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April 30, 2014

Pattern of Press Freedom Abuses in Cameroon

by Moki Edwin Kindzeka

Saturday is World Press Freedom Day. Commemorative activities are already going on in Cameroon, with journalists complaining that the press is manipulated by the more than three decade rule of President Paul Biya.

Cameroon has more than 500 newspapers and 100 radio and television stations. Journalists said most of the media outfits were created by the government to give an impression there is press freedom in the country led by President Paul Biya, the world's sixth longest serving leader.

VOA asked the President of the Cameroon Union of Journalists, Charlie Ndi Chia, if the proliferation of media outlets means there is freedom of the press in Cameroon.

"The answer is definitely no, we are just deceiving the world into thinking that there is press freedom in Cameroon. Its a mere boogie [deception]," he said. "The government created its own Frankenstein monster and which is allowing everyone else to be a journalist, to have a media. Look at what is happening around, just any body, just any body. I am a journalist, I am a journalist.''

Journalist John Mbah Akuru said some of the media organs are at times told by the government what to report.

"There are a lot of media houses where sometimes articles are dictated by news sources. They just call you, they dictate an article and you know these articles are carried and published and you call yourself a journalist," he said. "When you a journalist, a publisher, and you find yourself being dictated a story, you should be ashamed of calling yourself a journalist."

Kini Nsom, another journalist who reports for the Post newspaper, said those journalists who struggle to be independent are never given access to information.

"You cannot move to [approach] the presidency and verify information. There are certain institutions that are like no go areas for journalists. We cannot be talking about press freedom in a country where the president of the republic has never at any one moment granted a press conference to the national press, the prime minister the same. We cannot be pretending," said Kini Nsom.

Another issue raised by the media is that a majority of the journalists working in Cameroon never had formal training. There is poor pay, intimidation and regular arrests and detention of journalists.

President Paul Biya created Cameroon's National Communications Council to regulate the practice of journalism.

Ngala Killian Chimtom, a journalist with Cameroon's state broadcaster, told VOA the Council works as dictated by President Paul Biya.

"When the president of the Republic takes up his pen, and then he appoints a number of people to regulate the press, these people will be at the beck and call of the executive because the president is the chief of the executive," he said.

When VOA met Cameroon's Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma for comment on accusations that the government was gagging the media, he said the government has never asked any journalist not to respect professional ethics. "Each journalist has to exercise the profession without being a prey that politicians or other people use as a tool," he said.

Last year, shortly before the September Council and parliamentary elections, the government of Cameroon shut down 11 newspapers and private radio and TV stations and opened them shortly after the voting was over.

Some journalists were also banned from practicing in what the Communication Council said was "the disrespect of professional norms."

The international non-governmental organization, Freedom House, reported in 2013 that restrictions on freedom of expression are not new to Cameroon.

Many media outlets in Cameroon are biased in favor of the ruling People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) party, headed by President Paul Biya since 1982.  Opposition reporting is repeatedly stifled by requiring a cumbersome licensing process, forcing journalists to reveal their sources, detaining and harassing journalists, and limiting access to government information.