Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Open Letter to National Communication Council-NCC

I imagine President Paul Biya having a good laugh at you for using the little power he bestowed on you to strike a fly with a hammer; he who even with the full arsenal of the State apparatus of dissuasion – army, police, gendarmerie, secret police, etc and perhaps the courts – often looks away when he is lampooned in the press.
You slammed three-month suspensions on “The Guardian Post” and “Ouest-Littoral” for incivilities towards some of you, members of the National Communication Council (NCC): Charly Ndi Chia, Peter Essoka (vice chair) and Bishop Joseph Befe Ateba (chair). It is true “Ouest-Littoral” also came under your hammer for incivilities towards unnamed personalities of the State and you booked a couple other news organizations for no personal issues. Yet, many in the press corps have concluded – rightly or wrongly – that you were settling scores with your personal critics. Some even say Ndi Chia, Editor-in-Chief of “The Post”, top English language newspaper, was thus shutting out a supposed rival – “The Guardian Post”. Hmm!
That is what happens when justice, even when done, is not shown to have been done. On the whole, among Anglophone colleagues who understand the real issues and the depth of the matter in the case of “The Guardian Post”, few tears have been shared for its Editor, Ngah Christian. I understand you acted from your knowledge of the man, satisfied that any sanction short of a death sentence would be considered lenient seeing the myriad and nature of complaints some of you say have been thrown on your laps by supposed victims of Ngah Christian. But as a matter of principle, your methods have been criticized because, justified as they may be, your action did not seem to have followed due process. It was seen to have been a kangaroo trial, if trial there was: the accused was not heard and judgment fell the day after a complaint was lodged against him, an apparent violation of your own working rules. Some of your fellow members base this argument on the 10-day requirement for summoning the Council and claim that complaints must accompany invitations to sessions. I would pardon you, members of the Council for your procedural lapse and lay the blame at the doorstep of the legal expert put at your disposal, your Secretary General, who ought to have known.
Your celerity to sanction under no known compulsion or urgency left your Council looking suspect, and in the case of “Ouest-Littoral”, though its Editor Benjamin Zebaze was heard, your action looked like an attempt to silence a critic of the regime. (The tone and insinuations in his writing are subject for another conversation, though.)
Zebaze was an early day crusader for freedom of the press. At a time in the early 90s when the government-owned Sopecam would withhold printing of newspapers critical of the regime, Zebaze braved it and started Rotoprint printing press in Bonaberi, Douala – a relieving outlet for the critical private press. Zebaze also took an unapologetic anti-Biya line in his paper then, Challenge Hebdo. Truth be told, Ngah Christian is no Benjamin Zebaze. But sympathizers of Zebaze’s apparent persecution and those wrapped in the reasoning that you were settling scores or persecuting critics, have wholesomely come to the defence of both Editors and placed Ngah under Zebaze’s blanket without any consideration for the special case of “The Guardian Post”.

Because you have not communicated sufficiently, few people remember that far from his recent personal attacks on you, Ngah’s first suspension came from a press offence, not a personal problem with Council members. We know Fru Ndi once lodged a complaint against Ngah who had been heard by your Council in another matter brought before you by another politician – a business tycoon in Douala. There was also Ngah’s sms palaver with Rose Abunaw… I’m not trying to enumerate. Yet, I pray you to reconsider the sanctions, hoping the suspension deterrent will make him sit up henceforth. “The Guardian Post” has benefitted, somewhat undeservedly, from press corps solidarity, yet Ngah Christian must be told some home truth now that the occasion is here for the sanity of our cherished profession.

Franklin Sone Bayen

Renowned Cameroon Journalist and Blogger

When News Breaks Out, We Break In. Minute by Minute Report on Cameroon and Africa

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