Cameroon shutters radio station over talk program

New York, August 19, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists CPJ calls on Cameroonian authorities to reopen a private radio station shut down on Monday over a popular talk show.

About 20 paramilitary police summarily sealed the studios of Sky One Radio, based in the capital, Yaoundé, the station’s president, Joseph Angoula Angoula, told CPJ. The station was accused of “recurring violations of legal and administrative regulations” of media laws, according to a statement on the Web site of Cameroon’s Communications Ministry. The statement did not detail the violations.

“It would appear that the government is afraid of hearing the voices of its own citizens,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “This is unacceptable censorship. The authorities must lift the suspension on Sky One immediately.”

The ruling was linked to a daily call-in program called “The Tribunal,” which allowed listeners to air grievances and seek assistance, according to local journalists. Sky One received a letter from the Communications Ministry on August 6 ordering the station to drop the program in connection with a July 24 program in which a HIV-positive woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo said her embassy had denied her travel documents to return to her country, the host Duval Lebel Eballe told CPJ. The ministry subsequently ordered Sky One to fire the presenter and change the time slot of the program after the station raised funds for the woman and attempted to intercede on her behalf with the Congolese Embassy, he said.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse on Monday, Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary accused the station of “pretending to solve social problems.”

In July, CPJ sent a letter to President Paul Biya calling on him to end a pattern of ongoing press freedom abuses disrupting the free flow of information in Cameroon.