Public and Private Press
In Cameroon

Changing Roles in the New Pluralism

By David Gallagher

I. Introduction

Newspapers are everywhere on the streets of Cameroon's cities. On the fronts of kiosks they hang in rows, as many as twenty different titles at a time, held up by clothespins-- the dirty laundry of the nation waving in the breeze. The bold headlines and scathing front-page editorials attract small crowds that block the sidewalks. Passersby stand for ten minutes sometimes before continuing on their way, or perhaps dropping 200 francs CFA in the hand of the vendor for a copy. What attracts these crowds are not lurid tales of sex or sorcery, but debates over a national conference, fair elections, and true multi-party politics.

Somewhere in that cacophony of headlines hangs the latest issue of Le Messager-- that is, if it has avoided being seized by the authorities this week for crossing the line of orthodox acceptability. On the surface it appears to be among the most conservative of the papers on sale, with its discreet lower-case headlines and a banner of lavender or green. But since its start nearly twelve years ago, it has become the bane of Cameroon's government and the eloquent leader in the fight for a more open exchange of ideas.

Perhaps a little lower on the kiosk's display is Cameroon Tribune, identifiable by the small portrait of President Paul Biya in the upper left corner and the presidential quote-of-the-day in the upper right. Today's quote: "Democracy does not have to beget hatred, demagoguery, or rifts which corrupt and disturb the social climate." This is the official state newspaper, recording the words and deeds of the government as well as national events, and frequently presenting a view of the nation as the government would like it to be. But the Tribune is becoming increasingly lost in the ever-expanding crowd of independent papers, and is having trouble finding a purpose in Cameroon's new pluralism.

Using these two very different newspapers as a starting point, this study will survey the issues facing Cameroon's written press, both official and private, through the viewpoints of academics, politicians, and journalists themselves.

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