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Feeding-Bottle Journalism 

By Bouddih Adams

Last week, during the Feast of the Ram, a television reporter asked the Northwest Governor, Abakar Ahamat, off camera, why he has not been in the news for some time. The Governor’s reaction: "There are so many bad journalists in Bamenda.  The couple of good ones cannot be easily identified. I have decided to concentrate and do my work; whatever they think or say. The good ones will see it."

Indeed, one cannot easily pick the grain from the chaff among the journalists or those who pass for journalists. In Bamenda, discussion among journalists is only on who gives a ‘tenner’, a ‘fiver’, a ‘two-er’ or a ‘one-er’ (meaning who gives FCFA 10,000 or FCFA 5,000 or 2,000 or 1,000 as gombo). News is, therefore, determined by who gives what. The journalistic propensity for hard news, investigation, human interest and development news have been relegated to the dogs, while bread and butter stories fill the pages and airwaves. 

If a conman is inaugurating his house and can give a tenner, even if Ngafeeson creates news by constructing a prison yard across the Commercial Avenue, as long as he is known to give only a two-er; all so-called journalists would cover but the conman’s show. No sooner have they collected the tenner, than they dash into the next off-licence bar and engage in shouting-matches on things like: who knows and who does not know how to corner and coerce a personality to extort gombo. You would hear mean stuff like: "I will nail that man; how could he give people a tenner each and give me only a fiver?"

Otherwise, you hear crap like: "Hon X is my man, I cannot take a story to him and come back without a ‘fortier’ or a ‘fiftier’. Where did the competition and comparing notes custom between journalists, ever go to? Where have ethics and professionalism gone to? At the best, you would hear things like: "I have put 25 years into journalism; If I take up my pen, I will write better than that guy."

Most neither read nor research, they would have come across the famous axiom: "Those who can, write," meaning: those who can write, write; they don’t swear how they can write; they simply write. At the end of the day, they wait for their patrons, godfathers or, better still, baby-sitters to serve them with the feeding bottle; and that is what they put on the pages or the airwaves. Someone calls it ‘farm-to-market’ or ‘hear- say’ journalism.

A journalist should be able to gather material, winnow it, crosscheck it, blend it to be accurate, timely, impartial and complete, relevant and reliable, before serving it. Facts and figures are sacred and must be presented naked – within the ambit of ethics and professionalism. Without facts and figures, a story is like half-baked cake – no matter the frilling or icing, it is half-baked.  

Example: In 1999, Cameroon POSTline elected to celebrate its second anniversary in Bamenda. Yours sincerely agreed with co-desk editor, Clovis Atatah and Production Assistant, Innocent Mbunwe, that they would, together, have a day in the Ayaba Hotel swimming pool.

At the last minute, the other two changed their minds and yours truly – true to nature – carried on according to plan to finish the unfinished business. Undressed down to the ‘dross,’ he jumped into the 3-metre end of the pool feeling he would swim as he would 25 years earlier. He hit the bed of the pool and then wriggled to the surface, tried to swim, but went down. A second try, a third. No way! Cartoonist Lambert Eyabi called Orock Eta to the rescue. Everyone had a good laugh.

Well, The Post played a football match against Ayaba staff, in which yours truly caused the winning goal against Ayaba.  Exactly 11 years after, yours truly is in Bamenda, for another anniversary, this time the 50th anniversary of the armed forces. A young colleague approaches and yaps: "Sorry, I have not seen you since your mishap" he said laughing mockingly.
"What mishap?" yours truly queried.

He then unrolled a tale he heard from a certain Guillaume which sent everyone wriggling in laughter. According to the said Guillaume, yours truly was dining and wining at Ayaba two years ago, when he slipped and fell in the swimming pool in a three-piece suit and tie, was fished-out unconscious and spent days in hospital.

That is a quintessential Bamenda off-licence journalist. The regular Bamenda bar journalist would not find out why Zaccheus Forjindam, for example, was rated best by President Biya and, the following year, he suddenly became the worst. It goes without saying that (like with some award-giving newspapers) if someone was rated best last year and, this year, he is rated worst; the (tragic) fall must be so loud-sounding and glaring that; even if the blind can’t see, they can hear it, or, if the deaf can’t hear, they can, at least, see it.

That is where it is incumbent on the journalist to inquire and inform. Same principle should apply in the tattletale of an opposition chieftain said to be feeding with the ruling party, which is being prattled around. A journalist, cut and tailored for the job, would like to publish such a photo on the front page of his/her paper?

But the journalist must ask the person feeding him with the information about the time, place and photographs and, then, crosscheck the information with the other party to get the other side of the story, before going publishing it. Questions like: what is Fru Ndi selling to you of the ruling CPDM and Paul Biya? Or, what are you and Paul Biya buying from the SDF?, must jolt the psycho-analytical mind of the journalist. Well, that is if s/he is a journalist.

A journalist must be guided by the public’s right to know: that the ruling party is bribing the opposition chieftain to short-change the people. In that case, the court of public opinion will hold the giver and taker of the bribe culpable. The journalist, to whom this kind of information is taken-as-given, is an accomplice in the raw deal given the people. On the other hand, s/he is not a journalist. But since the so-called journalists depend on their baby-sitters (political party barons and godfathers, administrators and contractors) and their feeding bottles; they dare not challenge them.  

Otherwise, should anyone come with such cheap talk, ask him for photographs, or, make him/her invite you when next they are wining and dining with the opposition chieftain. At least, they can afford your transport fare just as they are affording transport and feeding for people from far and near, to come and swell the population in Bamenda, for the eye of the camera, when Biya comes visiting.
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