Government Seeks To Gag The Press

Government is cunningly plotting to re-instate press censorship, following an avalanche of critical reports on President Paul Biya’s regime.

 This was the interpretation that journalists mooted, following the National Communication Council, NCC chair’s ultimatum to press organs last week. In a press release, broadcast severally on state radio, Mgr. Befe Ateba warned press organs to begin depositing copies of their newspapers in the various administrative and judicial offices two hours before distribution.

 

 According to the NCC boss, all publishers must respect Article 13, Section 3 of Law No.90/05/052 of December 19, 1990, bordering on social communication. The Law provides that the publisher of every newspaper deposits two copies of his or her paper in the office of the State Counsel of the area. Article 14 of the same Law equally provides that the publishers deposit copies of their newspapers in the offices of administrative officials.

 

 Going by Mgr Befe Ateba, his release was triggered by a complaint from the Attorney General of the Centre Regional Court of Appeal; that journalists were violating this Section of the Law with impunity.

 

 Although Government officials hold that the NCC call is a laudable attempt to bring irresponsible newspaper publishers to order, many journalists have viewed it as a thinly-veiled bid for a return to censorship. For one thing, Befe Ateba issued the ultimatum shortly after he dished out warnings to two press organs, La Meteo and L’Anecdote for “professional misdemeanors and deviances”. Journalists were quick to dismiss the NCC release as a ruse to gag the critical press.

 

 “It is unfortunate that such an ultimatum is coming from the National Communication Council. The Council should not present itself as an organisation that is tailored to gag the press and take Cameroon back to the dark days of repression”, fired the publisher of the English weekly, The Sun, Norbert Wasso.

 

 

He told The Post that he did not expect the NCC Chair to make such a monumental error. The journalist chided Befe Ateba for mis quoting Article 13 of the Law on Social Communication. He said the Article provides that publishers deposit copies of their newspapers at administrative offices two hours after publication and not two hours before publication, as stated in the NCC Chair’s press release.

 

 According to the first interim Secretary of the Cameroon Journalists Trade Union, Alex Gustave Azebaze, the NCC press release was a maneuver to intimidate journalists and sway them away from reporting the follies of governance in Cameroon. To him, the so- called administrative and judicial officials should buy newspapers and not expect to have free copies from publishers.

 

 To   Rodrigue N. Tongue of Le Message, the NCC was threatening to take Cameroon back to the dark ages of press censorship. While commenting on the NCC communiqué, the BBC correspondent in Cameroon, Randy Joe Sa’ah Azeng said; “It is a reminder of the ugly days of press censorship which we really hate to remember.” Sa’ah Azeng said it was a shame that, while many countries were looking for ways of accelerating press freedom; Cameroon was scheming to stifle it.

 

 The President of the Employed Journalists’ Trade Union, Norbert Tchana Ngante, said he was scandalised that such a press-gagging bid was coming from an outfit that is expected to ensure the wellbeing of journalism practice in Cameroon.

 

 Contrary to these reactions, the Technical Adviser in the Ministry of Communication, Dr. Felix Zogo, said the NCC press release was simply a call on newspapers to respect the provisions of the 1990 Law on Mass Communication. To him, it was a clarion call for journalists to return to legality.

 

 Meantime, observers hold that there is enough circumstantial evidence to prove that Government is in a vicious bid to suppress the press and cow it into submission. For one thing, officials were jittery when newspapers began publishing revealing letters from the detained former Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation, Marafa Hamidou Yaya.

 

 By Yerima Kini Nsom