By NOELA EBOB BISONG
Journalists across the globe have been admonished to remain courageous and carry-out their activities without fear or favour. As journalists commemorated World Press Freedom day on May 3, 2020 under the theme: Journalism without Fear or Favour; calls are high for them to remain professional and avoid misinforming the public.
The day in 2020, plagued by the coronavirus pandemic preventing many media associations from gathering physically, nonetheless was commemorated with online discussions via platforms like Whatsapp groups, Facebook Live, YouTube, and Microsoft teams, amongst other digital platforms. The sub-themes for this year include:
• Safety of Women and Men Journalists and Media Workers
• Independent and Professional Journalism free from Political and Commercial Influence
• Gender Equality in All Aspect of the Media
A statement released by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres reads that: “As the [COVID-19] pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”
Message of the National President of the Cameroon Association of English-Speaking Journalists (CAMASEJ) Jude Viban, on World Press Freedom Day, observed on May 3, 2020
A free press in Cameroon is crucial for the growth and sustainability of the nation. The press operates under the timeless, democratic ideology that citizens have the right to be served reliable information in an urgent and objective way. This, simply put, is a right and not a special favour. An independent press is essential for justice, for the protection of human rights, as a tool for checks and balance, and in the case of our nation, the return of much needed peace. This warrants that the operating environment in which the press finds itself should be free, enabling media workers to function without fear or favour, and to press for answers from the authorities and speak truth to power.
Over the years, it has become increasingly evident that there is need for greater, more consistent commitment by Cameroon to ensuring greater press freedom; first as an inalienable right of its citizens, secondly to ensure that media professionals operate unperturbed by laws that put a stranglehold to objective journalism, and thirdly to ensure that the basic democratic and moral values of the nation are preserved.
Achieving such dispensation warrants an economically stable press to be able to hold government to account. Without the cushion of this economic stability, the press is put in a bind, pressured to choose between survival under the fists of the powerful or fold up trying to be independent.
Journalists in Cameroon have tremendous potentials and have the drive to uncover and report stories supported by evidence without fear or favour, and lead the narrative in the country.
However, frustration takes over when media houses cannot or would not pay for their services. Consequently, stories that matter are shelved for those that ego massage persons of doubtful character and support dubious ideologies.
It is no secret that for journalists to practice their profession well, there is need for access to information sources – without which journalists would have to guess, report half-truths and sometimes overtly misleading information. When journalists cannot access information, the public cannot be accurately informed and the masses will not make decisions based on the truth. Cameroon must take a new commitment to make an access to information act a reality. Without this, misinformation takes over.
Revisiting the legal framework under which pressmen operate is now an urgent demand. Journalists continue to ignore stories because their fate is uncertain after publication. All forms of harassment against media workers must cease. It is time to decriminalize defamation. Journalists should not face criminal charges for doing their work. Cameroon has seven journalists in jails across the country; some held for lengthy periods without trial and their health is failing. This is a travesty of justice and deterrent to good journalistic practice. We urge the Head of State to release these journalists.
However, journalists must uphold professional ethics and publish only well-researched stories. Protect yourselves as you continue to provide dependable information during this COVID-19 crisis period.
Happy World Press Freedom Day!
World Press Freedom Day 2020: History
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, 3 May, is celebrated as World Press Freedom Day. World Press Freedom Day acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom.
World Press Freedom Day 2020: Quotes
“The press should do what it can to minimise the abuse of power (self-scrutiny can help and so can competition), but we should also try to understand with clarity why and how press freedom can enrich human lives, enhance public justice, and even help to promote economic and social development.” -Amartya Sen.
“We live to think and express our thoughts in writing. If an individual or government prevents someone from writing, from being published…it is as if they were taking their life.” -Ahmad Zeidabadi
“As journalists, we are sometimes guilty of not taking cognizance of the enormity of the challenges and the responsibilities that we carry on our shoulders.” -Geofrey Nyarota
“We have to uphold a free press and freedom of speech- because, in the end, lies and misinformation are no match for the truth.” -Barack Obama
“Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.” – George Orwell.
“The freedom of the human mind is recognized in the right to free speech and free press.” -Calvin Coolidge.
“Freedom of the press belongs to the people of a nation, not to the owners of publications.” -A. J. Liebling.