Government cuts down press subvention

The Government of Cameroon has cut down the financial package destined for private media organs in the country from FCFA 150 million to FCFA 135 million.The Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary,made the announcement in Yaounde, June 7 during a meeting with publishers and proprietors of private media firms.

The slash goes against the promises Tchiroma made last year that, he was working hard to step up the aid package to at least FCFA 200 million this year. It also contradicts the earlier claims of some members of Government who have been arguing against any increment, insisting that the FCFA 150 million was instituted by law.

The Minister said the purpose of the meeting was to disclose the sum at his disposal meant for the private press and to discuss, with promoters in the sector, on the procedure to share the money. He said the ministry was considering keeping part of the money for the training of some journalists who are still deficient in skills and also to purchase equipment for distribution to media organs.

According to the Minister, the gesture was an attempt to throw out accusations that part of the money was being embezzled by officials in his ministry. Commission members for the attribution of the aid have been accused of working in complicity with non-existent media organs to fraudulently syphon the aid.

The publishers and proprietors, on their part, told the Minister that the money should be distributed to them as usual and each organ would invest where it needs are most pressing. They held that the training of journalists is supposed to appear under entirely a different budgetary head in the Ministry of Communication. Others noted that it would cost the Government nothing to organise refresher courses for media practitioners across the country.

Accusing the Ministry for failing to state clearly the criteria used in distributing the money, some of the publishers and proprietors saw subjectivity in the conditions to be fulfilled by the media organs. Many complained that, contrary to initial declarations by the Minister that all media organs with up-to-date fiscal papers, are legible for the aid; they are still being sidelined, irrespective of the fact that press organs spend as much as FCFA 500 000 each, to fulfil the conditions.

Many speakers observed government’s hatred for the local press. Some disclosed that in neighbouring Cote D’Ivoire, the aid package to media organs, which are far less in number than than that of Cameroon , is FCFA 800 billion, while a similar amount is also given to the private press in countries like Senegal and Mali.

The giving out of adverts to foreign media organs to the tune of hundreds of millions by Government, to the detriment of the local media, was also condemned. It was alleged that the recent broadcast by Africa24 from Yaounde for a week, at the invitation of Government, took away FCFA 800 million of the tax payers’ money.

They observed that 2011, being an election year, the press was expecting more from government.Most press men interpreted this action as the political machinery to manipulate the press during this election year. Stating that he has listened attentively to the grievances of promoters of private media enterprises, Tchiroma said their efforts cannot be undermined, considering that their activities leads to job creation in the country.
Government’s failure to assist the press, he explained, is as a result of inadequate resources. Promising that a special account for subventions to private media would soon be a reality, Tchiroma argued that,the Government’s choice to place an advert in foreign media is a way to lure investors.