guardian Post -- one of the suspended newspapers -- called the act an abuse of press freedom.

“I mean, I look at it as some kind of repression," he said. "It is understood that the Guardian Post is too critical of government action, and then coming at a time when we are preparing for elections, I have to just conclude that it is a way of stopping us from exposing a well-planned government rigging machinery," said Ngah.

The publisher said the law stated publishers should be informed and warned before any government sanctions were meted out.  But that was never done.

“We have never received a warning,” he said.

However, some journalists said the Communications Council had called on media practitioners to be more professional, but the calls were largely ignored.

Simon Lyonga, president of the Yaounde chapter of the Cameroon Association of English-Speaking Journalists, said that many of those working in Cameroon's media industry were, in his word, quacks.

“We are in a profession where anybody comes in, they usually do not know the ethics of the profession and so go against it.  So I think if somebody is sanctioned for not respecting the ethics of the profession, to me [that] is not press censorship,” said Lyonga.

Some media outlets in Cameroon have published articles warning of alleged actions by the government to rig upcoming municipal and council elections in favor of the ruling party, Cameroon People's Democratic Movement.

Kilian Ngalla, a journalist who has been closely observing these developments, said the closure of the media outfits could be interpreted as an initiative to silence critical voices.

"At a time elections are coming, it is curious that the government chooses this time to start banning press organs.  When you look at the composition of the National Communication Council, the president there is appointed by the president of the republic. And that director is executing the opinion of the head of state.  I think they are actually gagging the press," he said.

The suspension order said that except for one radio station, the media outlets may be re-opened next month - after the September 30 elections.