The Editor-in-Chief of The Post Newspaper, Charly Ndi Chia, says despite not being the Fleet Street of Cameroonian journalism, in spite of the total lack of industries and the nagging problem of bad roads, the Northwest Region still serves as the nation’s centre of gravity and is the town that stubbornly hosts the nation’s political weather cock. According to him, the Northwest Region is not only endowed with rich human capital, but its people are extremely industrious and contribute most, in financial terms, to the national treasury.
He was speaking in a rare interview to The Post, as staffers of the newspaper prepare to temporarily relocate to Bamenda, to publish from here. The Chief Editor said the paper intended to report on the many positive issues that make Bamenda stand out of the crowd.
Other issues addressed in the interview, touch on journalism practice in Cameroon, the impact of ICT’s on traditional means of communication, a rather very critical appraisal of the present state of The Post Newspaper and how it is coping in today’s apparent murky waters of journalism.
Q: Mr. Ndi Chia, you are a member of the National Communication Council and Editor-in-Chief of The Post Newspaper. What is your appraisal of journalism practice in Cameroon in the 21st century?
Thank you. I am bound in etiquette to indicate that I actually solicited for this interview and that I requested that you ask me just any question, comfortable or not. Channels of communication have greatly multiplied; in fact, they have proliferated. Unfortunately, there has been a tremendous drop in palatable local media content, so to speak. Decent language and credibility are in short supply. This is especially so in the English speaking media where approximate English is employed by many practitioners. Over 80 percent of those at the helm of today’s newspapers have no business being there. A media guru like Eric Chinje said this much in a recent interview I granted him earlier in the year. CRTV and a handful of other privately owned media are doing just fine. Elsewhere, the competition is at once, healthy, keen and daunting; with the likes of CNN, Aljazeera and BBC practically running down to the journalistic wire, in terms of competition, if I may put it that way. Bloggers, too, have invaded the terrain. Some of them are performing fairly well while others, yet, are just ego-inflated demagogues, eager to score cheap points in a quest to belong to the Joneses.
Q: One of the questions that even the 1990 laws on Freedom of Mass Communication in Cameroon failed to adequately address is who a Journalist in Cameroon is. In your opinion, who is a Journalist?
The question as to who a journalist is has been raised and debated over and over; unfortunately with hardly any clear cut prescription given. Left to me, and drawing from common sense, a journalist ought to be one, trained and endowed with the ability and capabilities of researching, gathering and processing information for the consumption of target publics. A journalist ought to be armed with such necessary tools and should boast the proficiency of not only setting agendas at any given point in time, but also analysing issues with a goal of effecting socio-political change in their area of operation. I could say more, but let’s leave it here for now. However, most of those who profess to be journalists in our local context are, to say the least, crude traders and blackmailers, with hardly any training, let alone experience and humility. We really need to get out of jamborees such as the one Tchiroma organised in Yaoundé in 2012, in the name of a National Communication Forum, but which was teleguided and dominated by the wrong characters, for the simple reason that they were either regime apologists or pompous varsity dons. With all due respect, it takes more than just any varsity don to decide who a journalist should be, or should not be. It takes tested and tried communication experts to come out with a true, workable and acceptable definition of a journalist. But what do we see in Cameroon? Comedians and other circus clowns are recognised and hailed as journalists, going by the present definition. Let me state, albeit, philosophically, however, that the cream usually rises to the top. The clouds, hopefully, shall one day clear, and we shall see, know and cherish the colour of our Cameroonian journalistic sky.
Q: You are the Editor-in-Chief of The Post Newspaper and unarguably the vertebrae of the paper. How is The Post fairing?
We are thriving, as usual, to stay within the frontiers of credibility, decorum and professional acceptability. We, like most other newspaper houses in the country have our own shortcomings. When it comes to poor training, lopsided professionalism, lack of commitment, poverty, lack of humility and corruption, I can safely say that we are not exempt. But our biggest problem over the years, and for which I am also personally also guilty, has been our rather cavalier and generally poor approach to newspaper management. As it stands, we could do with a younger, well trained, humble and more dynamic and proactive team. But can we easily come by such a team? The answer is blowing in the wind. We are currently in search of tested and tough Editors who could receive, handle and refine copy in our central newsroom. We have advertised for several months, but are yet to get the right persons. Granted that many persons have applied, with quoting or attaching their strings of degrees and other certificates; but take note that in journalism, the hood doesn’t necessarily make the Monk. You need to posses a bit more than a nodding knowledge of a Catholic range of subjects; or even the usual carefully decorated cardboard piece of paper, carefully decorated and issued to whomsoever it may concern...to let my people go, to be a credible and performing journalist of acceptable Fleet Street or Broad Street standards.
Q: The Post Newspaper has over the years received a litany of awards from different institutions, corporate bodies, journalism associations and other foreign organisations, as one of the most widely read and credible English language newspapers in Cameroon. Does the paper still enjoy this readership rating?
You are “wrongly right”; because when you say ‘litany of awards’, I am minded to think of the “Man of the Year Awards” that are being spewed at every drop of the hat, in the direction of the famous, wealthy and overly ambitious, often for a small fee. We don’t belong in that league and I think we still enjoy a qualitative leadership because, in spite of the persistence by one or two yellow rags to be “credible leaders”, we are atop the credibility ladder and intend to remain there until the cows come home. Again, you see, the cream eventually rises to the top, if you know what I mean. I refer you to our regular promo which partly reads... “We Lead, Others Follow! Others Talk, They Brag, We Deliver!
Q: For the past five years or so, some critical readers of The Post have been complaining that the paper has swayed away from its initial critical editorial policy that made the paper very popular in the past, to a more soft content. What is accountable for this change in content?
False! On the contrary, we have matured like good wine and yet, still stayed relatively pretty hard and responsible at the same time. There is a patent difference between hard, critical journalism and reckless sensationalism as practised by well known the “Journalists Iscariots” that litter the landscape. While I agree that some of our headlines tend to be sensational for marketing expediency, we still avoid getting into the gutters of journalism, just to be seen as being tough and bold and courageous. We are a responsible newspaper, with utter respect for acceptable tastes and sensibilities of the publics that we serve.
Q: Readers equally hold that the drop in the content of The Post is due to infighting between its founding fathers. What is your take on that?
That is a tricky one. But it is true. However, infighting is not the apt nomenclature to use here. I think that disagreement as to how certain issues ought to have been approached or not, informed the perceived infighting. We found it as normal. We enjoy the best camaraderie yet, that you can think of in the average newsroom in this country. But we do flare up and scream at each other, every now and again. But hey! We still practically share our beer from the same cup, more or less and almost daily. Take note that it is such exaggerated camaraderie that almost took us to a tipping point; that informed the poor management that I talked about in reply to one of the questions that you earlier on put to me. A frustrated renegade in retreat somewhere in the Diaspora attempted at one point to put a spanner in the works, but the social upstart or profiteering parvenu was systematically and effectively ignored.
Q: One of the challenges that The Post has been grappling with in recent times is that of competition with other critical English language newspapers. How is the paper coping with such competition posed by other papers?
We know of one or two newspapers that spend time professing how critical and credible they are. I would advise that they should, like Chinua Achebe’s proverbial bat, elect to fly by night for the obvious reason of, in this case, being journalistically ugly. We have a steady, respectable, committed readership; we boast trustful and faithful advertisers. We are not threatened by any such competitors who, I think, are but quixotic.
Q: It is also purported that the management of The Post will be in the Northwest Region for about two weeks; could you throw more light on this Northwest expedition?
Yes, we have the bulk of our most committed readers in the Northwest Region. I recall that some 17 years back, when we just started The Post, I was at CRTV Northwest, where I was interviewed lengthily. I remember having said then, that Bamenda may not be the Fleet Street of Cameroonian journalism but that media products were consumed here with un-matched relish. We just have to be back there, to touch base again; to report on the issues that make Bamenda stand out of the crowd, not only as one of Cameroon’s most populous cities, but also as this town upon which the political weather cock of the country is hoisted, willy-nilly.
Q: Why will the paper leave more economically viable Regions like the Littoral, Centre and the Southwest Regions where its Head Office is found for the Northwest?
There you go again. Let me inform you that besides being very rich in human capital, Bamenda, to the best of my knowledge is not only the third biggest Cameroonian city. The People here are extremely industrious and contribute the most in financial terms to the national treasury. You can quote me on this.
Q: What is your message to the Northwest population?
They should bring out their lighted candle from under the biblical bushel. We, of The Post can assist them do this. The “Bamenda Man” is found in every nook and cranny of the national territory and beyond, doing business, contributing to the national upkeep; Bamenda is the political pulse of the nation. With few or no industries at all; with all the bad roads thrown in, Bamenda still stands tall as the breadbasket and centre of gravity of the national polity. Let us, together, exploit these potentials, come December, when The Post shall be publishing some of its editions directly from here. We are expecting a win-win game for all of us.
Interviewed by Isidore Abah