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Cameroon Journalists Warn of Government Media Crackdown

FILE — Cameroon's President Paul Biya pictured outside the Presidential Palace in Yaounde, July 26, 2022.

YAOUNDE — Journalists in Cameroon say the government’s indefinite shutdown of a radio station and suspension of four reporters is a sign of a growing crackdown on media in the country.

Journalists in Cameroon say they are victims of increasing oppression as the government clamps down on news organizations that criticize state actions.

The government says it is trying to stop the spread of hate speech, while journalists say officials want to retaliate against criticism of President Paul Biya.

The government says hate speech spread through the media has become rampant since the disputed 2018 presidential election.

The Cameroon Journalists Trade Union said the National Communication Council (NCC) was set up by Biya to defend his interests and crack down on journalists who oppose his rule.

The trade union said senior state functionaries and military officials who are accused of corrupt practices ask the NCC to suspend reporters - a charge the NCC denies.

Meanwhile, the NCC media regulator recently imposed a one-month suspension on a journalist for hosting guests who the government says used hateful language.

Bruno Bidjang, host of the popular program on Vision 4 TV called “Club d’Elite," has said on his program that he will continue working to the best of his ability without fear.

The NCC said it warned Bidjang several times prior to the suspension regarding similar instances.

The council this week also imposed suspensions on a radio station and three other media practitioners for broadcasting offensive or hateful content.

NCC president Joe Chebongkeng Kalabubse accused the journalists and media outlets of propagating hate speech and xenophobic language.

"We have noticed that we can nip the problem in the bud by encouraging journalists to be more professional,” Kalabubse said. “We want to encourage journalists to be as professional as possible. We will not hesitate to sanction them if they falter."

Paul Atanga Nji, Cameroon's minister of territorial administration, said he has instructed police and local government officials to force the journalists to respect the sanctions.

"The media men should know that they have the moral obligation to comply by respecting these decisions taken for the common good,” Nji said. “If...we...don't respect the laws of the republic, then we are walking towards a jungle."

He added "I want to tell the media men that they have the obligation to comply. If they don't comply, we will accompany them to comply by force.”

NGO Reporters Without Borders, in its 2023 World Press Freedom Index, said Cameroon is one of Africa’s most dangerous countries, where producing independent and critical reporting is challenging.

Cameroon has more than 600 newspapers, around 200 radio stations and 60 TV networks.