Allison Maletz
Agnes Taile at the 2009 IWMF's Courage in
Journalism Awards in New York, Oct. 20,

It Takes Courage: Honoring Cameroonian Journalist Agnes Taile

October 23, 2009 07:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
FindingDulcinea spoke with Agnes Taile, winner of an IWMF Courage in Journalism Award, about the incredible risks she has taken to preserve her voice in journalism.

A Budding Journalist in Cameroon

Taile, until recently a radio and TV reporter for Canal 2 International in Yaounde, accepted the 2009 Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on Tuesday, October 20. In her acceptance speech, she said she was "drawn to the microphone" as a young girl. She also liked the excitement of chasing a story, and noticed that women reporters in Cameroon were allowed to read the news, but were never sent into the field.

Taile, who wore a brilliant purple dress with a matching headscarf during her acceptance speech, has presence. “Rather than being cute on TV, what I like to do is go on the ground. Very few women do that in my country,” she said proudly.

In high school, Taile joined the journalism club and hosted a local radio broadcast, Lindsey Wray writes in a profile of Taile on the IWMF Web site. But Taile's formal study of journalism ended there. Her parents said they needed to pay for her brother’s education. “So,” she said, “I learned by doing.”

She found her first job at the Tom Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) in Yaounde. “Within a week, Taile was reading news briefs on air,” Wray writes. And by the time she was 22 years old, Taile was given a morning show to host.

Professional Success Marred by Threats

In 2005, Taile started working for Sweet FM radio, hosting a show called “A vous la parole” (Have Your Say). A year later, she began receiving threats. On the show, she openly discussed topics such as homosexuality and government corruption, and was especially critical of Cameroon President Paul Biya.

“I don’t know if you know the president of my country, Paul Biya?” Taile shakes her head, and exhales, nostrils flaring. “Since I was born, he’s managed to amend the constitution so he can run as often as he wants.”

In November 2006, three men, their faces hidden behind hoods, took Taile from her home and severely beat her, leaving her to die. She dragged herself out of a ditch on her elbows.

When asked about the incident, her expression softens and she covers her mouth with her hand, blinking hard. “That is very hard,” she says. Her colleagues wanted to write a report about the incident but she wasn’t able to write or speak. “It was impossible,” she says. “So they imagined as best they could. And when they were speaking, they would ask me ‘Just nod [if it’s] “yes” and if it is “no” shake your head.’ I will never forget how it felt. I couldn’t even say what had happened to me.”

Moving Forward

After completing physical therapy and recovering her voice, Taile continued to report. After her show was cancelled at Sweet FM, she found a position at Canal 2 International, covering the war in Chad and the hunger riots of 2008. The youth were frustrated, she recalled, because they were so poor and because they couldn’t work or vote. “[I]t was tragic, because hundreds of them were killed in the streets,” she said.

Asked about her own children, Taile glows. “I have one child, a wonderful little boy,” she says. “He will be nine on November 30th.” He’s already chasing stories: Taile describes how he took on the role of a reporter for Cameroon’s national holiday on May 20. “I was most impressed. I think it’s like mother, like son.”

The IWMF Award

The IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards “recognize heroic women journalists each year,” according to the IWMF Web site.

Taile told findingDulcinea how moved she was when she learned she was one of the recipients of the award. “They came to find me in my little village,” she said. “Thanks to the IWMF, I saw another side of the world.”

Kathleen Currie, deputy director of IWMF, told the Voice of America in May that she admires Taile’s fearlessness. “I think she exemplifies the qualities of the women that we honor—people who pursue the news, who pursue truth, who are dogged in their pursuit and who do not scare easily,” Currie said.

Taile accepted the award on behalf of the women of Cameroon. “As I stand before you, I think that one of them is going through intense pain in one corner of this country,” she said in her acceptance speech. Read the full text of Taile’s speech at the IWMF Web site.  

Two other women received the IWMF’s Courage in Journalism Award this year: Jila Baniyaghoob, the editor-in-chief of the Web site Kanoon Zanan Irani (Iranian Women Center); and Iryna Khalip, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta in Belarus.

In addition, Amira Hass, a reporter for Ha’aretz Daily, a newspaper based in Israel, received the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Background: Cameroon

According to the Web site Freedom House, Cameroon ranked 138 out of 163 countries surveyed by Transparency International’s (TI) 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index. “Self-censorship among broadcast and print journalists is common, partly in response to instances of security forces arresting, detaining, physically abusing, threatening, and otherwise harassing journalists,” the Web site reports.

As is true in most of Western Africa, discrimination against women is prevalent in Cameroon. Women are rarely allowed to own land and “[v]iolence against women is common,” Freedom House reports.

“Cameroon is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation,” according to the CIA World Fact Book. A country profile notes that within Cameroon, trafficked girls are generally sold as house servants and for “sexual exploitation.”

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