Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 22
Political Influences: 25
Economic Pressures: 21
Total Score: 68
Life Expectancy: 48
Religious Groups: Indigenous beliefs (40 percent), Christian (40 percent), Muslim (20 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Cameroon Highlander (31 percent), Equatorial Bantu (19 percent), Kirdi (11 percent), Fulani (10 percent), Northwestern Bantu (8 percent), Eastern Nigritic (7 percent), other (14 percent)
The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but this right is not respected by the government. Harsh criminal libel laws are often used to silence regime critics, with a number of journalists being sued for defamation and fined or sentenced to prison terms during the year. Eleven years after the national assembly passed a bill liberalizing the audio and visual media, President Paul Biya signed the legislation into force in 2001. However, the government continued to drag its feet in granting broadcasting licenses, forcing many radio and television stations to operate illegally.
Repression of the media remained a serious problem, with the government shutting down 12 independent radio and television stations in December 2003 on the grounds that they were operating without licenses. Radio Veritas, a Catholic station founded by Cardinal Christian Tumi, an outspoken critic of the government, was closed in November 2003 but allowed to resume broadcasting the following month under a license restricting its content to religious programming. In addition, journalists continue to be subjected to threats and harassment at the hands of police and security forces. In July 2004, two journalists from the BBC were detained and placed under house arrest by Cameroonian security forces in the disputed Bakassi region, where they had traveled to report on the handover of the region to Cameroon by Nigeria, and accused of spying. They were released without charge five days later. The government's crackdown intensified in the run-up to the October presidential elections, which Biya won by a landslide. Political speculation on television and radio programs – particularly those featuring members of the opposition – provoked the government's ire, in turn resulting in some degree of self-censorship.
The government owns one daily newspaper and exercises tight editorial control over the state-run broadcast media, which consistently portray official policies in a positive light. At least 20 private newspapers publish regularly, providing diverse views and criticism of the government. However, their influence is hampered by high production and distribution costs, as the government imposes high taxes on newsprint and retains control over newspaper warehouses, which enables them to seize controversial issues of publications. There are at least six national Internet service providers, some of which are privately owned, and the government has not tried to restrict or monitor this form of communication.
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