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On Press Freedom Day: Journalists, UN Officials Decry Gagging Of The Press 

By Walter Wilson Nana

Media men and women in the Southwest Region were also part of activities to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day 2014. 

Under the canopy of the Commonwealth Journalists Association, CJA – Cameroon, the Cameroon Association of English speaking Journalists, CAMASEJ, the Cameroon Anglophone Newspaper Publishers Association, CANPA and the Cameroon Union of Journalists, CUJ, journalists practising across Cameroon gathered at the Buea ‘Parliamentarian Flats’ Hotel to reflect on their professional activities, while deriding the various strategies in which the press is gagged in Cameroon.

CJA–Cameroon President, Chief Paul Nkemayang said journalists cannot operate freely in an environment of bad laws. To him, press freedom in Cameroon is on paper, noting that press freedom in Cameroon has been given with the left hand and taken with the right, citing Articles 13, 14, 15, 16 and 81 of the 1990 Liberty Laws on Social Communication, which he said are arbitrary and contemptuous  to the practice of journalism. Nkemayang encouraged Cameroonian journalists to be united, stay stronger, sit up, and remain fearless and courageous when doing their job.

Charly Ndi Chia, CUJ Chair and Editor-In-Chief, The Post Newspaper entreated journalists to be ethical, data-oriented, profound and orderly in their operations. He told journalists to work in tandem with the Government for a better society, while also upholding the respect for national security requirements.

According to the CUJ Executive, freedom of the press does not translate to ‘press passes’ for journalists to stray anywhere, adding that credibility could only come from professionals that are adequately trained, well informed and humble.

He enjoined journalists to be a little bit more bolder, innovative and pragmatic, stressing on the need for the media to remain relevant and profitable. He prescribed what he called higher benchmarks for professionals, plus a functional distribution network, especially for newspapers.

The CUJ President noted that the often neglected small story is usually the big one that Reporters should be chasing and that such stories often concern the direct interest of everyone else.

While acknowledging that there exist both legitimate and illegitimate restrictions to press freedom in the country, Ndi Chia congratulated George Ngwane, for his positive propensity of domesticating international instruments for those who were willing to learn and benefit from.

CAMASEJ President, Tricia Oben saw in the World Press Freedom Day an opportunity for all meaning people to be reminiscent in the necessity to promote, protect and safeguard freedom of expression and freedom of the press. “Free and independent media is central to building strong democracies, promoting civic participation, the rule of law and encouraging human development,” she mentioned.

Oben challenged journalists to face issues of corruption and bad governance, which are impediments to the execution of their duties.

She indicated that laws criminalising news reports, commentaries or criticising public officials are meant to gag and should have no place in a democracy. “These laws have a negative impact on investigative journalism as it makes it difficult for journalists to expose corruption, bad governance, human rights abuses and issues of accountability,” she added.

Elvis Ntui Arrey of the British High Commission in Yaounde, Cameroon corroborated some of the aforementioned views, highlighting that freedom is fundamental in building a democratic society. Freedom of expression in Cameroon is not perfect, but a lot has been achieved, Ntui Arrey noted, saying that the British High Commission in Cameroon is promoting the practice of investigative journalism through capacity building opportunities.

Inspector General in the Ministry of Communication, Metuge Ekane cautioned journalists to know that their liberty starts and ends somewhere, but advised Cameroonian journalists to set standards.

Julius Tata, Social and Cultural Adviser in the Southwest Governor’s office said the Cameroon administration is no longer the hangman of the press but a partner in nation building. 

However, George Ngwane, Executive Director of the civil society organisation, AFRICAphonie mentioned in a Press Freedom and Advocacy Project to the journalists that there is need for a freedom to information act to be enacted in Cameroon, saying journalists should be at the fore of its advocacy.

UN Officials Speak Out!

In a joint message by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, they mentioned that it is the fundamental rights of all people to enjoy freedom of opinion and expression, explaining that the rights are essential to democracy, transparency, accountability and the rule of law. “These rights are vital for human dignity, social progress and inclusive development,” stated the joint message.

According to Ban Ki-moon and Bokova, journalism provides a platform for informed discussions across a wide range of development issues; from environmental challenges and scientific progress to gender equality, youth engagement and peace building. “Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticise policies and actions can good governance exist,” the officials said.

Ban Ki-moon and Irina Bokova also made a plea on all States, societies and individuals to actively defend freedom of expression and press freedom as fundamental rights and as critical contributions to achieving the MDGs and advancing the post – 2015 development agenda.

 

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