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Hard Times For Cameroonian Journalists 

It has taken the suspension of the popular CRTV Radio Buea interactive program Press Club presented by fearless CAMASEJ journalist Matute Menyoli to bring to the forefront issues that vividly show that administrative authorities fear the media when they are doing “the wrong thing”. The suspension is a clear indication that the administration has something to hide regarding land grabbing in Fako.

 

With the surge in new information and communication technologies, it is widely accepted that freedom of expression, whether via social media or via traditional media is a necessary tool to foster democracy and human rights as well as demonstrate political maturity. Obviously Cameroonian political and administrative authorities have hardly known this. They refuse to comprehend that the more they attempt to control the media, the more they play a prejudicial role in the use of self-censorship as acceptable journalistic style. In countries ruled by dictators, continuous obstruction has led to fear and self-censorship has severely limited coverage of important issues. 

 

When the Southwest regional coordinator for the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms, Christopher Tambe Tiku, during an edition of Press Club, vociferously and openly accused the Southwest Governor, Bernard Okalia Bilai of promoting land grabing by creating new villages and appointing their chiefs with the sole purpose of giving them CDC land and then turning around and taking huge chunks for themselves from these chiefs, everyone held their breathe. Journalists who were expected to pick up the baton and investigate went quiet. In fact the boss of CRTV Buea cowered under the belligerence of state authorities to suspend the programme. In what age are we? Who should have more power? The man with the pen or the man with the sword? Why are we retrograding in this profession and why are we still afraid of administrative, political and business magnates?

 

By succumbing to these authorities, the media is not playing its role to deliver Cameroon to democracy come 2035. The views of some authorities who see journalists as being “too negative and critical” smack of a simplistic, ignorant and lack of understanding of the role of a journalist. As the fourth estate, journalism is meant to oversee, and make public authorities accountable. It is meant to uncover ills, attack and criticize, as well as show another side of the picture. The action of the journalist is meant to help officials take decisions that would benefit the general public and not just a few elites. The profession is therefore not one that necessarily goes with the flow. A society with a compliant journalistic force is akin to a society where journalists are gagged, castrated and cautioned on what to write and what not to write, what to say and what not to say. In a normal, progressive society, if the government is worried that its journalists are not responsible enough, there is adequate investment in training and refresher courses at home and abroad. But that is unlikely to happen here.

The repressive climate is succeeding in making journalists toe the line. Who wants their life threatened? Yet in the Southwest Region, threats from elites and administrative authorities have become the order of the day for the few non-compliant journalists and has led to a virtual media silence on controversial issues. It has been a while since a public debate like the lands issue has elicited so much anger from the authorities.

But authorities do not even need to threaten anyone. Journalists are doing it to themselves. Reports on corruption, environmental damage, exploitation of villagers and other abuses have emerged mainly in the private media, and the overall tendency is to report the official /government version of the story. For a fellow journalist to admit: “My sister, I don’t need anyone to call me. I don’t need anyone to tell me what I should or should not write. But I know the topics that anger the authorities. I have to self-censor because I need to survive. I don’t want any problems,” is only a reflection of how low the profession has sunk.

It is impossible to practise journalism freely where fear and threats are commonplace. Government authorities proceed under the guise of “you are damaging the country’s image”, or embarrassing the government. They assert that bad press affects the country’s level of entrepreneurship, job creation and ability to attract foreign direct investments. The poor folk have become the sacrificial lambs in the name of preserving our image and job creation and the journalist has become the renegade, the “bad child” in society. It is clear that public authorities are confusing defiance with disloyalty. They continue to fan a media environment devoid of any professional organization, unity, and solidarity. Journalists now delight in multiple media associations all in search of personal aggrandizement and not in the interest of the profession. 

It is therefore time to ask “where has true journalism gone to”? And where has courageous journalism gone to? How will posterity judge Anglophone journalism based on the current trends? Will we, or indeed, do we deserve to be placed on the same pedestal for comparison with the likes of Eric Chinje, Victor Epie Ngome or Boh Herbert? 

CAMASEJ is calling on government authorities to: Let journalists do their job freely, as a sign of our political maturity and in furtherance of the truth in a country where defamation is still considered a criminal offence.  CAMASEJ is calling on government authorities to refrain from threatening journalists who are exercising their right to freedom of expression and doing their job.

CAMASEJ is calling on government to hold accountable officials who infringe on these fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

CAMASEJ is calling on government to take the side of journalists actively for a change and allow them to investigate the actions of officials without fear, threats or intimidation.

CAMASEJ is calling on government to reconsider its stance on the treatment of defamation and repeal legislation which makes defamation a criminal offence.

 CAMASEJ remains a viable partner in the government’s 2035 aspiration, believes in upholding professional ethics of its member journalists, but stands ready to expose appointed or elected officials who intimidate fellow journalists in their quest for the truth. Only through exercising this freedom of expression and freedom of the press can we play our part toward making Cameroon truly a great nation. 

 

Tricia Oben (National President of CAMASEJ)

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