By TazoachaAsonganyi in Yaounde.
Recent outings of two senior journalists have kept me thinking about what we see, hear and read. The one made statements about media persons and journalism like: blaming journalists for exposing things that are “inexposable”; asking if freedom makes a journalist a nuisance; asking if freedom should make journalists irresponsible; if freedom runs journalists mad; revealing that there are some 600 tabloids in Cameroon; stating that the role he has as a professional journalist is to inform his public correctly with facts - I must be sure of what I say and not base anything I say or write on hear-say or rumour; blaming journalists for getting into the gutter and exhuming decayed car cases to pollute the atmosphere; describing some journalists as untamed nonentities; asking if a free press is that which ridicules society and those who head that society; claiming that criticism has remained a powerful temptation to be derogatory and most of all indecent; claiming that journalists have lost their dignity and become hooligans in a profession of nobility; claiming that only the thief can identify places where theft has taken place; confessing that he would like to be critical but not destructive, positive and not negative.
The other said: an official threatened that he would have caused security to arrest a journalist …of that dirty paper; in the process of reporting news, it is only normal that certain jigger-infested toes would be stepped on and cobweb infested cupboards rattled; we report news and when it so demands, interpret it; we go for news even if it is hidden under the bed of those who make but are eager to hide it; some officials consider some news organs “hostile” media; some people are media made people…
Of the two, one seems to write from the side of “power,” the other, from the other side; one seems to write from the side of government, and the other from that of the rest of us!
Whenever I dabbled in issues of the media and journalism in the past, I was accused of not being of the profession and trying to be holier than the pope; of poke-nosing! True, I am a Biochemist, not a journalist. As such, I deal with life’s basic building block - the cell. The human body is made up of many, many cells. When groups of similar cells come together, they form what is called tissue; there are four different types of tissue in the body known as epithelial (or skin), muscle, nerve, and connective. These tissues form organs, and organs in turn form systems that maintain humans alive and healthy through a tight relationship of give and take.The systems include the digestive, circulatory, reproductive, nervous, endocrine, etc.
We have said before that society is like a living organism, usually referred to as the life-world. Individual humans can be compared to cells; similar “cells” band together to form society’s “tissue,” “organs,” and “systems.” And so we have governing systems, communication systems, judicial/legal systems, education systems, you name them. Like for all living organisms, there is a tight relation of give and take between these sub-units of society to keep the life-word alive. The life-sustaining processes in the life-world, like in the human body, are interlinked and form networks, every link of which is important to the life-form. That is why everything in society is linked to every other thing. It is the linkages and inter-dependence that explain my interest in journalism and in every other endeavor in society. It is the reason why every one of us should be interested in everything that goes on in society.
Scientists are concerned with studying living organisms and reporting on the processes that keep them alive and healthy; and journalists can be said to be observers of the life-world. But the two trades are different in that the scientists use the scientific method to produce reports about processes that can be verified over and over again and confirmed or contradicted. On the contrary, journalists are faced in the life-world with gossip/news, speculation/fact, pleasure/business, human interest/public interest, and more, about unstable and constantly changing events; so they end up doing their best to create perceptions about whatever they observe, by how they describe or fail to describe it.
Unlike the cells, tissues, organs and systems of the living organism whose uncompetitive cooperation in a natural environment provides life, the same units in the life-world cooperate competitively to survive and make society vibrant in an environment managed by scheming governments and leaders. And so judgmental terms like fact, cause, background, nuisance, irresponsible, madness, destruction, and many more are always subjective, and depend on which “side” of the life-world the journalist has got the lenses with which they keep an eye on society.
Perceptions are created by the various efforts of media people in some “600 tabloids” and not by any single organ. The plurality of opinions prevents one single opinion from creating any perception that crystalizes in people’s minds. It is this plural creation of perceptions about societal issues that makes the media a power measuring meter in the life-world. It is what makes the media the projectors of power, and serviceable and proficient instruments in societal power games. Indeed, the media are a vast landscape of democratic battles between contending powers in society, usually with “tanks” firing shots at adversaries. This is why journalists and media people are usually said to be the boots on the ground; the frontier soldiers in democratic warfare.They mock and taunt, or they praise, encourage, condemn and much more...This is why Napoleon once quipped that he preferred facing more soldiers than few journalists; in sync with the more common line that the pen is mightier than the sword! People involved in public issues – people of “power” - would spare their nerves and bile a lot of trouble if they developed thick skins, and participated more in using the media to create the perceptions they would want about their endeavours than in anger, frustration and use of courts and other instruments to silence the media.
Journalists are therefore not political virgins. They are not innocent bystanders or objective observers of the events and struggles in the life-world. Like the rest of us, they are economic, rational and even psychological beings, and whatever else we are. They are part and parcel of the society in which we live.They can be hired or conscripted or even voluntarily enlist in society’s battles. Like for the rest of us, need and survival can drive even their greatest intellectual engagements.
Like connective tissue that connects organs and systems of the human body together for harmonious function, the media qualify as the connective tissue of the life-world.It is in this connective role that the media find their value and strength, making them an independent power source, like others that are usually grouped as three arms of government; they are the proverbial fourth power.
Malcolm X once famously said that if one is not careful, the newspapers would have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. This is why we non-media people have to be alert about what media people say and write. We have to also be alert about what organs and individuals that usually claim to have the expertise and discernment to judge how journalists and the media contribute in molding the perceptions that influence our reactions to reality in our life-world, say and do!