Thursday, February 6, 2014

My dear Uncle Charly, is this all about Journalism? (II and final)

By Franklin Sone Bayen
Franklin Sone Bayen
In 2002 or thereabouts, while working with Radio Reine, I was instrumental in Charly Ndi Chia’s entry into CUJ’s national executive as Adviser at the Mont Febe Monastery in Yaounde. He had been South West Representative for many years. I sold the idea to my pal Clovis Atatah of The Post then and together we mobilized an Anglophone caucus on the spot and marketed our agenda. We also pushed our point, lobbying our Francophone colleagues and on the floor during debates. I had forgotten about this until Uncle Charly reminded me last November in Buea. Prior to that, I had taken part in every CUJ public activity and elective assembly. I have not since then. And there have only been reports of one in over 10 years – the one that may have taken place in 2007, where Ndi Chia became President. Few journalists even knew whether, when and where it took place. That three-year “mandate” ran out in 2010! Ndi Chia’s CUJ executive is into its fourth year of illegality!
I have been this involved because I am a militant of journalism (not the same as militant journalist or Rambo journalist). Militant of journalism is one who is so committed to journalism, he would stop at nothing to uphold it, whatever it takes, including defending the rights of journalists but also watching the watchdog to name and shame bad grains in order to earn more respect and freedom for the rest with good intentions. The militant of journalism defends senior colleagues who, seen to be striving to uphold professional values, come under fire from Tom Sawyers who somehow sneaked into the milieu. The militant of journalism as well pulls no punches faced with those who, seeming to be our heroes, have arrogated to themselves the status of “untouchables” to secure their personal interest to the detriment of the rest of us. The militant of journalism stays close to the profession and keeps an eye on journalism even when by happenstance, he finds himself at a corporate communication job, away from newsrooms. Colleagues on our CAMASEJ mailing list can attest to that. For the militant of journalism, it is all about safeguarding journalism, small way or big way.
The militant or Rambo journalist, on the other hand, is a crusading journalist who still fancies muddy trenches in the age of cyber warfare. Like an American war veteran, he remains prone to combat, gun-totting and bloodletting even when back home at peace time, far from battle fronts. He hallucinates and sees terrorists and marauding armies in innocent school children and civilians going about their quiet enjoyment in pubs, malls and luxury buses. He opens fire on them, using disproportionate force to strike a fly with a hammer. I know some militant journalists who abandon the very newsrooms they are supposed to be managing and only return after their “corporate” engagement has crashed. They are not militants of journalism.
They are militant journalists who, in the age of Journalism Governance (self-regulation, state financing for private media, press cards to define the journalist, etc) rather sing a war song. The militant journalist still delights in shooting Rambo, Bruce Lee and King-kong movies of those days, a decade-and-a-half after Leonardo di Caprio moved movie viewers to tears in Titanic without a gunshot. He is like John McCain who failed in 2008 where Eisenhower, Kennedy and Bush Snr succeeded decades back to impress Americans with war heroism ballads. Ok, McCain was a POW fighting for America in Vietnam in the 1960s, decades ago, just after Barrack Obama had shed his milk teeth. So, when Obama saw grand old McCain on the Republican ticket in 2008, should he have cowed and said, “Oh no! Hillary Clinton come on, this is your race, not mine. I haven’t taken more than basic lessons in politics”? We know who ran and who lost. Americans voted with the times; they were not fooled by old refrains that politicians use to whip up emotions even when they have no answers to problems at hand.
The militant journalist perpetually refers to his time in the trenches as if economic growth is measured by how many bullets an independence war hero or freedom fighter shot at the oppressor. Or rather look at it this way: if Cyril Ramaphosa had questioned President Nelson Mandela over, say, the quality of governance and the lack of decent housing for poor South Africans, would Madiba have made sense to go ranting about his suffering on Robben Island? Or if Ramaphosa had complained about, say, over-taxation of his newly acquired businesses under Mandela’s rule, would Tata have made sense if he had hushed the younger man and reminded him he was only a small boy and should shut up because he was only about shedding his milk teeth when Umkomto we Sizwe was founded? Does the accident of being born decades late make one any less worthy? Does it disqualify anyone of the natural cycle of growing up, maturing, excelling, growing old and dying someday like those born decades before?
Is it not ridiculous and wicked that an effort by younger colleagues to think out of the box and contribute ideas towards the improvement of a venture for the common good even in support of seniors whose hands are presently on the plough, is seen as “oversabi”? Sounds like market women quarrelling or school girls settling gossip palavers after school. Find out who says “oversabi” during those quarrels. Some people are so so at ease being surrounded by idiots or ignorant, “sabiless” people. That way, they forever remain the one eyed man in the country of the blind. But what is “sabi” and what is “oversabi”? You have two eyes, just enough for you to see your way, they say you have four, meaning you see too much. Ish!
If younger ones must not begin to creep and toddle and, when they are more grown up, to run, dribble and score until older ones have gone to the wheelchair, can we be sure of continuity in good time? Shall the young ever grow and emerge in this country? There are some people you respect and others you respect just out of respect. And some of the people you respect have a way of working themselves into the circle of those you respect just out of respect.
I received a handful of calls on Monday, January 20 from people informing me I was on Charly Ndi Chia’s firing line in his article, “NCC SAGA: The Forgotten Cobweb Under An Abandoned Chair” (page 4, The Post, Monday, January 20, 2014). One of the callers read excerpts of the article to me. Another said following Ndi Chia’s analogy, I was Eto’o and he Milla. Yet another said Ndi Chia used such mean language that, had his article been spoken and in Pidgin English, it would have sounded like Awilo’s show (Pidgin English news on LTM TV in Douala, once banned by NCC). He thus urged me to lodge a complaint against Ndi Chia at his NCC.
I will not. I don’t want him banned!
Had I set out to offend Charly Ndi Chia, I should not be surprised to be the subject of his tirade. But for all I understand of modest English language, I neither addressed myself to him in my letter nor did I seek to offend him, if not to address the NCC which is beyond his person. I may have avoided mentioning his name at all, were it not for my fulfilling desire to rebuke my friend Ngah Christian for, among other things, denigrating Ndi Chia and Peter Essoka. Although he opened his article with my name, it is not possible he was referring to me about spreading false rumours, because I did not.
I scratch my head a lot as a bad habit, but I have scratched it a lot more times these past days laughing to myself and on the phone when commentators of Ndi Chia’s article call me, trying to figure out with me what rumours I am supposed to have spread. One of his two highlighted pull quotes could give a clue, though. He wrote: “Journalism of flesh and blood/Cocktail Journalism, for which one of the Publishers whose newspaper was suspended and which the likes of Bayen associated me with in his “Letter to the National Communication Council and The Guardian Post…”
Can referring to a well sourced public declaration by a protagonist be considered as spreading rumour? Ngah Christian has said in a press statement (and perhaps on TV) that he believes Ndi Chia was after him because of rivalry. Christophe Bobiokono of NCC in a press declaration and Benjamin Zebaze of Ouest Littoral speaking on TV media panels have said same. And, by the way, I did not affirm because I personally do not think Ngah’s allegation was defensible. “He claimed”, “He said”, “He said she said” are permissible in reporting. They must not be proven to be quoted, else news reporting would always wait until there’s been a court ruling on each allegation made in the public space. On my own, I rather took the option of leaving loose ends when I wrote: ‘…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!’ (Emphasis highlighted.)
Maybe I should sue my English language teachers for deceiving me I know at least some basic English. But it cannot be me Uncle Charly was referring to. However, if it turned out so, I may conclude that my name just tastes good in his sauce. So, my dear Uncle Charly, did you do this just for the sake of our journalism or is there some hidden agenda that will only be exposed later? Your lines ran like you were seizing a long-awaited, calculated pretext to cast doubts over my credentials – which I know you truly do not doubt – to make believe and comfort detractors elsewhere for an objective. Pray they believe the childish falsehood.
But even Uncle Charly can testify from his own diary notes that all my career, especially the part he knows better than others, I have had to deal with people who want to, at the same time live their life and live mine. As if the world or our shared space is always too small for them and me. As if my mother had me too soon, even so many decades late as he says. As if I should hibernate while they live and have two careers – theirs and mine. And it has never been because I lack the talent, knowledge and skills required; on the contrary.
But tell me, when is it too early to have more than basic knowhow and an informed opinion in my own profession? Over 19 years since I first did formal journalism training in JMC UB? Over 17 years since I first reported news in Cameroon Post? Nearly 12 years since I first reported for international media? Nearly 25 years after, as a secondary school boy in GHS Limbe, I first wrote articles for Cameroon Tribune? Some 28 years after I was a laureate in a Radio Buea news casting contest as a Form 3 boy in GHS Limbe, faced with adult competitors?
Oh, come on! They are just worked up because I am not an idiot they can undermine easily. It does not take immodesty to know you are better than the worst and refuse a tag of mediocrity, does it? And they want to make me pay for it. “Situation Room” meetings may be going on now, coordinating ideas from different locations and mobilizing a “Gestapo” since the Fuhrer is angry. Ok, I still have some skin left for their wild dogs to feast on. They may enjoy their meal… while I continue striving to be better than they wish I was.

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

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