Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cameroon:The Who-Is-A-Journalist Debate

Jesse Konang

Against reported backdrops of local declining journalistic standards, a delegation from the National Communication Council (NCC), led by the Vice President, Peter Essoka, recently toured some media outfits in the country. In particular, they visited Kumba, and held a working session with the local journalists, to enhance their performance.
         After the exercise, a local press report cited Mr. Essoka as saying that “about 70% of journalists in Cameroon have not undergone training,” adding that “of the 30% that are trained only about 15% are doing their job well.” It was felt that the reporter should have followed up this claim with a question for the veteran to define, expertly, the term ‘journalist’ as well as specify the type(s) of ‘training’ a person needs to become a bona fide (not a pseudo-) journalist.
    At first, when journalism/mass communication training institutions were scarce, news reporters learned their skills on the job and after a while were privileged to arrogate the title of journalist, flying from ceremony to ceremony and thinking the most interesting thing about any story is the fact tha,t they have arrived to cover it. Things have however changed since the 90s when the Cameroon’s higher educational system underwent unprecedented structural reforms, leading to the creation of journalism and mass communication training departments here and there. The thousands of graduates churned out yearly by these departments spread out in their numbers in all directions to 'recapture' the battered media landscape. This effort therefore weakens the validity/believability of the reported estimate that 70% of journalists in Cameroon have not undergone training. The confusion could just be the erroneous use of the word ‘journalist’ in the claim instead of charlatans or pseudo journalists.
     Following the promulgation of Law No. 90/052 of 19/12/1990 relating to freedom of mass communication in Cameroon, the implementing decree, No. 91/249 of 24/5/1991 relating to the identification of journalists, defines, in its Article 1(2), a journalist as “any person who, based on his intellectual faculty, training or talent earns his living editing, reporting, collecting and treating information for one or several press organs.” The insertion of the word ‘talent’ here tends to erode the academic/scientific definition of a journalist, and, acting like bait, lures charlatans or journalistic hermaphrodites into the profession, to the embarrassment of the bona fide journalists.
       When the National Press Card Commission was created, the first batch of beneficiaries of its products included a musician who camouflaged under his talkative talent as a journalist to obtain a press card. It is shameful that the state publishing corporation recruits a retired mechanic-driver as its Meme correspondent, because of the latter’s boisterous talent – outrageous!. This has kept the bona fide journalists wondering whether the legislature was not somewhat tricked by ignorance, persons who served as news reporters in the early days of the profession when formal education in journalism was scarce, or tacitly maliciously motivated by some high profile detractors of the profession to irrevocably infect the definition the way they did, using a wordy phrase to define the term when a concise wording would suffice.
In medicine, the word ‘doctor’, as defined by the Microsoft Encarta e-Dictionary (2009), is “a person with a medical degree whose job (or profession) is to treat people who are ill or hurt.” In law, LB Curzon’s Dictionary of Law (1996 reprinted version) simply defines ‘barrister’ as “someone who is a professional practitioner of law.” In journalism, the Longman Dictionary for Contemporary English also offers a simplistic definition, namely that “a journalist is a person whose profession is journalism (expertly gathering, editing, and publishing news reports and related articles for newspaper, magazine, television or radio)”.
       The noticeable concept among the above definitions is the word ‘profession’, which, further relying on the Microsoft Encarta e-Dictionary, means any form of employment or “occupation requiring extensive education or (expert) training”. It is sacrosanct in the medical, legal and similar professional domains that before being titled a medical doctor, lawyer, architect etc. the postulant must be a person with a professional degree or diploma in the discipline concerned, thereby canceling the idea that no matter how long one stays and excels in medicine, law, security, architecture, etc. one cannot arrogate the titles of medical doctor, lawyer, magistrate, military/police officer etc. without falling prey to Section 219 of the Cameroon Penal Code, which states: “Whoever without being entitled thereto makes use of … a title governed by public law… shall be punished with imprisonment for from three months to two years or with fine of from 100.000 to 2.000.000 francs or with both such imprisonment and fine.” The Cameroon Bar, Medical Council, National Security etc. are so organized and are also determined that identified impostors are arrested and prosecuted, thereby minimizing charlatanism in their domains. 
       In present, the media landscape is wickedly infested with charlatans; but, this does not imply a dearth of a fitting who-is-a-journalist definition. When defining the term, the aspect of performance should be left out of the show, okay? A journalist must be a person with a journalistic certificate, no rigmaroles. Whether the person performs well, or not, assumes a completely different angle for a completely different debate with a completely different answer. A fish cannot claim that it is a crocodile because it has fangs, and lives, swims and feeds in the same river with crocodiles. So too a mechanic-driver, comedian should not be allowed to arrogate the title of journalist, simply because he/she is loquaciously talented, can afford a pen/notebook/recorder and scavenge for information. There is more in journalism than covering and relating tales of public ceremonies that charlatans with unscientific/unmethodical minds are unable to decipher.
    Had journalists constituted themselves in one attractive associative force like the lawyers’, medics’, this who-is-a-journalist cacophony would not perpetually arise. The whistle has been blown, anyway. The onus is on leaders of the likes  of  CUJ, CAMASEJ, CPA, etc  to come together and swing back into action, advocating the creation of a Cameroon Order of Journalists. The best time to do so is NOW, considering the recent rejuvenation of the National Press Card Commission. A peep into the modus operandi and modus vivendi of especially the Cameroon Bar could help!

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