Cameroon's illegal media are booming
FOLLOWING THE LIBERALIZATION of the broadcasting sector in Cameroon, there has been an explosion in the number of broadcasting houses all over the country.
For instance, in Bamenda, regional headquarters for the Northwest, there are seven TV stations and 10 local radio stations serving a population of 1.8 million inhabitants. Of all these audiovisual media outlets, none of them has a full license to operate. They operate under “government tolerance”.
Although the 2000 decree implementing the 1990 law on social communication, which liberalized the audiovisual sector in Cameroon, requires all private audiovisual structures to have licenses, the Ministry of Communication has granted only four thus far. All of these -- two television stations, one radio station, and a cable distributor -- were granted in a single ceremony on August 30, 2007.
Over eighty other private radio and television stations in the country operate under administrative tolerance. According to 2005 statistics from the Ministry of Communication, the radio sector in Cameroon grew by about 80 stations between 2000 and 2005.
Also, In spite of this impressive growth in the radio sector, no private radio service has been established at the national level, leaving the state-run CRTV as the only Cameroonian station with a national footprint. The only other services with national coverage, as was the case in 2000, are two international services (BBC and RFI) and the one African service (Africa No. 1).
The veteran Gideon Taka is the station manager of Horizon TV and Radio Hot Cocoa Bamenda. “In the face of the Law on Social Communication, without a licenses to operate, it is like working under Sophocle's sword, as it is also like giving away with the right hand and taking back with the left hand,” Gideon says.
He adds that while the creation of audiovisual organs was following in increasing numbers, the government has been reticent in granting licenses for operation. The Minister of Communication has pointed out that these media Houses are operating under "government tolerance."
For most workers and station managers at these private audio visual media outfits, working under administrative tolerance is like walking on the edge of a blade. Yuven Walter, chief of news service at Radio Hot Cocoa, says this “administrative tolerance" means that the government could shut the station down any time.
On February 21, 2008, Minister of Communication Jean Pierre Biyiti Bi Essam signed an order, to close Equinoxe TV, a private television station operating in Douala. The minister invoked "illegal broadcasting" as the reason for the measure. Equinoxe TV finally began broadcasting again in July 2008. According the minister, Equinoxe was operating without an audiovisual license.
Gideon however says without fear of contradiction that there is media freedom in Cameroon, since media audiences have a wider range of choices of which channel to listen or view or paper to read.
According to Mr. Taka, the press in Cameroon has grown over the years. He describes the growth “as departure from the (silence) the media landscape went through up to 1982, at the change of leadership from Ahmadou Ahdjo to Paul Biya. Before this change, information flow was from top to bottom, and labeled the 'Ruling Democracy' system".