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A Quarrel With The Mirror 

By Charlie Ndi Chia — It was some time in 1996 at the Yaounde Hilton Hotel. Professor Francis Nyamnjoh and Edith Kahbang Wallah were facilitating a seminar on Responsible Journalism. This was in the heydays of what one may call “flesh and blood journalism”. Put bluntly, the floodgates had only been recently flung open, as it were, thanks to the so-called Liberty Laws of December 1990.

This meant that just about anyone who could afford a biro and could scribble one or two awkward lines, qualified to be a Journalist. Those that were trained, whether formally or informally; who had been in harness for quite a while were themselves overwhelmed by the new-found possibility of going to town with any balderdash in the name of scoops and other newsy stories.

When Nyamnjoh and Wallah attempted to encourage such responsible journalistic practice by which the story would be told with something like scientific precision and candidness, they were resisted.  Some participants, including this writer, naively propagated the concept of Interpretative Journalism, arguing rightly or wrongly that besides presenting facts, the Reporter had a right and duty to interpret such facts for the public. The shit had hit the fan, more or less.

It is trite logic that if the duo of Nyamnjoh and Wallah had been taken seriously at that time, we would not be stuck with some of the guttersnipes that litter the landscape today, surprisingly ever so eager to define the yardstick by which good journalistic practice should be measured. At the time, some regime barons took advantage of the confusion in the media sector. They still do to date, having also taken advantage of the palpable ignorance and hunger in every sense of the word, of some of those who litter the landscape of the media, like the man out at sea, with no knowledge of fishing, not to talk of swimming, but who is armed only with the desperate, burning zeal to catch fish.

Seeing as it were that most governments perceive press freedom and liberties as rights that come far after political and economic freedom, Journalists came together and formed the Cameroon Union of Journalists, CUJ, with Ahmadou Vamoulke as pioneer President. The CUJ begot its own child – the Cameroon Media Council, CMC. The CMC had as principal mandate to self-regulate the media. But the well known greed and other political parochial interests crept in, and the CMC failed like a lazy school boy that had failed his exams. This story shall be told another day.

Suffice to say that the CMC was structured to police the media ranks such that the “boa constrictor” laws whereby every proven case of defamation is punishable by a prison term for the Journalist is mitigated. But since the majority of our media men, as all-knowing as they claim to be are Quixotic, toothless, barking lapdogs, the regime stepped in and provided the National Communication Council, NCC, with the wherewithal to check Ugly Journalism (apologies to Choves Loh). Granted that this was [belatedly done] to balance the right of freedom of expression with legitimate security concerns…

That said, we at The Post, have more work to do than the politicians and administrators on whose mouths many of our “confreres” stick their microphones for filthy lucre. Reason why we subscribe to self-regulation instead of running the risk of being sanctioned by the NCC or handed avoidable jail terms that provide work for the likes of ‘Media sans Frontier’ and their ilk. This is not to say that if, tomorrow, this newspapers goofs, it shouldn’t, like others before it, be subjected to the same legislation that has sent some “authoritative” candy wraps to disciplinary siesta.

It is a truism that freedom entails responsibility. Noblesse oblige, those who seek and are given liberty; any liberty for that matter, must use it responsibly or risk forfeiting it. The granting of freedom to media men and women to purvey the news to society carries the implicit demand that they will radiate, nay, reciprocate the ideals of accuracy, objectivity and fairness, all of which are contained in the higher ideal of truth.

Fact is, some of our so-called Publishers/Editors, by their own ranting and bluffing, worshipped money and power during the year under review. One of them actually came out to announce that he made more wealth (during suspension) making more dirty cash than meeting a Reporter’s responsibility to his profession and the public.

That is, he, willy-nilly, got his unsuspecting readers into the culture of the compulsive consumption of trash and by the ennobling of practices such as intentional obsolescence; without the slightest compunction; dishing out his dreadful piffle, tripe and treacle, without recourse to common sense and good conscience.

That said, if we, as media people prefer to engage in great delusion of self-delusion; if, in our arrogance we look under everyone else’s bed but ours, we would be producing nothing but truncated versions of reality. In other words, we would have once again, engaged in a foolish quarrel with the mirror which we have, in all pompousness, conspicuously placed to reflect the image of this society. God forbid!

First published in The Post print edition no 01493

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