Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 20 (of 30)
Political Environment: 24 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 21 (of 30)
Total Score: 65 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
The 1996 constitution provides for freedom of the press and of speech, but the government continued to restrict these rights in practice during 2007. There are no legal provisions guaranteeing equal access to information, and libel and defamation remained criminalized contrary to international standards and best practices. Although much of the independent press reports critically about the government, the threat of prosecution leads many, particularly within the broadcast media, to self-censor their material. Laws against libel and publishing allegedly obscene materials were used against journalists in several instances during 2007, including in April when journalist Georges Gilbert Baongla, the managing editor of the private weekly Le Dementi, was arrested on charges of publishing obscene material related to a story on a government minister's alleged involvement in a homosexual scandal. In May, Baongla received a six-month suspended sentence and was fined approximately US$1,000. Among other reported cases, in August, Wirkwa Eric Tayu, publisher of the private weekly The Nso Voice, went into hiding and was shortly thereafter sentenced to one year in prison and was fined approximately US$1,800 on charges of criminal defamation following reports on local government corruption in the northwestern town of Kumbo.
Journalists were also harassed, intimidated, and physically assaulted during 2007, in some instances by state security forces. In January, gendarmes raided the private Kumba-based Ocean City Radio station, assaulting several staff members, in response to a program airing at the time that detailed corruption within the gendarmerie; the gendarmerie commander issued an apology after the incident upon pressure from a local human rights group. Other instances of harassment included the July 23 attack by riot police on journalist Roland Tsapi with the Doula-based private daily Le Messager, who had been covering a protest march by opposition groups against fraudulent legislative and municipal elections that took place earlier in the month.
There are about 25 regularly published newspapers, including the privately-owned Mutations, La Nouvelle Expression, and Le Messager, as well as the state's Cameroon Tribune, which toes the government line in the majority of its coverage. Many of the private papers freely criticize government policies and report on controversial issues, including corruption, human rights abuses, homosexuality, and economic policies. Distribution problems and high government tariffs on production ensure that newspapers remain a uniquely urban phenomenon, although there are approximately 70 privately owned but unofficial radio stations. State-owned Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) broadcasts on both television and radio and was the only officially recognized and fully licensed broadcaster in the country until August 30, when the government granted licenses to two private television stations, Spectrum TV and Canal 2 International; one cable television network, TV+; and one private radio station, Sweet FM. Nonetheless, CRTV continues to receive financial assistance from the state, placing independent broadcasters at a disadvantage. In general, the broadcast media are tightly controlled by the government, and discussion or advocacy of secession is strictly prohibited. Several rural community radio stations were established by UNESCO in 2006, though they are all limited in the range of their broadcast capacity and prohibited from discussing politics at all. Foreign broadcasters, including the British Broadcasting Corporation and Radio France International, are permitted to operate within Cameroon, but they must partner with the state-owned CRTV. Despite the signing into law of the National Anticorruption Commission, corruption is rampant in numerous sectors of the media; many journalists expect and accept payment from politicians for writing articles containing unsubstantiated allegations against their opponents. Access to the internet is not limited by the government, although slow connections and high fees at internet cafés served to restrict access to approximately two percent of the population in 2007.
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