Cameroon's Struggling English-Language Papers Call On President for Bailout

Cameroonians reading newspapers on the street.

Publishers of English-language newspapers in Cameroon are calling on President Paul Biya to establish a special fund to help them recover from the devastating effects of the Anglophone crisis, which has been felt in the country's North West and South West regions since 2016.

The separatist war in the two English-speaking regions - which make up 20 percent of Cameroon's population - has killed at least 6,000 people and forced over one million from their homes over the past seven years.

It has also crippled businesses, including the English-speaking newspaper sector.

"Prior to the crisis in the North West and South West Regions, English-language newspapers used to have advertising jobs from companies like the Cameroon Development Corporation ... and other well established private companies," said Ngah Kristian Mbipgo, CENPA president and publisher of the country's only English-language daily newspaper, The Guardian Post.

"English language newspapers have, because of the crisis, lost more than 80 percent of their readership in the North West and South West Regions."

Readership 'fizzled out of existence'

Yerima Kini Nsom, Yaoundé bureau chief at The Guardian Post said the bulk of the paper's readers were in the separatist flashpoints of Kumbo and Nkambe, all in Cameroon's North West region.

"The vendors are no longer there. The paper doesn't get [out] there anymore, and you imagine that you cannot be talking about a newspaper without readership. It means that our readership has dwindled to near inexistence."

The result of all this is that only the very resilient news organisations have been able to stay afloat.

Many, according to Ngah, have simply fizzled out of existence, or have been reduced to periodicals, as the impact of the crisis continues to scuttle sales, readership and advertising income.

Newspaper publishers from the two regions have called on the country's president to set up a "special fund" to bailout the ailing news organisations.

State funding, not hand-outs

But Nsom sees this "beggarly approach" as contrary to the ethics of the profession.

"That kind of approach is like you are beggarly and when you get to that position you would not be able to be objective in reporting," Nsom told RFI.

He suggested that newspaper publishers should instead be pushing for state subventions.

"One of the fundamental principles is that you must be independent from those you cover and when you are telling Biya to create a special fund, it means that he is going out of his way to do something personal," Nsom said.

"That is why I say it should be a question of subventions [subsidies], and making sure that it is an act of parliament, because there is a difference between the state and the head of state.

"It sounds like it is the head of state creating that special fund out of his magnanimity, but if it is subvention, it would be an act of parliament, and that would be something that is coming from the state."

Working in a difficult environment

Beside the issues of funding, publishers and reporters complain that the crisis rocking the two regions is grossly under-reported because the environment is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists.

Facing threats from both the national military and separatist fighters, reporters are facing increasing risks.

Ojong Stephen, publisher of The Median told RFI that very often, when an attack happens, he has to wait for the government to react before reporting. He said it's very easy to be branded a terrorist "if you quote separatist sources".

It's an approach Nsom has described as reporting military propaganda, because journalists "can only go to the field if they go under military cover".

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