By Andrew Nsoseka
Journalists in Cameroon have made it easier for politicians to successfully split them up into numerous visionless unions for easy manipulation and control.
The plethora of journalism associations that inundate the media landscape today has only helped to reduce to the corps to an organised group of beggars, surviving on the crumbs of those they should be holding accountable.
As such, instead of reporting against corruption, bad governance and holding the other arms of Government accountable to the society, journalists through their various associations have instead become smooth messengers, covering-up and aiding bad governance, a practice that is killing democracy and empowering political bullies.
It is true that new journalist unions in Cameroon pop up daily like mushrooms. It only suffices for a group of journalists to sit and come up with an idea for a union without a clear-cut vision for the association.
All they often want is to meet with this or that Minister or politician for reasons best known to them.
Funny acronyms are coined and a begging bowl taken to the target to ‘grab’ and in return, shower praises in ‘news’ reports about the said ‘God-given’ Minister, or politician.
The proliferation of journalists’ associations in Cameroon is just like that of halleluiah churches on the streets.
However, what these numerous associations have done to journalists is that they have reduced Journalists’ strength to play their watchdog role in society. This has given room for politicians, who dole out some few banknotes to these mushroom unions, to infiltrate them and start violating their rights, knowing that the profession is so fragmented and that no industrial action can be successfully taken against them.
In many cases, arrogant politicians have demeaned the very journalists they group and pay to ‘shine their shit’. They brag that journalists are hungry people who come to them for food and as such, they cannot write anything negative about them.
In Cameroon, the absence of a strong Journalist Union like the Nigerian Union of Journalists is partly responsible for the shabby treatment Journalists often receive.
Some corrupt politicians are even sponsoring some journalism associations, which they used to counter reports about them.
One of such politicians once stated: “I have all the Journalists in my pockets”.
Meanwhile, some Journalists associations find it difficult to sanitise the profession, as their activities are often sabotaged from within by colleagues whose pecuniary interests are threatened.
Cameroon has the following press associations: Cameroon Association of English-speaking Journalists, the Confederation of Cameroon Anglophone Journalists for a United and Stable Cameroon, Cameroon Community Media Network, Cameroon Union of Journalists, Commonwealth Journalists Association, Union of Cameroon Journalists, Cameroon English Newspaper Reporters Association, Journalists for Decentralisation, Association of Environmental Reporters, Cameroon Association of Sports Journalists, Cameroon Journalists Trade Union, Cameroon Association of Political Reporters, and many others.
The list is inexhaustible, journalists covering different beats like sports, politics, economics, environment, culture, showbiz, tech, human rights, and others have grouped themselves together.
Publishers are not left out. They too are in search of quick ways to marry with politicians for their own 30 pieces of silver.
They too have fragmented themselves in the following in following associations (English Newspaper publishers); Cameroon Anglophone Publishers Association, CANPA and Cameroon English Language Newspaper Publishers’ Association, CENPA. Whether by design or coincidence, the acronyms sound almost the same.
To make the situation worse, unions of ‘media men without morals’ as I call them, who are paid to do the biddings of politicians and cover-up misdeeds, are showered with advertising money, while those who try to hold officials to account, either have adverts withdrawn from them, or in most cases, officials refuse to pay huge sums owed them in advertising money.
Critical reporting irks politicians and ‘stubborn media organs’ do not get paid.
Cameroon Tribune’s columnist, Roger Ngonmenyui in one of his write-ups titled “Journalists: Form One Formidable Union or Continue To Cry Over Spilled Milk”, lamented over the shabby treatment of a senior colleague, Julius Teke, by Former PM, Philemon Yang, who ordered for Teke’s arrest on grounds that he was recording him during a public outing to evaluate projects in the Southwest Region.
Ngonmenyui wrote that following “the incident, tempers flared, with journalists promising hell for the regime. Ink did flow on tabloids. However, tongues produced fire on radios and TVs as the situation was being analysed differently.”
“Many journalists took to the social media and showed their selective solidarity. CAMASEJ issued a press release demanding an unconditional and immediate release of Teke. Other journalism associations were very quiet on the issue, probably because their interests were not touched.”
The working conditions of journalists in Cameroon are precarious and only a strong Journalism association can fight for something better.
A vibrant association is also needed to cleanse the profession from charlatans, strengthen the bond among members of the corps, assert its watchdog role and uphold the ethics and deontology of the profession. The situation of journalists can only be better if they practice real journalism, by enhancing the people’s right to know, speak out freely and advance Cameroon’s weak democracy. As the US Department of State wrote, in “An Unfettered Press”, “the press and Government are natural adversaries with different functions, and each must respect the role of the other”.