National Communication Council and Press Freedom in Cameroon
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1.1 Background of the study
The constitution of the Republic of Cameroon has not changed since it was last revised in 1996 and amended in 2008. It grants citizens a range of fundamental freedoms that are inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and other international treaties and conventions. On the rights to freedom of expression and the media, it stipulates that “the freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of assembly, of association, and trade unionism, as well as the right to strike, shall be guaranteed under the conditions fixed by law”. Nevertheless, the beginning of liberalization of the media in Cameroon is relatively recent, dating back to the year 1990, with the abolition of the censorship apparatus, which coincided with the adoption of Law no. 90/052 on the Freedom of Social Communication (Law on Social Communication). 
The abolition of censorship and the media ‘liberalisation’ of the 1990s were seen as formidable achievements. However, recent cases of closure of media outlets have highlighted the fragility of the media, and the authorities’ intention to continue influencing their outputs. In particular, at the time of the mission, the closure of two broadcasters, radio station Magic FM and TV station Equinox TV, were featured prominently in the international media and generated widespread concerns among the journalistic community in Cameroon. The official reason given by the authorities for the closure of these two broadcasters was that they were operating without a license, but the timing of their closure followed the airing of criticism and insults against the President of the Republic.
Since the dawn of democracy in Cameroon in the ’90s and the enactment of the 1990 law on social communication, the media landscape in Cameroon has witnessed a tremendous boom as freedom of expression has steadily been on the increase.
In the quest to achieve press freedom, Cameroon saw the creation of the NCC in 2012. The National Communication Council (NCC) is a regulatory and consultative body, with legal capacity and financial autonomy. It is placed under the Prime Minister, Head of Government. Set up by Law No. 90/052 of 19 December 1990 on freedom of Social Communication, its organization and functioning are governed by SECRET N° 2012/038 du 23 Janvier 2012 portantréorganisation du Conseil National de la Communication. The NCC is made up of nine (9) members including a Chairman and a Vice-President. The current members were appointed by the presidential decree No.2013/044 of 22 February 2013.
To fulfil its missions, the NCC has a General Secretariat, under the authority of a Secretary-General, appointed by decree of the President of the Republic. The NCC guides the overall policy on social communication, the attribution of audio-visual communication licenses to private enterprises and the distribution of radio-electric frequencies allotted for the broadcasting of radio and television schedules. The Council can also make recommendations about laws and regulations concerning social communication, professional ethics on social communication, protection of human rights and dignity by the media, protection of women, children and youths by the media, and transparency, pluralism and the balance of programmes in communication enterprises. These are the primary role of the National Communication Council.
But, where the relationship between the Council and the press becomes conflicting is at the level of regulation. Decree No. 2012/038 of 23 January 2012 reorganizing the National Communication Council, in paragraph 2 of chapter 3, gives the Council the prerogatives to temporarily sanction media organs for a period not exceeding six months and to pronounce definitive bans. Examples of such sanctions were in the NCC press release of February 25, 2015. The newspaper La Nouvelle and its Publisher Jacques BlaiseMvie was suspended for six months while the newspaper DEPECHE du Cameroun and its Publisher Gilbert Avang were suspended. Even though these sanctions are meant to promote best professional practices in the press, journalists are highly sceptical about their credibility since they are pronounced by people appointed by the government. In fact, since the “reactivation” of the Council in January 2012, journalists have been contesting and rejecting its role, especially the new powers given to the Council, particularly those highlighted in articles 3 and 4 of the above-mentioned decree. Journalists feel uncomfortable with these powers which used to be placed under the Ministry of Communication and the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization. Le Messager in its issue No.3518 of 25 January 2012 published an article concerning the decree reorganizing the Council. The title was: “Medias, Alerte, La Censure revient?” (Media, Alert, Is this the return of censorship?). This headline suggests that, as far as journalists are concerned, NCC is tantamount to censorship, which means they have gone back to the years before the 1990s;a time when the government was firmly controlling the mass media. For them, it seems to be a soft way of reintroducing censorship.
This story in Le Messager was an indication of the state of mind of the Cameroon private press. It implies that even before the council started to be operational, Cameroon journalists were already skeptical about the council role and structure. They criticized the fact that the council is placed under the authority of the Prime minister. According to them, such decision was going to tremendously affect the council credibility in the sense that Cameroon journalists will perceive the council decisions as influenced by government officials because the members are appointed by these officials. Journalists’ concern was mainly related to the fact that the NCC is linked and not totally detached from the Executive branch of the government. This situation gives room to government interference in the council affairs.
Another important issue related to the statute of the National Communication Council, is coming from the Journalists Trade Union which recently, through the voice of their President Denis Nkwebo, stated that the mandate of the council was terminated since December 2014. In fact, the January 2012 decree reorganizing the council states in article 15 paragraph 3 that in case of vacancy of the president of the Council exceeding a period of 6 months, the President of the Republic in relation with the Prime Minister has to appoint a new president. In other words, the mandate of the Vice President of the council, which was to last for 6 months since the death of the President of the council Bishop BefeAteba on 4 June 2014, is terminated since December 2014. And because it has not been renewed, it is therefore illegal. The direct implication is that, due to this illegality, the council cannot sanction media anymore because it is not legitimate. This new development worsened a situation which was already tensed. It worsened the situation because media which were sanctioned by the council went to the extent of rejecting the council decisions. Their arguments were that the council was not a legitimate institution anymore. For example, the private television Afrique Media which was closed by the police in August 2015 because they did not comply with the Council decisions. This is the present state of the relationship between the Council and Cameroon journalists. On one side, there is the National Communication Council, the regulatory agency passing sanctions on media and on the other side Cameroon media which have deliberately refuse to recognize the Council as their regulatory agency and therefore reject its decisions.
The Cameroon media landscape has existed under two regimes, one which was purely authoritarian (1960-1982) and the other democratic. Prior to the democratic regime, the press suffered tremendously from harassment, pre and post publication censorship, seizure and banning of newspaper houses. During this era, the press in Cameroon was virtually state owned and state controlled. The lone state radio, television and newspaper made known what the state wanted the public to be informed about. The angle of writing was dictated in a manner that made the government comfortable. 
With the advent of democracy, the media landscape exploded, with the creation of hundreds of newspapers, radios and televisions across the national territory. The lone government media organ no more enjoyed the monopoly of beaming information single handedly. It had to face stiff competition which now characterizes the present dispensation of the Cameroon media landscape. The state media organ had to share a sizeable part of the audience with pioneer channels such as Canal 2 International, Vision 4, Equinox, and Spectrum Television. The leaning of programs and debates held in some of these media platforms is a palpable evidence of the reality of press freedom in Cameroon. The audience often assist in heated debates and hard talks where resource persons or participants freely and straightforwardly express their thoughts, at times insulting one another. Government and her ministers are not spared of the abuses when it comes to holding them accountable for work that was supposed to be for the common interest of all citizens. Conspicuous of such programs are Club d’Elite on Vision 4, Canal Press and la Grande In, Press Hour on CRTV Television, Cameroon Calling on CRTV National Station and CAMEROON BLOG.
Also, the initiations of Information and Communication Technology have favored the growth of a plethora of online media organs that have ooded the electronic space. Information is rapidly and instantly shared to a multitude of audience not minding its veracity, and yet, the authors are scarcely held responsible. Independent media was active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were restrictions especially on editorial independence, in part due to stated security concerns related to the fight against Boko Haram and the crisis in the two Anglophone regions. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least seven journalists were in prison. One was Thomas Awah Junior, who was arrested in Bamenda, Northwest Region, on January 2. He wrote for the monthly Aghem Messenger magazine and was sentenced to 11 years in prison on May 25 for acts of terrorism against the nation, secession, revolution, and propagation of disinformation through digital means. Awah Junior was incarcerated at Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. Pictures of a severely emaciated Awah were widely circulated on social media in September. At the end of September, he was transported to a hospital in Yaounde to be treated for tuberculosis and pneumonia.
As in the previous year, authorities arrested journalists in connection with their reporting on the Anglophone crisis. According to reports by credible organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, on March 20, police arrested Akumbom Elvis McCarthy, a news broadcaster for Abakwa FM Radio, a privately owned media outlet based in Bamenda, Northwest Region. McCarthy was allegedly taking pictures of police harassing taxi drivers. He reported in Pidgin English for the Media House, which also publishes news on its Facebook page. Judicial police detained the news broadcaster for three weeks before referring him to the military tribunal. The tribunal decided to remand McCarthy into custody for a renewable six-month period while police investigated claims that he reported separatist propaganda.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Based on a 1990 law on social communication, the Ministry of Communication requires editors to deposit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets practiced self-censorship, especially if the NationalCommunication Council (NCC) had suspended them previously. The NCC issued warnings and suspensions during the year. It declared that radio and television broadcasts of political debates during the period of March 10-24 were suspended, alleging that such discussions might cause conflict ahead of the March 25 senate election. It later clarified that this directive applied only to state-owned media outlets. Magic FM, a private media outlet, decided to broadcast its Magic Attitude political discussion program. Galaxy FM, another private media outlet, also continued broadcasting political discussion shows through its popular Frenchlanguage political program, Au Coeur de la Republique.
On March 15, the NCC issued eight separate decisions, warning or suspending journalists, media outlets, and programs for one to three months. Most were sanctioned for publishing statements deemed unfounded and offensive, which was considered a breach of professional ethics in mass communication. The media outlets included WB1 Radio, L’Orphelin, Horizon Plus, l’Essentiel du Cameroon, and Watch Dog Tribune. In all cases the alleged breaches occurred in 2017.
Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is further constrained by strict libel laws. These laws authorize the government, at its discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the president or other high government officials. Such crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines. The libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant. The government contended libel laws were aimed at safeguarding citizens whose reputations could be permanently damaged by defamation. There were no reports the government or public figures used laws against libel or slander to restrict public discussion during the year.The freedom of expression enjoyed in Cameroon today is thanks to the states man ship of the Head of State who is a respecter of all human rights.
0.2 Definition of key terms
- National communication council: The National Communication Council (NCC) is a regulatory and consultative body, with legal capacity and financial autonomy
- Press freedom
the right to publish and disseminate information, thoughts, and opinions without restraint or censorship
- .4 SIGNIFANCE OF THE STUDY
This study is significant for several reasons. First, it illuminates the issues about the effectiveness of the National Communication Council in promoting press freedom in Cameroon. Also, it sheds light on the roles and activities of the NCC on the media landscape.
From an academic perspective, this study is groundbreaking, considering the fact that very little has been written about the National Communication Council and press freedom in Cameroon. This study is a pioneer in extrapolating and unveiling realities of press freedom vis-à-vis the NCC and , at the same time, adds to existing literature and provides a stepping-stone for further research.
From policy standpoint, the results of this study can be used by government to shaped policies relating to the National Communication Council control of the media in order to attained press freedom in Cameroon.
This study will benefit the school administrators in that, it could act as baseline data to improve knowledge for school advancement. It is also going to help them provide opportunities for teachers to strengthen their subject-matter knowledge while studying the final work of this research topic especially for teachers or lecturers new in the field. This study will as well benefit the school administrators in that, it will help enrich the library section of the school enough for future research
JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY.
0.5) OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
To access the effectiveness of the national communication in fostering press freedom in Cameroon.
-To bring out the role of the NCC in promoting press freedom in Cameroon
– To bring out the weaknesses of the National Communication Council in securing press freedom in Cameroon and how they can be addressed.