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NCC SAGA:The Forgotten Cobweb Under An Abandoned Chair 

By Charlie Ndi Chia

CameroonPostline.com — Several decades ago, long before a certain Franklin Sone Bayen had shed his milk teeth, Francis Wete, Sub-Director in the Ministry of Information and Culture, as he then was, addressed Journalists in Buea to the effect that when you publish rumours, you elevate them into facts, and facts in Journalism are sacrosanct. How apt!

At that time I was a student Carpenter, with only a faint hope of one day becoming a professional Journalist. But the advice stuck and has, in no small way, contributed (especially in recent times) to my approach to Journalism.

In football, the Samuel Eto’os of today, have replaced the Roger Millas of yesterday. Football continues to be played, the rules having been modified and coaching still largely handled by those who had long hung their boots. This, by no attempt is suggesting that football was better played in the days of yore, nor that it is better played today with Eto’o having scored more goals for the Lions than Milla did during his tenure in the den. Milla’s stage was his stage and Eto’os own is his.

Today, at the twilight of his foot-balling career, it is common to hear Eto’o refer to others still playing with him, as the kids, whom he must inspire and encourage. It should and could be so in our journalism. Unlike football, just about everyone, with or without talent, experience or training, sits on media panels to dish out lectures in Journalism. Yet, common sense and prudence dictate that you can only give what you have.

So, to be able to teach or coach Eto’o how to ply his sport, one ought to very humbly take time off to take more than basic lessons, indeed, profound lessons in football as a sport and coaching as a career. By the same token, to justify his inclusion in the Lion’s den, Eto’o must train really hard, endeavour to stay in fine form and fettle, uphold the rules of the sport and respect his Coach and Referees.

Footballers and Journalists have no hiding place. A Journalist’s certificate may not necessarily be that cardboard piece of paper, colourfully decorated and issued … “To Whom It May Concern… to let my people go”. It is, strictly speaking, measured in terms of the quality of what he or she prints or broadcasts. Whereas Doctors very easily and sometimes casually bury their “mistakes”, those of the Journalist hang on, glaring and mocking at the rest of us, for ages to come.

Reason why another basic principle that one learnt in Carpentry, namely “Think Thrice, Measure Twice and Cut Once” ties in well with Wete’s Buea dictum. Whether in journalism or carpentry, both principles emphasise the ‘factor of safety’ rule which one also learnt by rote in technical college. And which is to be compulsorily applied when providing headroom for bridges and in constructing cantilevers and why not, coffins.

Some 10 years back, a Chief Polling official who, from all indications couldn’t put a crusty breakfast on the table from the practice of journalism, gave me a rather crude public lecture on what she referred to as investigative journalism. My only offence was to have asked her a question that was apparently not in sync with her political tastes and preferences. In anger, I headlined an article … “Where There Is No Journalism Teacher”.

In it, I cried out against the fact that Journalists were being converted to mere ciphers and playthings on the chessboard of “Apostles of the grandstands”. There is nothing really wrong with taking humble lessons from knowledgeable persons who are themselves humble. Yet, there is everything wrong from imbibing lessons from bedroom critics or wet noses with unbridled tongues in the name of journalism, or better still, emergency communication scholars.

Lest we forget, I have, during my professional career so far, been taught very useful communication concepts and theories by kids who once cut their journalism teeth under my tutelage. I did so, not because they turned up bragging, and insisting that they had now attained the position where they could teach their old grandmothers how to suck eggs, as it were.

But let me cut the rigmarole and get down to the brass tacks. Journalism of flesh and blood/Cocktail Journalism, for which one of the Publishers whose newspaper was suspended and which the likes of Bayen associated me with in his “Letter To National Communication Council And The Guardian Post” (The Post of Monday, January 13, 2014) is known to have served time in jail, when a Bamenda Magistrates Court found him guilty of “Ugly Journalism” (Apologies to Choves Loh). 

As I write, he is a student Journalist, aspiring to his first piece of paper qualification in the profession. About two years back, he carried out an internship in our Yaounde office, under the supervision of my Yaounde Bureau Chief. There is nothing wrong with being in competition with another newspaper, but there is everything wrong with sleazy reporting or propagating unverified rumour.

Despite claims by those that are lining up to give free lectures on how the National Communication Council, NCC, should or shouldn’t function, every one of those sanctioned was and has always been given a fair chance to defend themselves. The bedroom critics ought to have done their home work well, before putting pen on paper. Rather they have been unprofessionally, nay, unfairly shooting from the hip. Cast iron facts and data-based journalism pays.

The emergency Counsel for the suspended media outfits could have, in the case of the very “fearless and authoritative” Guardian Post, paused to ponder why its Publisher told the world at the first suspension that his paper was so critical that Government had to employ its NCC tool to crack down on it “because it was election time”.

And why this time round, the same “competitive” Publisher tacitly told the same world that his first suspension was based on the fact of his advertising Dewah’s traditional medicine. The “Learned” sympathisers of free press, which they claim the NCC is killing, should tell the world what role they have played in promoting credible media in this country. Where do they ply their trade? Are they paid up members of the Journalism Unions? 

As credible media experts with great lessons to proffer, let those defenders of the suspended Publishers who wrote on the internet that all of us, NCC members are homosexuals, prove this allegation in deference to accountable or more still, data-based journalism. They cut the tragic figure of Jack Falstaff in William Shakespeare’s King Henry IV Part Two, who was wont to define honour as an ordinary word, a bogus concept, if one were to die achieving it.

Falstaf went to the battlefield, a thorough coward, clutching a bottle of sack (afofo), which he got drunk from. Yet, when Prince Hal finally slaughtered off the chief enemy in a fiercely fought battle, Falstaff emerged from his hiding place, placed a foot on the corpse, stabbed it and boasted how he was the one that slew the chief enemy. In a sense, he was claiming credit, and honour for work he had cowardly stayed away from.

Quite a good number of professional wet noses have been to my office and screamed right in my face, as they made a case for one of the suspended Publishers. In a few cases, I committed the error of attempting to preach Catholicism to such Journalistic Popes. But now, I know better. I, at least, concede that Ngah is entitled to his own version of profound respect for the consistent and valiant fight he has had against all odds, and for what he thought to be right.

I hail him for the fast bucks he has made and for his unique news diet that other journalistic Napoleons before him left un-served on Cameroonian breakfast tables. Few Generals of sorts have ever gone through so many battles, some lost, some won and come back to lead the next charge. Remember he said in his interview that he made more cash in suspension than when he was regular on the kiosks…

However, as a tested Editor, I wouldn’t personally refer to Ngah as a distinguished Editor, but a successful businessman, even if we both sell newspapers for a living. Let’s get serious here… As a newsman, I have spent my entire career, NCC or not, never as a Journalist Iscariot. Even at the risk of paying the ultimate sacrifice I have been advocating for fearless newspapers and other media; standing vehemently for honest Government, with compassion for the underdog as opposed to who pays up slush cash.

I have fronted for consistent devotion to humanistic and democratic values, knowing such to be a civilising influence that would be hard to overrate. I speak out of an experience of many years in classrooms, newsrooms, trenches and workshops if you will, where I have seen the long and never-ending parade of men and events… Journalist Iscariots thrown in.

I have had a belly-full of (forgive me) candy-asses and dickheads, of “over-sabi” wet noses, who insist on rattling off journalism lessons on panels and other public forums, but who are at best, full-fledged Journalists of the Next of Kin, only eager to serve as the dog of the King, so they could well become the King of dogs. Mind you, not watchdogs!
Last Line…

I make bold to advise those with a penchant for pillorying the National Communication Council, NCC, to take time off and very humbly learn how media regulation came about; where and when it was initiated and how it functions worldwide and stop this penchant of hurrying to town with dreadful tripe and treacle.

By the way, the NCC’s opposition is to gamblers in journalism and not to those who are critical of rogue regimes. Those forgotten journalistic cobwebs under an abandoned chair should, at least, give the rest of us a break. Cheers and let’s keep suffering and smiling!

First published in The Post print edition no 01498

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