By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Newspapers on strike over non-payment of bills, government neglect of private media is the banner headline of most Anglophone Newspapers in Cameroon. Others including the French Newspapers simply brought out one caption, Newspapers are on strike today, Monday 4 May 2020.
Newspaper publishers across the country (CENPA) are decrying the arbitrary arrest of journalists in the discharge of their duties, the increase economic fragility of the press due to restrictive measures.
Meeting in Yaounde on April 28, 2020, newspaper publishers of Cameroon resolved to observe a “dead press” day (Monday, May 5) on the occasion marking this year’s edition of World Press Freedom Day. This year was celebrated under the theme “Journalism without fear no Complacency”.
In their communiqué, the newspaper publishers raised ten worries which they have called on the government to resolve.
- The refusal of the state to support the resilience of the private press faced with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The increase economic fragility of the press due to the restrictive measures taken by the state in the context of the fight against COVID-19
- The non-disbursement in time, of the institutional support of the state formerly called “aid to the press” to private media organs
- The accumulation of the payment of arrears for services rendered by the press at the public treasury
- The very limited access of private newspapers to public procurement with regards to ad inserts
- The increasing decrease of the number of advertisements and the further unexplained extensions of payment dates for said advertisements by companies
- The poor sales of newspapers due to the difficulties encountered in distributing newspapers across the country
- Unsuitable tax policy for the press and the non-compliance with national and/or international conventional conventions and agreement
- The non-implementation of the relevant recommendations of the 2012 general assembly meeting of communication, particularly the non-grooming of the law on social communication in Cameroon
- The arbitrary arrests of journalists in the exercise of their functions and maintenance of deprivation of liberty for press offences in contradiction to the standards and international commitments of Cameroon
“Sick because we don’t have the financial means to upgrade as it is happening in other civilized countries… For some reason, the private media in Cameroon is seen by especially the powers that be as an opposition party” Kristian Ngah Christian, Publisher of The Guardian Post and President of the Cameroon Newspaper Association said over the national broadcaster.
From adverts given out to only a few media houses to the infiltration of the journalism profession by non-professionals and the refusal to disseminate information to journalists, Ngah says these limit the vibrancy of the private press. For example, media subventions for 2019 he says are yet to be dished out to media organs. “You may end up with about 600 media organs applying to share about 200 million francs CFA,” an amount he reveals is nothing compared to the cost of production for media organs.
For CENPA and some other journalism cremated groups, the World Press Freedom Day will be a low key celebration he explains. “We have decided that people should just go back to their newsrooms and reflect in the hurdles and see how we can move ahead.”
The newspaper publishers say they remain open to any proposals coming from the government for the resolution of the various points raised while reserving the rights to undertake other energetic actions to restore the press to its role of information, education and the barometer of democracy.