Urgent Need For Press Empowerment


Recommendations still await application to churn press organs into key development actors.

Two decades and four years after the 1990 social communication laws changed the media landscape in Cameroon, the country now boasts over 20 TV stations, 200 radios, between 400 and 500 newspapers as well as an abundant number of online press organs, to keep Cameroonians and the world informed.

Twenty four years since 1990, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge towards ensuring more freedom of the press which yet cries for more empowering measures to allow it play its determining role as the Fourth Estate. If some public officials saw in 1994 the need to organise the first National Communication Forum, discussions therein hovered around the need to, amongst others, seek efficient and pertinent solutions to ensure the financial and economic viability of communication enterprises.

Furthermore, the forum served as platform to restructure the communication sector and its characteristic pluralism in a bid to improve quality and socio-economic performance. The aim was also to strengthen citizenship for all communication actors notably the national media in order to conciliate their editorial independence and their duty to contribute to a positive image of Cameroon.

Opinion siding with government tended to see the press as being neither sufficiently patriotic nor overtly supportive of the socio-political and economic strides taken to move the country forward while diehard promoters of a free press saw the need for financial empowerment to ensure creation of viable press organs while cleansing the sector of pseudo-practitioners.

Expectations and hopes thus filled participants who thronged Yaounde from 5 to 7 December 2012 for the second edition of the National Communication Forum featuring more grievances tendered by the press. Recommendations that spilled off on the closing day included the creation of a Special Fund as well as a bank dedicated to boosting press organs into economic enterprises.

An increased aid package to the private press, the decriminalisation of press offences and the institution of a self-regulatory system for the media to ensure respect for a consensual code of ethics and deontology, were also recommended. The announcement of the imminent creation of a committee to follow-up the implementation of such recommendations was met joyfully by participants.

Unfortunately, the inertia observed in the follow up of such recommendations has been widely disapproved in press circles. The creation on April 8, 2014 of the said follow-up committee and on the eve of the 2014 World Press Freedom Day only came to reignite the call for urgent action to implement the recommendations.

The slowness of the process, observers note, is beyond comprehension as an upsurge of citizen journalism in print, online and broadcast media exposes the canons of journalism to invading forces such as amateurism, rumour mongering, plagiarism, defamation, manipulation and “well-told” half-baked truths that still mar journalism practice.

If the satisfaction expressed by the visiting Ivorian Communication Minister recently after having a glimpse of Cameroon’s press arsenal, was anything to go by, then the Cameroonian press could gladly play its “watchdog” role with the right environment even if public officials will always feel threatened. Judging from the attitude of government and the public, the public and private press takes credit for nurturing a well-informed public which in turn ought to constitute the core of Cameroon’s democracy and the actors in the country’s strive for economic emergence and blameless democracy.

Hence, lukewarmness in empowering an incisive press should not obtain at this time. Despite much press criticism of his actions, did not the US statesman, Thomas Jefferson, once say, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter”?

Cameroon Tribune

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