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Cameroon Journalists Decry Shutdown on Media Outlets

Cameroon journalists are observing press freedom day against the backdrop of what they describe as a persistent crackdown on media outlets and journalists.

Last year, at least 20 media organizations and journalists were either suspended or barred from the profession.

Peter Essoka, vice president of Cameroon's Communication Council, said they suspended the media outlets in line with the main objective of the council, which is to regulate the practice of journalism in Cameroon. He said the decisions were based on media offense complaints filed by Cameroonians.

"There is not a single case that we have taken a decision in which the people concerned are not summoned to the council. When a complaint comes to us, we summon the people on whom the complaint has been made to come and explain and probably defend themselves, so we have no discrimination whatsoever. Everybody who is concerned about any sanctions we have given has been summoned to the council for discussion," he said.

Journalist John Mbah, president of the Cameroon anglophone newspaper publishers association, said most of the people who file complaints to the Communications Council are government ministers and state functionaries. He said the media should be allowed to regulate itself.

"Sometimes instead of just giving the opportunity for the various media organs, for the various media professionals who are indicted for one reason or the other to defend themselves appropriately, the council sometimes goes ahead to punish without giving room for you to be heard,” Mbah explained. “Allow us to come together and be able to do the regulation by ourselves."

Journalist Kini Nsom of the Post newspaper said the main problem in Cameroon is the proliferation of newspapers, which he said is in no way an indication of press freedom.

"We have to go back to the drawing board to even redefine who is a journalist. Some of the journalists who are violating ethics are being protected by politicians. Some of those who are publishing newspapers that don't respect ethics at all are just little birds dancing in the middle of the roads while the real drummers are in government. Cameroon needs better journalists than they have now," Nsom said.

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 the impression there is press freedom in the country led by President Paul Biya, the world's sixth-longest serving leader.

Reporters without Borders last year said the high number of summonses and suspensions was a clear indication that Cameroon's Communication Council had taken a tougher line towards journalists and media.