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Cameroon Fails Press Freedom Exams 

By Yerima Kini Nsom In New York

Cameroon falls in the “Not Free Zone”, meaning it is one of the countries where the press is not free, according to a study by Freedom House based in the United States. Like the rest of the countries in the Central African sub-region, Cameroon was declared an unsafe area for a free press. It was placed in the 68th position in a rating of 94 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

While reviewing the results of the study on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day last week in Washington D.C, a senior official of Freedom House, Karin Deutsch Karlekar, said: “The proportion of the world’s population that has access to a free press declined to its lowest point in over a decade during 2010, as repressive governments intensified their efforts to control traditional media and developed new techniques to limit the independence of rapidly expanding internet-based media”. 

The world’s ten worst-rated countries are Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It was observed that in these countries, the independent media is either non-existent or barely able to operate.

The study groups categories of countries wherein the press is free, partly free and not free. Senegal, Uganda, Liberia, Malawi, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Guinea are among some states in Africa wherein the press is said to be partly free. Mali, Ghana, Cape Verde, Mauritius and Sao Tome and Principe are qualified in the report as states that have a free press. Scandinavian countries like Finland, Sweden and Denmark are rated as the best.

It was reported that Cameroon’s press freedom image remains blood-stained following the death of a journalist, Bibi Ngota, in prison last year. Government has maintained criminal defamation which politicians use to send journalist to prison every now and then.

Contrary to declarations by the Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, many Government officials have continued to treat independent journalists as if they were enemies of the Republic. For instance, it is over two years that the Executive Committee of the Cameroon Union of Journalists, CUJ, sought to have an audience with the Prime Minister in vain. Prime Minister Philemon Yang has received many professional groups but has simply ignored CUJ.

In Cameroon, journalists of the independent press have no access to information; they are not allowed to cover certain state institutions including the Presidency and the Prime Minister’s office. Government has not yet hearkened to the Florence Convention, the Windhoek Declaration and Article 19 of the UN Charter that would provide an enabling environment for a press.

In a high-profile ceremony on World Press Freedom Day, US State officials roundly condemned countries that are doing nothing to allow the triumph of an unfettered press. “The United States has consistently and, I would say, viciously condemned restriction on freedom of the press and on Internet freedom around the world,” a State Department official, Esther Brimmer, told a group of foreign journalists at the Foreign Press Center in Washington D.C. 

For his part, the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Michael Posner, said the US Government is about spending US $ 18 million to promote a free press in many countries. Since 2008, he said, the US spent 22 million dollars to respond to issues of press freedom.

Journalists emerged from the celebrations of the World Press Freedom Day with a blueprint document known as the Washington Declaration; a clarion call on authorities the world over to create enabling conditions for the triumph of a free press.

Banki-Moon Accused of Rejoicing over Bin Laden’s Death

A group of foreign journalists, including this reporter, had just covered a panel discussion which the UN Secretary General, Banki-Moon, chaired at UN Headquarters in New York on Press Freedom on May 4.

The panel discussion organised by the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, was hinged on the theme “21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers”. We were about to quit the towering UN building when officials invited us to attend one of the daily briefings by the Spokesman of the UN Scribe, Martin Nesiky.

One of the UN permanent correspondents accused the UN boss of rejoicing over the killing of Osama bin Laden and asked if the UN approves the manner in which the Al Quaeda leader was killed. The spokesman avoided giving a direct answer to the question and rather said the UN condemns all forms of terrorism in the world.

Meanwhile, the UN Scribe promptly reacted to the killing of Bin Laden on May 2. Hear him: “The death of Osama bin Laden, announced by President Barack Obama last night, is a watershed moment in our common global fight against terrorism. …I remember personally, vividly, the day of September 11, 2001, I was in New York on that dark day….

Personally, I am very much relieved by the news that justice has been done to such a mastermind of international terrorism. The UN General Assembly has adopted a global counter-terrorism strategy, and on the basis of that, we will continue to work together with member States of the UN to completely eradicate global terrorism.

Policeman As Priest

It was Thursday, May 5, and we had just covered President Obama’s visit to the Zero Ground where the twin towers of the World Trade Centre crashed, killing over 3000 people on that ill-fated day of September, 2001. I and my Ugandan colleague, David Mugabe, boarded the train for Times Square at the centre of New York. Somewhere along the way we parted company and I was going to the Foreign Press Centre where I had misplaced my phone that morning.

Because of the complex nature of the city, I missed my way and approached a policeman for help. The policeman received me with religious sympathy and explained to me how I could easily get to the Foreign Press Centre. As I was going, he ran after me and gave me a ten-dollar note that had dropped from my pocket.

I still missed my way until another policeman took me to the place. As soon as we arrived at the office, a policeman at the gate handed me my phone. Reacting to this incident, a Cameroonian woman, Precila Musoh, resident in the US said; “a good policeman here is like a priest if you have to compare them him with his Cameroonian counterpart.”

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