Sunday, August 31, 2014

Open Letter to Communication Minister Tchiroma on Press Club

By  Asong Ndifor
Mr. Asong Ndifor
 My dear honourable Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Minister of Communication, spokesman of the New Deal Government, Chairman of the CRTV board of directors and President of Front for the National Salvation of Cameroon party.   The issue I address to you in this open letter is not about your director of media observatory Atangana Mandi who says “Anglophones are incompetent”. The Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) and CPDM political apostles of “national integration” can handle that provocative insult in a people better than my humble self.
The subject I put before you is the “role of the press in a democracy”. I know you are not a journalist. But your assignment as government’s spin doctor, a duty you enjoy with your dexterity in French and English, coupled with your other job as chair of CRTV board, makes you an important member of the journalism Ivy league club.
    What is your reaction when Press Club, a programme on CRTV Buea is suspended at the caprice of civil servants crawling to conceal the truth? Wouldn’t you be the one to explain to the nation and the world
made a global village by the media, if the press freedom index for Cameroon disgracefully nose dives?
Isn’t it the image of our dear country that is tarnished?  Would foreign investors not hesitate to put their money in a country where they perceive the press can be stifled even by people on the fringes
of power?   
At the risk of tedious repetition, my concern as a patriot and nationalist, is not about”land grabbing”, although it pricks the consciences of God-fearing people. My worry pivots on press freedom. It is about the liberty to expose thieves, embezzlers, terrorists, armed robbers, chiefs and civil servants who use their offices to cheat, or to borrow from President Biya, to acquire “elicit enrichment”. I am sure you will agree with me that the public has a right to know the crooks, pen-robbers and hooligans in public office.
It is the ordained role of reporters to do that irrespective of those whose ox is gored.
  As an opinionated journalist, I invite you to share the thought of my favourite writer on the issue, Nick Ragone: “In a democracy, the free flow of information, ideas, and opinions is critical. To this end, the media have three primary responsibilities: setting the agenda, investigating the institutions of government, and facilitating the exchange of ideas and opinions.” I may also add Thomas Jefferson
who said he did rather have a free press than a government without newspapers.
    The journalists, not the government, be they in newspapers, magazines, television, radio or the World Wide Web, set the agenda, they decide what stories or opinions to serve the public with. My journalism teacher at Cardiff, United Kingdom, defined news as “something somewhere somebody wants to hide, all the others are public relations and advertising”. Others say news is when “a man bites a
dog” or when a minister sneezes.
  There is no strict scientific technique to decide what the public should know. What The Eye for instance, will view as a scoop will not pass through the editorial filter of Cameroon Tribune. Both serve the public, as diverse as that public is. Both are open to criticism. We all can not see things from the same perception even when reporterspeep into stinking closets. The agenda of investigative journalism which scares so many officials with reeking skeletons in their cupboards started since the 1800s by reporters dubbed “muckrakers”. They exposed public corruption and social injustices like the Fako land scandal. All attempts to stifle the media have crumbled. The Press Club is in spirit more alive and more powerful than its detractors ever imagined. Journalists, like the Pope derive their power from moral authority difficult to conquer.
Even General Napoleon Bonaparte conceded that he feared four newspapers “more than a thousand bayonets”. Richard Nixon was pushed off the seat of the most powerful presidency on earth by two junior reporters. The press, though not as “holy” as the Father in the Vatican, will forever be victorious in its anointed mission scrutinising the executive, judiciary and legislature to ensure a society of equity, justice and peace.
  I am sure, monsieur le ministre, you share this democratic view. If you do, posterity, Cameroonians and militants of your opposition party will be very delighted if you can instruct the physical resumption of
Press Club, which I said earlier, flourishes in spirit which cannot be gagged. That action will count you among the victors and those who stand by the truth.

Yours very truly, Asong Ndifor
Post Script: “When the public's right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered” - Christopher Dodd

When News Breaks Out, We Break In. (The 2014 Bloggies Finalist)

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