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News Analysis: Truth And Journalism (Recollections Of An Enriching Media Course) 

By Peterkins Manyong

The fable of the eight blind men who went to "see" an elephant, is familiar to many. But what may not be obvious is the relevance of the story to the profession of journalism. The blind men each touched a different part of the animal and drew a conclusion on it. The one who touched the tusk concluded that the elephant is like a spear. Another said the elephant was like a fan. That was the one who touched the ear. He who felt the side was convinced that the elephant is like a wall and so on. The blind men all agreed on one fact – that there was an elephant.

The elephant thus symbolizes the truth, the views of the blind men or aspects of it. Let us move from a fictitious story to a real life situation. Three young people died during SDF launch on May 26, 1990. The State-owned media reported that the victims had been trampled on. The private media reported that they had been shot and killed by gendarmes. But there was one basic truth-the fact that people died during the Party’s launch.

This leads us to another facet of the truth. This concerns the gun. Whether a gun is a weapon of aggression or self defense depends on where somebody is standing. A person who faces a gun concludes that it is a weapon of aggression, while he or she standing behind the person holding the weapon sees it as a weapon of self defense.

Let’s consider another example. People from Dschang in the West Region of Cameroon, too, think the pig is the best thing that ever happened at creation. This is because pork is a delicacy there, but not so to Moslems and Jews. Shakespeare’s Shylock, for instance, considers it an unpardonable act of insolence when his enemy Antonio, invites him to dinner where he would inevitably eat pork. Shyloch has in mind the biblical story in which Christ ordered some demons he cast out of a possessed person to enter a herd of pigs.

Hamas, the organisation striving for the recovery of Palestinian land , has been styled a terrorist organisation by Israel and its western allies who condemn the method Hamas is using to recover it as terrorist, without  telling us what other approach the organisation should use.
This controversy about the truth generated quite some heat during the two-week workshop for the training of journalism trainers organised in Limbe by the British High Commission in collaboration with the Thomson Foundation.

"Truth In Journalism" was, in fact, the title of a presentation made by this analyst who was a participant in the workshop from July 27 to August 7. The debate was inspired by the question as to how much truth the public needs to know, especially when it comes to reporting on violence. A film on the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone demonstrated, through its shocking effects on the reader or viewer, the dangers of exceptionally violent pictures.

Rape, it has generally been agreed upon, is another kind of violence a reporter should handle with extreme care. Even if the story is true, how fair is it to the victim?" This is the question often posed when talking about journalism and social responsibility.

There is also the element of danger, both for the reporter and the victim. The story of shoplifting by a housewife is another example. This analyst was invited by the shop owner to investigate the story of a woman whom he claimed to have caught red-handed. The woman’s husband threatened to commit suicide if the story appeared in the newspaper. It would have been a very inhuman act to go ahead with the story even if the embarrassed husband didn’t mean what he said.

The Unfettered Press Publication emphasises this point when he quotes an editor of The Washington Post as regretting that somebody committed suicide because of a story run by the paper. The editor would certainly have dropped the story if he knew the person involved had suicidal tendencies.

The danger to the life of the reporter is another reason why we should be cautious in reporting the truth. Dele Giwa, the Nigerian journalist killed with a letter bomb, is a classical example. A reporter who insists on going ahead with a story that portends danger is foolhardy. Leaking military secrets constitute a real source of danger and wise reporters hesitate to do this.

This view was, unfortunately, not welcome by Peter Hiscocks, our course director and some colleagues at the workshop who saw the call for caution as an attempt to discourage risk taking in journalism. The reality which we must face is that if a reporter can’t be alive to read the story, then that story was not worth writing. By dying the way Dele Giwa did, he created a great precedence, but, unfortunately, also left many future equally important stories unwritten.

The statement that the truth is bitter and must be told should not always apply where no purpose would be achieved by the revelation. Revealing corrupt practices is, however, one of those few domains where a great deal of risk taking is necessary and no revelation can be more significant than the exposure of a financial rogue who poses as a model of accountability and probity.

It is in the light of this observation that our next analysis will focus on an area where corruption is practiced with a lot of impunity-the National Assembly. Watch out, especially, for details of the games SDF Bureau members play with Assembly Speaker, Cavaye Yeguie Djibril.

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