YAOUNDE - Cameroon officials have banned six journalists from exercising their profession and ordered a stop to several critical radio and TV programs.
Cameroon's National Communication Council said it suspended journalist Parfait Eyissi of Vision 4 TV, who anchors the program "Major Issues," for insulting Martin Belinga Eboutou, director of the civil cabinet of Cameroon's president.
Ernest Obama, Ernest Belinga and Romeo Mbida, all Vision 4 TV presenters of programs critical of Cameroon President Paul Biya's government, were also told not to practice journalism until further notice for failing to respect professional ethics.
Eric Kwamo of Equinox Television received a warning for broadcasting what was described as shocking pictures of a boy with congenital defects. Journalist Jacques Blaise Mvie and his La Nouvelle newspaper were also told to stop publishing.
Peter Essoka, acting president of the Cameroon Communication Council, said their decision is in no way a gag order on the press his organization was created to protect.
"We also have the right to sanction freedom when it goes into excesses. There are stipulations in the law or the decree that reorganizes the council that give us authority to take certain decisions irrespective of who," said Essoka.
Essoka also said the Communication Council is not trying to suppress the media and that they are in no way influenced by President Biya's administration.
"We are an autonomous body, yes. We are appointed by the president of the republic, yes, but we have the right to use the authority given to us by the head of state to take certain decisions,” he said.
Charlie Ndi Chia, president of the Cameroon Union of Journalists (CUJ), told VOA he is worried by the growing intransigence of the National Communication Council, which he said should only play its role as media regulator. He said the main problem in Cameroon is that journalists are not given access to information and at times they go speculating.
"News is given in starvation doses and somebody can only give you the news that he likes especially in our dispensation here in Cameroon. If the news source is not absolutely open and accountable to the public, through the journalist then we have failed," said Ndi Chia.
Reporters Without Borders last year reported that Cameroon's Communication Council had taken a clearly tougher line towards journalists and media, which was reflected in the number of summonses it issued and the suspensions it had ordered.
Last month a military tribunal barred two reporters, Felix Cyriaque Ebole Bola of Mutations and Rodrigue Tongue of Le Messager, from practicing their profession and barred them from traveling out of the country.