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Cameroon27 May 2003

Minister bans new radio station from starting up

Reporters Without Borders today denounced as a "serious attack on press freedom" the Cameroon government’s closing of a new radio station on 23 May a day before it was due to go on the air.

Police surrounded the offices in Douala of the privately-owned station, Freedom FM, and closed it on the orders of communications minister Jacques Fame Ndongo, who said it did not have permission to broadcast.

"This uncalled-for measure is also a severe blow to news diversity in Cameroon," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to the minister. "The government knew perfectly well how important the station was since most Cameroonians listen to radio stations to find out what’s going on. The closure was just an attempt to stop people getting a balanced view of President Paul Biya’s record in the run-up to next year’s presidential elections."

Reporters Without Borders has already expressed concern at the government’s closure on 19 February of two privately-owned TV stations, RTA and Canal 2. Independent broadcasting media are officially allowed but are forced to operate illegally since the authorities do not respond to licence requests. The press freedom organisation called on the government to legalise all the broadcast media and especially allow Freedom FM to operate.

Minister Ndongo said in a statement that the closure of Freedom FM had, "in accordance with the rules, put an end to a flagrant and obvious example of illegal broadcasting." He claimed the station had never applied for a licence, but the station’s agent, Pius Njawe, who is head of the Le Messager media group, told Reporters Without Borders that he had. "It’s a lie. We completed all the formalities. The ministry even sent technicians to inspect our equipment," he said.

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