Reporters Without Borders has condemned a crackdown in the run-up to 2004 presidential elections as about a dozen independent television and radio stations have been shut down by the authorities since 22 December.
"Cameroon is on its way to becoming one of the most repressive countries in central Africa as far as freedom of expression is concerned," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders.
"And we fear that the situation could deteriorate still further at the approach of presidential elections."
Some dozen independent television and radio stations received an order in the week of 22 December to close at the latest at midnight on 31 December. Those who received the notices, quoted by AFP, said that representatives of the communications ministry had told them they had no official permission to operate."
The state agents added that the broadcast media sector was "too sensitive not to be controlled", in an apparent reference to the notorious Radio Milles Collines that incited genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
At least five radio stations and two TVs were ordered to close in the region of Bamenda (principle city of North West province). These included: Radio Abakwa, Redemption Radio, Che Radio, Republican Television Network as well as the BBC.
At Bafoussam (principle city of West province), Batcham FM and Radio Star were also told to cease broadcasting and the university Tankou Radio was ordered not to "attempt to open". Radio Yemba and Radio Site Art at Dschang and Bafang (West province) must shut down by 1 January 2004 at the latest.
Many independent newspapers condemned the step for damaging pluralism of news and information in the country. "This is returning us step by step to a near monopoly for Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV)", said the independent daily Mutations.
Reporters Without Borders also recalled that the radio Freedom FM, created by Pius Njawé, owner of Le Messager press group, remains under a government ban. Security forces sealed the station’s broadcast equipment in May 2003, on the eve of its launch.
A legal battle that Njawé began to get the seals removed rebounded on him. In mid-October, Communications Minister, Jacques Fame Ndongo, laid a complaint against the journalist for having "set up and run a broadcast media company without permission." The minister demanded the seizure of Freedom FM’s equipment and a fine against Njawé.