are over a hundred private newspapers and scores of independent audiovisual
media groups in Cameroon. But journalists say their working conditions,
including their pay, are not good. So they pressured employers and the
government to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with bigger salaries
and many other benefits. But the
agreement is in jeopardy because many media owners have not signed it. From Douala in Cameroon,
Ntaryike Divine, Jr., has the story.
of factors pushed journalists' unions into a proposed agreement between employers,
media workers and the government.
say many of thehundreds of independent
newspapers and scores of private FM radio and TV stations are not financially
stable. Some appear during elections and then disappear. Others have uncertain
sources of financing – or cannot afford the high cost of newsprint -- and are at
risk of closing.
are often paid poorly or not at all – some volunteer their services. Many of
those who do have jobs don't have job security, medical coverage or social
security benefits. In this atmosphere, journalists are tempted by bribes from government
or business to tailor their stories, giving critics ammunition to accuse them
of not giving all the facts. And so news quality – and the public reputation of
the news media – has been severely diminished.
hope these conditions will improve under the "collective convention," or
agreement, negotiated in November. It encourages improved working conditions
for media workers as well as more government support for media companies. Journalists
are hoping forbigger salaries, paid
annual vacations, medical coverage and social insurance.
But so far,
most employers are reluctant to sign the document.
they cannot give raises to journalists or enact other reforms until the
government guarantees tax cuts and customs duty exemptions on imported material
like newsprint. Those exemptions are guaranteed by international treaties
encouraging the free flow of information.
is editor at the English bi-weekly The Post Newspaper. The Ugandan national has
lived and worked in Cameroon for 12 years. He says he is very skeptical.
"I have a lot
of doubts," he says, "especially considering my experiences, especially with the
publishers. I don't think it's going to take off. That [agreement] was just
signed. It's going to remain on paper unless the journalists get back together
again and see how they're going to jolt the employers into implementing that
convention. Otherwise, it's just going to gather dust."
companies] have money," he continues. "They receive a lot from advertisers and they keep this
information away from reporters and pay them peanuts. I think journalists
should get together and [do] what Hollywood scriptwriters did last year –
cripple the business [with a strike] for a while."
International Federation of Journalists and other groups have called on the
Cameroon government to pressure media owners to sign and to give them the tax
cuts and exemptions they seek. Journalists' groups also want the government to
distribute subsidies or grants equally to all media.
say these measures would encourage a boom in independent media outlets similar
to what has happened in neighboring Nigeria. That country has more than 40
dailies with hundreds of thousands of copies with over 50 pages, many in color.
And, they say improved pay and working conditions has convinced many
journalists there to refuse bribes by
officials in business and government to write favorable stories.