Being a paper presented by Guest Speaker Christopher Ambe Shu, Publisher/Editor,of The RECORDER Newspaper,Cameroon, on June 7,on the occasion of the Association of Student Journalists,University of Buea (ASJUB) 2013 Open Day
|Publisher/Editor Chris Ambe|
This paper discusses the topic "Contemporary Issues of Print Journalism in Cameroon".
In other words, the paper examines the problems and challenges of the print media industry in Cameroon with emphasis on my experience and observations as a journalist/editor/publisher of a newspaper,The Recorder. The re-introduction of multi-party politics/democracy in Cameroon in 1990 came along with the (re)birth of a multiplicity of newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and their associated problems.
This paper not only examines the constraints faced by the Cameroon print media in the performance of its professional tasks, but it also makes some recommendations.
The importance of a vibrant and critical media in any country that is bent on enhancing development and improving the lot of its citizens, ensuring good governance and transparency, cannot be overemphasized
It is no secret that a vibrant press is a development agent. This is why Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States of America and the spiritual father of the US Bill of Rights, on January 16, 1787 is on record to have said,
“…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without the a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”
The media is a market place of ideas. And development advocates hold strongly that public opinion is very essential in the development of any society through the exchange of ideas on debates on important and or controversial issues. With censorship, certain views will never be read or aired. Hence, there is need for a free press. Cameroon enjoys greater freedom of the press, when compared to many other African countries. But, unfortunately, newspapers -time and again-take advantage of their freedom and publish lies and gossip that could mislead the people. "The press is impotent when it abandons itself to falsehood” -Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Seymour, 1807
With freedom of the press (guaranteed by the Constitution of Cameroon) now a reality in Cameroon, the country has hundreds of newspapers and magazines.
DEFINITION OF PROBLEMS OF PRINT JOURNALISM
A problem here is defined as “a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome”.
The Cameroon print media has so many problems. But I would like to discuss ten (10) major ones under the following sub-headings:
1) Inadequate funding, 2) Access to Information; 3) Charlatanism; 4) Poor Readership 5) Poor payment of staff 6) Distribution & Circulation 7) Weak Professional associations, 8) Copy Rights Violations 9) Internet and Social Media 10)Sole-proprietorship.
1) INADEQUATE FUNDING
This is a very serious problem facing the print media in Cameroon. Many publishers including the one speaking hardly get enough funding to kick start and sustain the smooth running of their newspaper or magazines. This is not to say that there are no financial institutions that give loans. They are quite many, but the conditions for obtaining a loan are cumbersome to satisfy. As such few publishers succeed to secure loans and many others resort to other sources such as the family for financial assistance. For example, I started publishing The Recorder in 2007, with funds from my family. Of course; I did not get enough funds to keep going. So in 2008, the paper almost folded up. That year I did not publish even one edition, only to resurface in 2009.
You know advertisement is the backbone of any media organ. But companies, Institutions and individuals here in Cameroon are hesitant to place adverts in newspapers for various reasons. Lack of sufficient financing has caused many papers to be irregular on the newsstands, thereby not respecting their registered periodicity. Elsewhere, governments give substantial financial support to the media. In Cameroon, the so-called Government assistance to the media is ridiculously too small. Imagine a government package of 135 million Fcfa to be shared NOT ON EQUAL BASIS to over 600 media organs. Imagine a newspaper receiving 300,000Fcfa from the state as subvention per year after spending the same amount or more to satisfy the required conditions.
2) ACCESS TO INFORMATION.
For a newspaper to sell like hot cake, that paper needs to go for the type of news that will certainly interest the readership .But in Cameroon, access to sensitive information concerning the Government and or other official sources remains a herculean task, despite the fact that Law no.90/052 of December 19, 1990 on Freedom on Mass Communication gives Journalists the right to access information. Section 48 (1) of the above cited law states “Unless otherwise provided by law and regulations, Persons shall be free to have access to official documents. Section 48(2) defines the documents concerned as “files,reports,studies,minutes,statistics,directives,instructions,circulars,memoranda and all documents relating to acts of positive law"
Cameroon journalists including this speaker have passed and are passing through hell to get sensitive information-giving them room for speculations and falsehood in some reports. Just visit, for example, the vice-Chancellor of University of Buea and introduce yourself as an investigative reporter needing documents to investigate the management of the school budget. You may be surprised to hear her tell that she needs an authorization from Hierarchy to let you do that. Or, that they have received instruction not to talk to journalists. You must have learnt that a general manager(GM) here in Cameroon was asked how oil money was being put to use for the common interest and he bluntly told the inquisitive journalist that he(the GM) was only answerable to the Head of State on oil matters. Examples abound.
Who is a charlatan? A charlatan or quack is a master of lies. Wikipedia ,the free online Encyclopedia defines a charlatan as “is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception
I must tell you that, the journalism profession is quack-infested.
When you graduate from JMC to become journalists tomorrow, this is the group of people you will meet also practicing. Some of them don’t know the ABC of journalism. But they will sweet-talk you into believing that they are masters of the art, whereas they are masters of deception. They drag the profession in to mud, often committing all kinds of professional errors and, making it difficult for real journalists to command their due respect in society .In Yaounde, where there are just so many people passing for journalists, these quacks are commonly called Hilton Journalists
I have realized that the doors to journalism practice have been left wide-open to charlatans by our own media law. Law no.90/052 of December 19, 1990 on Mass Communication in its Section 46(1) states: “A person shall be deemed to be a journalist where, on the basis of his intellectual faculties, his training and talents, he is RECOGNIZED as being fit to carry out research and process information intended for mass communication.”
From this definition of a journalist, we see that the identity of the authority qualifying someone as a journalist is hidden…. “He is recognized as being fit”. By who? Is it the publisher? The Radio or TV owner or the state?
Indeed, the Cameroonian definition of a journalist has paved the way for charlatanism. Therefore, don’t be surprised that when you graduate from here and you are lucky to be employed somewhere as a journalist, you may meet a so-called colleague who does not even know the ABC of the profession. Some of these charlatans have even succeeded to head journalist associations.
4) POOR READERSHIP
Generally, many Cameroonians don’t read .The reading culture is not just there. Buying newspapers or magazines is not top on their agendas. They advance all kinds of reasons to justify their not going for the papers such high cost of newspapers, sketchy and or poorly edited papers. Imagine the negative effect of poor sales on the media house, which also finds it extremely hard to get adverts.
5) POOR TREATMENT OF STAFF.
Staff especially journalists of the print media are not only poorly but also irregularly paid for the risky job they do, especially those of the Private media. Their working conditions are so deplorable. Quite a good number of them don’t receive a dime as salary from their employers. And, because they must feed themselves and their families, they resort, when on the beat, to gombo-chasing; that is they harass and intimidate event organizers/ news sources for money-sometimes reporters even complain to news sources that they are not paid. It is no secret that when workers are not well paid, they hardly give their best in terms of service.
6) DISTRIBUTION & CIRCULATION
The distribution and circulation of papers remains a worrying problem faced by publishers. Cameroon this far, to the best of my knowledge, has only one well -established company in charge of the distribution of papers, which is Messa Presse with headquarters in Douala. It is the distributor that takes papers nation-wide, especially to towns and cities. Publishers, who don’t have distribution contracts with Messa Presse, find it difficult to get their papers to certain areas. Thus, there is limited distribution coverage. Publishers without such contracts then have to look for alternative means such as public transport agencies to reach their target readership.
Although Messa Presse takes newspapers nation-wide, giving wide publicity to one’s newspaper, it deducts and retains up to 40 % of each copy of paper sold; a copy of Cameroonian newspaper sells at 400Fcfa. Imagine 40% of 400 Fcfa.Consider that If The Recorder supplies 2000 copies to Messa presse,and the distributor sells say 1000 copies, that will amount to 400,000Fcfa and a deduction of 40%(160,000Fcfa) of that amount gives the Publisher a take home of 60%(240,000Fcfa). This is quite small. Isn’t it?
The percentage of the commission per copy sold by other local venders other than Messa Presse is much lesser (20% or 25 %).But Many vendors are reliable .They won’t pay all your money when you need it, even if they were informed of your coming well in advance.
7) WEAK PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS
In Cameroon, there are journalistic associations. We have for example, the Union of Cameroon Journalists (UCJ); Cameroon Association of English-speaking Journalists(CAMASEJ),Cameroon Association of Commonwealth Journalists(CACOJ), Commonwealth Journalists Association(CJA), Cameroon Newspaper Publishers Association (CANPA) . But honestly speaking, these associations are weak in checking the journalistic excesses. None of these has the power to suspend from practice any journalist for professional misconduct.
8) COPY RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
What is copyright? Simply defined, it is the right to copy. Without copyright, people would be free to use your artistic/literary work (e.g. muisic, paintings, photos, TV shows) without payment. For somebody to use your artistic/creative work, that person needs to obtain permission from you. Failure to obtain that permission amounts to copyright violation, for which you could be sued. It should be noted that copyright covers form not idea. It applies to tangible artistic result / “form of material expression. Copyright does not cover facts, which are universal and not individual; but the text (wording) expressing such facts may be covered
That not withstanding, FAIR USE is permitted. That is where Journalists come in. Copying is permitted, for example, for personal use, teaching, criticism, research, news reporting and editorial use. This requires that credit be given to the copyright owner by acknowledging them in your reporting/or editorial use.
But when you peruse many Cameroon papers, you see how pictures and whole articles are lifted from news websites and reprinted without due acknowledgement given to the source. This is professional dishonesty, which could lead to litigations were copyrights owners to react.
The fact that some artistic/literary work is publicly available (on the Internet), does not put it in the public domain for free use, whether the copyright symbol is there or not. Copyright is automatic.
9) THE INTERNET/SOCIAL MEDIA
The advent of the internet /Social Media has greatly facilitated mass communication and research, making the World more of a global village. And, it is obvious that people are increasingly turning to the Internet to get information/news especially breaking news from foreign news websites, for free. It is reported that, about 10 % of Cameroonians are ICT literate, and that not many Cameroon newspapers have websites. Many of those who are ICT literate prefer to pay say 200fcfa to a cyber café to read for an hour or so any subject of interest to them than to buy a copy of newspaper. The Internet has given rise to citizen journalism, dramatically reduced barriers of entry in the media industry and just anybody can now report happenings directly to the public, without first submitting their copy for editorial reviews and approval. Bloggers now just break news, which before the advent of ICT/Internet would have been the privileged place of the traditional media (radio, TV and the newspapers to do. Starting a news site is not costly, compared to what it takes to launch a newspaper or magazine.
10) SOLE PROPRIETORSHIP
Many Cameroon newspapers are run as sole proprietorship, with all its limitations. In sole proprietorship, such as The Recorder, an individual owns and manages the business almost alone, and he is responsible for all business transactions, plus editorial contents. The publisher who is also the owner is personally responsible for all debts and liabilities incurred by the business. There is no problem if the paper owner is financially viable, but in a situation like ours where many publishers are school leavers, without sufficient funds, running a newspaper a lone poses real management problems. When you look at the mastheads of many English newspapers, you realize the publisher is simultaneously the editor; he is equally the ace reporter. This is journalistic trinity-three persons in one. But you know there is need for division of labor in well-established businesses if success is the target goal.
There are many reasons for going solo as a publisher, but a common reason given by publishers is that they haven’t succeeded to attract other investors, probably because of a lack of a business plan.
There is no doubt that this paper recognizes the major contributions of the print media industry to Cameroon’s democratization and development, which should be a subject of discussion some other day.
But to empower the Cameroon print media more, the following recommendations should be taken seriously:
1. As concerns funding, the Government should consider the print media especially the Independent papers as a veritable development partner and increase substantially state subvention to them. The Government should ask state-owned companies/government services to place adverts in the independent print media if they find it necessary, since a good proportion of Cameroonians rely on the private media for information
2. Publishers of Newspapers/magazines should henceforth stop the financial exploitation or gross underpayment of their staff including journalists. Suitable salaries for all journalists will no doubt cause them shun or at least reduce the incidences of professional malpractices such as gombo-chasing.
3. Access to information. Government services/Institutions/companies -which all constitute important news sources, should be regularly educated on the role of the journalist in society and told emphatically that, journalists, are by law free to have access to official documents unless otherwise provided by law and regulations. Such documents include:reports,studies,minutes,statistics,directives,instructions,circulars,memoranda and all documents relating to acts of positive law. Where access is unjustifiably denied, the journalist should file a court action seeking for an order to do so. That way, other public office holders sitting on top of information of public interest would sit up.
4. Charlatnism. Journalism is a profession and any profession has minimum entry requirements and is regulated. Just like the lawyer’s profession or that of the medical doctor, the legal definition of who is a journalist in Cameroon must be urgently reviewed, so to ward off quack journalists if the integrity of journalism must be maintained.
5. Weak associations of journalists. The purpose of professional associations is primarily to ensure professional excellence and solidarity. There is no need to have toothless associations. The various associations of journalists and publishers should be strengthened and made more useful to the needs of the profession
6. Circultion and Distribution. Conscious of the difficulties publishers face to get their papers nation-wide, and considering that the print media has remained a veritable development partner, the Government should establish a distribution agency that will be of assistance to publishers. Or, it should subsidize the cost of distribution and reduce the cost of newsprint. That way, the cost price per copy of a 12-page tabloid may come to 200Fcfa, and that will encourage more people to read.
7. Copy rights violations. Many journalists /editors, it appears, have simply forgotten or are still to learn what copyrights are-the reason why they violate copy rights in their reporting or editorial contents. Media houses must therefore be well-educated on copy rights laws, so to free them from plagiarizing, which is a crime.
8. The Internet/Social Media are in vogue. Many publishers should create news sites or blogs to give breaking news and updates. That too will help to publicize media organs. It is now said that any journalist who is not ICT literate, is no journalist.
9. Publishers who are sole proprietors with insufficient funds, who want to succeed well, must consider pooling their resources together and forming partnership. In partnership and with a good management strategy, they will easily overcome their difficulties.
Not withstanding the various problems plaguing journalism in Cameroon, journalism still remains a noble profession, conscious of its informative, educative, critical and entertainment roles. You must have heard that journalists are the watch dogs of society and the mirror of society.
Both the civil society and the powers that be should continue encouraging responsible and objective journalism. Empowering the press should, therefore, be the responsibility of all.
Thank you for your Kind attention.
God bless you all.