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Issues At Stake: I Am Severin Tcounkeu, Cedrick Noufele & Equinox Television

Yerima Kini Nsom

By Yerima Kini Nsom

From whatever angle one takes it, the sanction the National Communication Council, NCC, slammed on Equinox Television on Friday, April 1, is a damper on the onslaught for a free and unfettered press in Cameroon. Suspending one of its most watched programmes, “Droits de Reponse”, its presenter, Cedrick Noufele and the General Manager, Severin Tchounkeu, speaks volumes to the effect that the journey to a free press is still millions of miles away. I am achingly aware of the damaging effects of such a decision on press freedom. In that pang of pain, I am Severin Tchounkeu, Cedrick Noufele and Equinox Television.

I do not bestow sainthood or infallibility on the two colleagues who have been sanctioned. But the circumstantial evidence of their victimisation stands tall above any substantive elements that might have been projected as a motivation of the decision. For, the decision came on the heels of threats by certain officials against this media organ. Did such officials only beat the drums for the regulatory body to do the dancing of the proverbial little bird in the middle of the road?  Did those people get their pound of flesh after the presidential commission of enquiry stopped them from doing so in 2020 by vindicating Equinox Television and other media organs for telling the truth of the Ngarbuh massacre?  

How can we at this time of our democratic dispensation embrace the Stone Age violence of breaking the mirror instead of treating the pimples on our faces? Taking solace in chaining the watchdog is a suicidal act of self-deception, for only hoodlums and other criminals can be safe in the absence of the watchdog.

Last Friday’s decision sends a very dangerous message across the media landscape of this country: that every critical journalist should clip his tail in fear of the lurking guillotine. It gives the impression that the journalist is only totally “free” in this country if he or she chooses to become a megaphone of pro-establishment propaganda. Despite this setback, the authorities keep insisting that there is total freedom of expression in Cameroon. They are right, very right! But they have not summoned the gumption to state, like the former Ugandan President, Idi Amin, that freedom is not guaranteed after expression. Otherwise, bringing critical guests on a television debate programme to talk about the grievances of the striking teachers, would not earn any journalist a temporary suspension from journalism practice. Otherwise the station manager of the television house will not be slammed a one-month suspension because he attempted to defend himself against what he considered false accusations against his media organ.

What remains of the critical press that is still saddled with the responsibility of “watchdogism?” seems to be permanently in the radar of some ego-bloated officials who believe that the republic begins and ends with them. They seem quite determined to ensure that journalistic rigour and candour only court the gendarme. The slamming of the critical press gives the impression that there is a vicious bid to close up every available space for free expression in such a way that even critical commentators can get frustrated and join the monolithic choir in what would have emerged as a republic of think-same and act-same robots.  

There is an anti-republican attempt to smother the truth of our country’s predicament and desecrate republican values as the nation totters on in the acrimony of multifaceted crises. The grand masters of violence may take solace in all of it, but the attack on the critical press is equal to stoking the fires of acrimony in a country that badly needs dialogue, reconciliation and appeasement. Is anybody naïve enough to believe that there will be peace if we shut down every critical media and suspend every journalist who calls the truth by its real name and hits the issues on the head? Can we have peace if we allow only the media of the “emergency patriots” to keep on bombarding the nation with belly-aching inanities? In such a setting, the truth is usually a lie when it does not put a smile on the faces of some officials. The press, especially the critical press, is a barometer for the measurement of any society’s level of freedom. If the press is free the rest of the society will be free. This explains why, President Biya said he wants to be remembered as the one who brought press freedom and democracy to Cameroon. Thus, gagging the press is not only a counter-productive act that is at par with our democracy but many observers have interpreted it as a conspiracy against the President of the Republic who has expressed the wish to be remembered as the one who brought democracy and free speech to Cameroon. So, are those who are so determined to rob our lovely President of his democratic legacy aware that they are hurting a leader who wants to quit the stage on a clean democratic slate? Who are these killers of our President’s democratic vision? Who are these murderers of freedom of expression in our society?

Any journalist in this country should be worried by the sad turn of events. They represent the chaining and the padlocking of the press which is considered as the watchdog of every society. In such a situation, the watchdog will not be able to bite, let alone bark. Then unscrupulous persons will go the whole hog of their criminal legacies, unchecked. I feel hurt because a beautiful country like Cameroon, which is very much respected in the world, should not be seen as a citadel of attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression in general. At the eve of this year’s edition of the World Press Freedom Day, the authorities should rather create an enabling environment for journalists to celebrate press freedom in this country, instead of mourning it. It is incumbent on every stakeholder of our democratic era, to join the battle for a free and unfettered press in Cameroon, and not treat critical journalists as if they were enemies of the State.

 As partners in the democratic development of this country, critical journalists are only contributing their own quota by helping to bring checks and balances on grave issues of national interest. How does the journalist become an enemy when he reports that administrative officials are intimidating teachers? Where does the journalist go wrong when he comments on the attitude of a certain SDO in the crisis-hit Northwest Region, who unjustly orders for the suspension of the salaries of many teachers? Can all those who claim to be at the border post of the conscience of this country be happy if the press ignores an ugly scene like the one in which the Divisional Officer, DO, in Ayos, beat up a teacher in a classroom in front of his students? Can condemning such on act be considered as a call on the teachers to revolt against the authorities?

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