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That Censorship Monster – Again! 

These are the words of Rona Mendelssohn in his essay, "The Sweet Sound of Conflict," published in the renowned journalism book, "An Unfettered Press" .

Corruption is one of those practices in the art of governance which the book thinks the reporter should harp on. Because top government officials hate to be probed, conflicts are bound to arise.  This is exactly what transpired when two journalists, Zacharie Ndiomo Flash, publisher of Le Zenith Newspaper and Armand Ondoa of Le Regional Newspaper, attempted quizzing ENAM’s Director of General Affairs, Patrice Tsele Nomo, on allegations that he was at the centre of a corruption network in ENAM. The journalists are today languishing in Kondengui Prison.

This is the irony of ironies, the true enemies of the State who ought to be in the dungeon are driving around freely and sleeping in their beds, while the journalists, the veritable patriots, are languishing behind bars. Press censorship does not only mean blotting out or defacing the pages of newspapers as was common in the 90s by the Administration. Any act which intimidates the press or discourages investigative journalism is a form of censorship.

In the case cited, the journalists are simply being told to "Stop probing the New Deal’s vectors of corruption". The National School of Administration and Magistracy, ENAM, is the institution that trains Cameroon’s highest placed civil servants. If these officials are allowed to "rust" like the metaphorical gold, what should be expected of less privileged civil servants?

The Regime is not ending with axing the two publishers. There seems to be a whole pogrom on freedom of expression, a call that contradicts the December 1990 Liberty Laws.
It is true that the Cameroonian people arm twisted Biya and got it. But the President is not without panegyric, for realising early enough that like a hydra, the press was too formidable a force for him to beat.

The New Deal Anti-Heroes

An anti-hero is someone who, though he knows his weapons are inadequate, still wages war on a strong adversary. The press represents the force of truth, which, as the celebrated Cardinal Tumi says, requires no weapons to fight because, on its own, the truth is all powerful.
Pierre Moukoko Mbonjou, former Minister of Communication is one of such New Deal anti-heroes. His weapon was anger, not logic. His pride was wounded when a French Language publication stigmatised him as gay. He thought he could use parliament (since the CPDM owns a crushing majority there) to quench the fire of truth.

Biya proved himself the people’s champion of free expression by withdrawing the obnoxious bill Moukoko tabled, recommending a return to censorship. Then came Jean Pierre Biyiti bi Essam, who took advantage of the February 2008 strike action to clam down on Equinoxe Radio and Television as well as Magic FM, confiscating VOA equipment from the latter. The President checked his excesses by ordering the reopening of the banned audio-visual organs.

The Gravity Of Censorship

The public has a right to know how its tax money is used.  Because those in authority don’t give the information of their own volition, the journalist is reduced to the necessity of insisting to get it. This is why as Richard A. Bumstead states in his essay titled, "The Right To Know", "The relationship between government and the press is at bottom adversarial and most reporters prefer it that way."

The Biya Regime needs the press if it is sincere in the anti-graft war. Detaining journalists for attempting to unearth fraud is censorship. As indicated in a previous analysis, censorship laws are like fetters on the imagination. Such laws are intended to curb and restrain the free flow of ideas in the same manner as bodily movements would be restricted if the Ministry of Culture decreed that all musicians must dance in chains. Cameroon has enjoyed a world wide reputation since 1990 for press freedom. Even the Americans acknowledge this and that is Biya’s saving grace. This one trophy won should not be lost in a bid to protect corrupt overzealous officials.

This is not to say the press does not err or its excesses should not be checked. Even in the most advanced democracies press freedom is sometimes restricted in the face of a national emergency. The VOA makes no secret of its editorial policy, which is to defend the views of the United States of America which is understandably quite uncomfortable with all sources of information that highlight the activities of Al Qaeda or any terrorist group. The BBC, with all its independence, is very cautious when reporting about the Queen. Following the same logic, its reporters don’t take the same liberties while reporting on the activities of the Irish Republican Army, IRA, as they do with leaders of rebel groups in Africa (LRA and others).

British and American journalists didn’t report just what they knew or liked during the 2003 US-led war on Iraq. It made sense that the Cameroonian press stood by the Biya Regime before and during the handover of Bakassi to Cameroon. In order that they speak well of the Regime, Cameroonian journalists should be wooed not coerced into doing so as Biyiti bi Essam did concerning the Pope’s imminent visit. Journalists should not owe an obligation to a regime from which most of them have derived little or no benefit.
 

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