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. A well-known journalist, Martinez Zogo, was kidnapped and murdered in early 2023.
Despite the large number of media outlets – more than 600 newspapers, approximately 200 radio stations and more than 60 TV channels – producing independent and critical reporting is still very challenging in Cameroon. The leading newspapers are Le Messager, Le Jour, La Nouvelle Expression, La Voix du Centre and the state-owned daily Cameroon Tribune. The best-known of the many privately owned radio and TV stations are Equinoxe (radio and TV), Balafon (radio and TV), Canal 2 International, Siantou, and Royal FM. The state-owned radio and TV broadcaster CRTV continues to serve as the mouthpiece of a government headed by President Paul Biya for more than 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. The president dominates all areas of the state. 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. All of the heads of the state-owned media and all of the members of the National Communication Council (CNC), the media regulator, are appointed by presidential decree.
Cameroon’s laws, including the 1990 press freedom law, are routinely circumvented in order to harass and persecute journalists. There is no sign of press offences being decriminalised and neither access to information nor the confidentiality of journalists’ sources are guaranteed in practice. Special courts are sometimes used to prosecute journalists. This was the case with a former CRTV director-general, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison and had to pay a heavy fine on a charge of “misusing public funds” after nearly seven years in provisional detention described as arbitrary by the UN. The 2014 terrorism law and a military tribunal were used in 2015 to keep a Radio France Internationale correspondent in prison for two and a half years.
Journalism is economically very precarious in Cameroon, especially in the private-sector media, 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 toe the government line. 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. Corruption and favouritism is widespread.
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. Cultural constraints often result in censorship and self-censorship, especially in areas with strong cultural traditions.
Cameroonian journalists, especially those who are critical or outspoken, are constantly at risk of verbal or physical attack, arbitrary arrest and detention, gag suits, abduction and even murder. Journalist Martinez Zogo’s badly mutilated body was found five days after he was abducted in January 2023. He was the second journalist to be murdered in three years, following Samuel Wazizi in 2019. The journalist Paul Chouta was kidnapped and subjected to violence by unidentified individuals in March 2022. Many journalists are placed under surveillance. The level of impunity for those responsible for violence against journalists is still very high. Journalists in the English-speaking western regions are often accused of complicity with a secessionist movement that has existed for the past several years.