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)
The 1996 constitution provides for freedom of the press and of speech, but the government continued to restrict these rights in practice during 2007. There are no legal provisions guaranteeing equal access to information, and libel and defamation remained criminalized, contrary to international standards and best practices. Although much of the independent press reports critically about the government, the threat of prosecution leads many, particularly within the broadcast media, to self-censor. Laws against libel and publishing obscene materials were used against journalists in several instances during 2007, including in April, when Georges Gilbert Baongla, managing editor of the private weekly Le Dementi, was arrested on charges of publishing obscene material related to a story on a government minister’s alleged involvement in a homosexual scandal. Homosexuality is a crime in Cameroon and continues to be a taboo subject, making reporting on it dangerous; in May, Baongla received a six-month suspended prison sentence and was fined approximately US$1,000. Among other reported cases, in August, Wirkwa Eric Tayu, publisher of the private weekly The Nso Voice, went into hiding and was shortly thereafter sentenced to one year in prison and fined approximately US$1,800 on charges of criminal defamation following reports the paper published on local government corruption in the northwestern town of Kumbo. At year’s end, a warrant was still out for his arrest, and Tayu’s father, a local tribal leader, had been temporarily detained for failing to turn in his son. Since the verdict and the disappearance of Tayu, The Nso Voice ceased publishing.
Journalists were also harassed, intimidated, and physically assaulted during 2007, in some instances by state security forces. While these incidents were less frequent than in 2006, they rarely received the serious attention from law enforcement that they deserved. In January, gendarmes raided the private Ocean City Radio station, based in the southwestern town of Kumba. The officers assaulted several staff members in response to a program airing at the time that detailed corruption within the gendarmerie; acceding to pressure from a local human rights group, the gendarmerie commander subsequently issued an apology. Other instances of harassment included a July 23 attack by riot police on journalist Roland Tsapi, with the Doula-based private daily Le Messager, while he was covering a protest march by opposition groups against fraudulent legislative and municipal elections that took place earlier in the month.
There are about 25 regularly published newspapers, including the privately owned Mutations, La Nouvelle Expression, and Le Messager, as well as the state’s Cameroon Tribune, which toes the government line in the majority of its coverage. Many of the private papers freely criticize government policies and report on controversial issues, including corruption, human rights abuses, homosexuality, and economic policies. Distribution problems and high government tariffs on production ensure that newspapers remain a uniquely urban phenomenon, although there are approximately 70 privately owned but not officially recognized radio stations. State-owned Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) was the only officially recognized and fully licensed broadcaster in the country until the much-anticipated move on August 30, when the government granted licenses to two private television stations, Spectrum TV and Canal 2 International; one cable television network, TV+; and one private radio station, Sweet FM. These four stations were the first of over 100 applicants to receive formal permission to operate in Cameroon since legislation was passed authorizing private channels in 1990. Many of these stations had been allowed to operate unofficially for some time under what the government called a “regime of tolerance.” Nonetheless, CRTV continues to receive financial assistance from the state, placing independent broadcasters at a disadvantage. In general, the broadcast media are tightly controlled by the government, and discussion or advocacy of secession is strictly prohibited. Several rural community radio stations were established by UNESCO in 2006, though they are all limited in their broadcast range and prohibited from discussing politics at all. While foreign broadcasters, including the British Broadcasting Corporation and Radio France Internationale, are permitted to operate within Cameroon and are widely available to Cameroonians who can afford access, they must partner with the state-owned CRTV. Despite the creation of the National Anticorruption Commission, corruption is rampant in numerous sectors of the media; many journalists expect and accept payment from politicians for writing articles containing unsubstantiated allegations against their opponents. Access to the internet is not limited by the government, although slow connections and high fees at internet cafés served to restrict access to approximately 2 percent of the population in 2007.