Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Although the constitution includes safeguards for freedom of expression and of the press, these rights are severely restricted in practice by an assortment of punitive laws. The penal code prescribes lengthy prison terms and hefty fines for contempt, defamation, or dissemination of false news after a fair trial in a court of law. In reality, however, overzealous police officers harass and detain critical journalists at will, or even shut down news outlets deemed too critical of the ruling elite. While the authorities insist that press freedom is real in Cameroon, media speculation about the planned October 2004 presidential election has proved a risky undertaking, and journalists admitted to practicing increasing levels of self-censorship in the run-up to the elections. Most of the government's censorship was aimed at the fledgling private broadcasting sector; the authorities regularly resorted to overwhelming police force to shutter private broadcast operations, many of which are not fully licensed or exist at the pleasure of the state. Little legal progress has been achieved since 2001, when President Paul Biya signed into law a decade-old bill liberalizing the electronic media, and the state-owned Cameroon Radio and Television remains the only fully licensed broadcaster. With the approaching election, greater agitation in the opposition, and increased press speculation about Biya's ability to remain in office after 21 years, the government has taken to invoking harsh libel laws and stringent licensing requirements to shut down critical electronic media outlets. At year's end, the authorities had still not released even partial broadcasting licenses to dozens of applicants, most of whom have been waiting since 2001. Meanwhile, the government's touchiness about press coverage of long-lasting tensions between the French-speaking majority and the Anglophone southwestern minorities continues to inhibit the media's ability to address tribalism and regionalism, two increasingly prominent features of local politics.