The 86-year-old Paul Biya, the longest serving non-royal head of state in the world, has held office in Cameroon since Gerald Ford was president. He recently won a seventh term in office that Foreign Policy (10/22/18) described as a “farce.” Cameroon has been in the news of late, due to the government’s human rights abuses pushing the country to the brink of a civil war. Freedom House considers it to be one of the least free countries in the world.
However, when discussed at all, Biya was presented matter-of-factly by the media, without the need to add call him a “dictator.” The New York Times (10/6/18) presented him euphemistically as “one of the world’s longest-serving presidents.” From the coverage, readers would not know he is a dictator, even by Freedom House’s standards. In fact, going through fully 20 years of coverage in the Times, Biya was never once described as a “dictator,” “despot,” “tyrant” or any other similar designation.
When Biya was rebuked at all, the tone of the coverage was less condemnatory and more muted criticism. Voice of America (2/14/19) noted that Biya’s decision to remove presidential term limits (meaning he could rule for life) led some “critics” to call the move “authoritarian.”