In Cameroon, third broadcaster closed within a week over coverage

New York, February 28, 2008—Police in the capital, Yaoundé, today forced a popular radio station off the air and confiscated its equipment over commentary critical of the government during a call-in program, according to local journalists. Magic FM is the third broadcaster summarily closed by authorities within a week in response to critical coverage of public demonstrations fueled by a rise in prices and President Paul Biya’s bid to seek another term in office, according to CPJ research.

Armed soldiers surrounded the offices of Magic FM at 11 a.m. local time as two officers of Cameroon’s gendarme corps entered the newsroom without warrant and ordered staff to surrender their mobile phones, Deputy Sports Editor Patrice Kamdem told CPJ. Kamdem, who was participating in an editorial meeting at the time, said the agents   proceeded to confiscate key broadcasting equipment, including computers and microphones.

Editor-in-Chief Roger Kiyeck told CPJ that officers accused the station of “broadcasting irresponsibly,” and inciting tensions in connection with commentary critical of the government during his morning call-in program, “Magic Attitude.” Several anonymous callers today criticized the government during Magic’s program in response to a brief presidential address to the nation on Wednesday following deadly protests, according to local journalists. At least 17 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters since Saturday, Agence France-Presse reported.

As security forces raided Magic FM, Communications Minister Jean-Pierre Biyiti Bi Essam summoned representatives of the national media to his office, warning journalists to moderate the tone of their coverage, according to local journalists.

“It is not the role of security forces to police radio air waves,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This crude act of intimidation against Magic FM exposes the government’s attempt to cow the free press into self-censorship over coverage of a critical national debate. We call on authorities to return Magic FM’s equipment immediately and allow the station to broadcast freely.”

Magic FM, a leading station in Yaoundé that partners with the U.S. government-funded Voice of America, is known for its pointed political coverage, according to Janvier Njikam, local coordinator of the Cameroon Employed Journalists Trade Union.

The closure of Magic FM followed last week’s back-to-back closures of leading broadcasters Equinoxe Télévision, and its sister station Radio Equinoxe, in connection with their pointed coverage of Cameroon’s national crisis.