Cameroon’s National Communications Council is in the news, again – and for exactly all the bad reasons!
If you have not heard yet, please be informed that the interim president of the Council, Mr. Peter Essoka, and his colleagues have once more successfully charged, judged, and found a sizable group guilty. Half a dozen journalists, the Council has ruled, are guilty of allegedly failing to respect professional ethics and/or reportedly “insulting” an official of the Cameroonian Presidency.
Flash back! This was the same charge levied against Celestin Monga and Pius Njawe in the early 1990s. So, if you were in doubt, here you have it: Mr. Essoka & Co. are taking all of us back to the future!
The latest most gruesome crimes committed by the pen are so heinous that the Council even ruled to ban journalists from “exercising their profession”. Journalist Jacques Blaise Mvie is banned and his newspaper cannot publish. By that decision, the Council has extended the punishment to everyone who works for Mr. Mvie’s newspaper. They have all been put out of work. By order of Peter Mr. Essoka & Co. the journalists concerned and those who work for Mr. Mvie’s La Nouvelle newspaper are banned from earning a living. If you have the misfortune to work with or for Mr. Mvie, you are automatically guilty by association with your employer.
Talk of killing a mosquito with a nuclear bomb!
The abuse of power inherent in these decisions smells to high Heaven. The jurisprudence they would represent, if allowed to stand, authorize the Council to even chase investments away from the media sector. In the future, this decision aiding, the Council will have authority not only to sanction someone like journalist Severin Tchounkeu of Equinoxe or Charles Ndongo of CRTV for doing whatever Mr. Mvie did. They will henceforth have authority to put anyone who works with Mr. Tchounkeu at Equinoxe or Mr. Ndongo at CRTV out of work by also shutting down the media outlet for which the “criminal” journalist works.
We have to count our blessings! It has to be heartening to note that even the most abusive administrative or judicial authorities that serve the Biya regime have ever handed down such gross injustice to journalists or media outlets!
Not surprisingly, news reports cite Mr. Essoka as stating “toute honte bue” that the Council is independent and that it does not do the bidding of the Cameroon government. Really?
Well, if you believe Mr. Essoka, then maybe we can conclude that the director of Kondengui Prison would be right to claim that s/he is not doing any bidding of the regime by holding prisoners like ex-Premier Inoni and the likes of Marafa and Mendo Ze on behalf of the regime You would have to believe that the Ministry of Territorial Administration organizes elections so that the ruling party can lose. Or, you would have to believe that the Supreme Court does not do the bidding of the regime when it looks the other way when electoral fraud is perpetrated or when the president stages a constitutional coup to extend his stay in power.
Mr. Essoka & Co. are pleading “zero collusion” with the regime even as they abuse the extensive powers Yaounde has laid at their feet. Consider the extent of power: the Council can take and hold any journalist prisoner. The Council has powers – listen up, Supreme Court! – these fellows of the Council have powers to play prosecutor, defense counsel, judge and jury all together; all at the same time; and all without being in any conflict of interest. These fellows can charge and punish journalists for “crimes” that they don’t need to prove in a court of law or for “crimes” that could have been committed by radio or television producers – not the journalists themselves – or by the media network, shooting and/or airing what the Council describes as “shocking pictures” for instance. Yes, these fellows have powers to “execute” (kill and bury) any media company whatever the investments, as they are now bent on doing in the case of Mr. Mvie’s La Nouvelle newspaper.
On a previous occasion when my twin, Ntemfac Ofege, and I have commented – sorry – lambasted some past and no less abusive sanctions by the Council, we notably argued that this institution is a worse enemy for a free press, independent journalism and freedom of expression in Cameroon than the old-time, Soviet-type administrative censorship and any rulings by some of Cameroon’s “two for five franc” courts at the service of powerful few.
Mr. Essoka certainly knows but would not like to admit. So, here is a news flash!
The Biya regime clearly does not like the newborn baby to the media sector in Cameroon called independent media. Not unlike King Herold, the regime wants the baby dead. It recalls that it tried censorship and courts of law to abort its birth. The regime all but gave up. Until Mr. Essoka & Co. came along. Now, the regime must be chanting Daniel come to judgement!
Cameroon’s Communications Council is like the woman who claims by day to nourish, nurture and protect the child (media), yet is really the mother who is itching to abort the baby or is in the employ of an unwise King Solomon bent on dividing the newborn child. Even better than the regime ever hoped for, the Council is working to make this a perfect crime: ensure that the King has no blood on his hands.
There is no need to search hard to find what constitutes “mortal media sin” in the eyes of the Council. They share a number of attributes. All the journalists, radio and television programs that have been ordered off the air share the sin of being critical – how dare they? – of the Biya regime. They are critical of the regime whose image (when it comes to press freedom) that the Council was set up to launder. All the programs sanctioned by the Council just happen to air on one of Cameroon’s infant independent media outlets. Yaounde does not want the blood of these networks on its hands, and what relief it must be for Yaounde to see that Mr. Essoka & Co. are stepping up to the plate! The Council in as many words is designed to play the media hangman of the republic. Quite simply! Which must explain why Mr. Essoka sounds so lost in the Council’s work. The VOA quotes Mr. Essoka as saying the Council has “the right to sanction freedom when it goes into excesses”. Did he say sanction? “Haaabaaah!”
The tragedy quite simply is that the Council seems to sincerely believe that the sanctions it hands down constitute “just punishment” for “mortal sins of the pen”. Members of the Council – all of them, very learned and respected ladies and gentlemen, who raised plenty of hope when first appointed – do not seem to comprehend why the procedures of their institution fall way short of even the minimum standards of fairness, neutrality and due diligence.
The Council seems infatuated with one goal: that of emphasizing, rightly, that journalists have a duty to present news dispassionately, with fairness, accuracy, and balance. What the Council members, sadly, would like us to pay no attention to is the fact that this institution is a cure worse than any disease that afflicts the Cameroonian media. A political institution – which is what this regime-created, regime-manipulated, regime-teleguided Council is – will never – (let me say that again) – this Council will NEVER ever be an acceptable replacement for the self-regulatory body that journalists have a right to set up and run without interference from presidential appointees.