Although Cameroon has one of the richest media landscapes in Africa, it is one of the continent’s most dangerous countries for journalists, who operate in a hostile and precarious environment.
Despite the large number of media outlets – around 500 – producing independent and critical reporting is still very challenging in Cameroon. The leading newspapers are Le Messager, Le Jour, The Guardian Post, La Voix du Centre, Current Challenges and the state-owned Cameroon Tribune. The best-known of the many privately owned radio and TV stations are Equinoxe TV, Canal 2 International, Siantou and Royal FM. The state-owned radio and TV broadcaster CRTV serves as the mouthpiece of a government headed by President Paul Biya for the past 40 years.
It is impossible for a media outlet to adopt a critical and independent editorial policy without being exposed to significant threats and harassment if its reporting endangers the interests of the government and its representatives. This climate fuels self-censorship and results in most media outlets falling in line with the views of the authorities or those close to them. The president appoints all of the members of the National Communication Council (CNC), the media regulator.
Laws are often circumvented in order to harass and persecute journalists, and special courts are sometimes used to prosecute them. This is the case with a former CRTV director-general, who has been detained since 2016 in a manner described as arbitrary by the UN and is being tried before a Special Criminal Court (TCS). The 2014 terrorism law and a military tribunal were used to keep a Radio France Internationale correspondent in prison for two and a half years.
Journalism is an extremely precarious profession in Cameroon and this undermines the independence of its practitioners. Some state aid is provided to the media but the amount is regarded as insufficient, and it is available only to those outlets that reflect the government’s views. Government allies have been known to create a completely new media outlet just to economically undermine one whose reporting was too critical of the government.
More and more media based on ethnic or religious criteria are being created, which is contributing to a polarisation of the public debate and encourages discrimination and vilification.
Cameroonian journalists are constantly exposed to the threat of a verbal or physical attack, an arrest, a gag suit and even murder. Two journalists, Paul Chouta and Emmanuel Mbombog Mbog Matip, were finally released in 2021 after being held on defamation charges for 24 and 16 months respectively. Journalists from the English-speaking regions in the west of the country are often accused of complicity with a secessionist movement that has existed for the past several years. One such journalist was arrested in 2019 and died a few days later while being held incommunicado. The promised independent investigation never took place.