Cameroon: Private Radio Suspended, Independent Newspapers Prevented From Appearing

Regulation & Policy

The Cameroon Government has suspended a range of different media including radio stations and newspapers during the outbreak of rioting in the country’s second city Douala.

As the Communications Minister called on newspapers to be "responsible", the unrest has left the privately-owned press in crisis after security forces raided the studios of Magic FM radio seizing equipment and forcing it to close. Much of the privately-owned printed press has been prevented from appearing.

Trouble broke out on the fringes of a taxi-drivers strike on 25 February, against the background of political tensions over a planned reform of the Constitution aimed at ending the limit on the number of terms the country's president can serve.

Despite the end of the strike, on 27 February, clashes continued and escalated between demonstrators and security forces and privately-owned newspapers, chiefly printed in Douala, have not been able to appear. Only state media are still being distributed.

"The situation is deteriorating on a daily basis and becoming untenable for the independent media in Douala", the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "Since they cannot be printed they are no longer in circulation"

"Moreover, it is not for the communications ministry to give lessons to journalists. What will happen to those who do not observe the "recommendations" and do not practise self-censorship ?" it asked.

"Only the central administration can legally suspend a radio. We call on the authorities to immediately lift this measure which was taken unfairly by the police and return Magic FM its broadcast equipment", the organisation said.

The Communications Minister, Jean-Pierre Beyiti Bi Essam, on 28 February summoned the editors of privately-owned newspapers to his office and urged to "show responsibility" and "not to publish any news which could pour oil on the flames".

On the same day, in Yaoundé, southern Cameroon, security forces raided the offices of Magic FM without a warrant and ordered its closure. "Right now the radio is no longer broadcasting. A score of police arrived yesterday and seized our equipment saying that we had been irresponsible in letting listeners analyse the head of state's speech," editor, Roger Kiyeck, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The police were referring to the programme Magic Attitude, which invites listeners to phone in and comment on the news. Some listeners who called in on the morning of 28 February considered that the speech made by the head of state the previous evening in which he said he would use "all legal means" to restore order was more "aggressive than appeasing" and that it did "not respond to the wishes of the people".

Kiyeck said the security forces also took computers, the mixing console and broadcast equipment. Police questioned the station's owner, Grégoire Mbida Ndjana, and the presenter of the offending programme, Jules Elobo.

The Communications Ministry on 21 February ordered the suspension of privately-owned Equinoxe TV, on the grounds that its owner had not paid a deposit of 100 million CFA francs required to obtain a broadcast licence.

(Reporters sans Frontières (Paris), 29 February 2008)