Unbiased critical reporting: Veritable ingredients of democracy

By Charlie Ndi Chia

Journalists and referees have one thing in common. They ought to be independent. No matter who pays them, they are supposed to be fair, firm and unbiased. Referees we all know are not supposed to take sides. A journalist’s primary responsibility is to serve the common good or better still, the people’s as opposed to parochial governmental interests.

When people are afraid of the government, there is tyranny. But when the government is afraid of the people there is democracy. Therefore, stories in the press, whether controlled by government or not, should tend to answer the citizens’ needs and not just those of overwhelming political or economic interests.

In most developing nations, the tendency is for journalists employed by government to outdo one another in singing the praises and “protecting the interests” of those in power… for filthy lucre in one form or the other. Some state media bosses even go to the extent of overtly “decreeing” that the primary brief of government owned or controlled media is projecting official action and parrying [opposition] criticism. Yet in strict professional terms, this is very wrong, because like the nation itself, the government is an everyday negotiation, with journalists playing the role of Ombudsmen, more or less.

Time was, when Cameroon Tribune was a veritable forum for national debate. Critical issues, including controversial ones affecting all aspects of national life were freely debated on its pages. This went a long way in connecting those in government with the governed and gave credibility to the government itself. Ideas were liberally expressed on the pages of Cameroon Tribune. Then, the paper served as a barometer or weather cock for those at the helm of power, who in turn became acquainted with the likes and dislikes of those they governed and crafted people friendly policies accordingly and obligatorily. This was in the 1980’s and Cameroon Tribune was a “visible, functional roundtable” of national conversation.  

What one reads these days though, are mostly one sided accounts of how the government performed, is planning to perform or what big feat one big gun or the other has been achieving. It is often “spiced” with routine news of valiant sportsmen and women, without of course, indicating, let alone analyzing their perennial brushes with institutions and persons that hardly bother about the complaints of these embattled sportsmen and women. Even though Cameroon Tribune might not have crassly breached the journalistic fundamental principle of truthfulness, it is pretty clear that this newspaper’s first loyalty is to a cluster of individuals in government and not to the citizens whose tax money has been funding it for 45 years. Most of its news staple is official hand downs, nay, gubernatorial or ministerial performance, inaugurations, installations and all that jazz. There is hardly any independence or clear cut divorce from the rather pampered interests of those Cameroon Tribune journalists cover.

In a manner of speaking, the newspaper hardly monitors, takes the pulse, with a view to monitoring power and giving a voice to the voiceless. Sincerely speaking, the cocoa farmer in Meme Division has little or no stake in the paper, let alone being told by Cameroon Tribune if and how his cocoa crop is profiting. By the same token, critical issues of persistent power outages, provocative affluence, graft and corruption by certain government big necks are not independently reported, debated or criticized. Sometimes those who misgoverned or even looted the common till outright are projected as living saints even when the masses are groaning and dying from the cruel, crushing weight of their misdeeds. Managers that mismanage public corporations are hardly investigated and exposed as frauds. Then, they turn up belatedly, when it suits the fancy of power brokers to report that ‘A’ or ‘B’ has been indicted and taken into custody on corruption charges.

Perhaps in reporting basic issues such as irritating power outages and damage to the national economy, the rot in most local councils and parastatals, lack of potable water nationwide, poor  primary health measures to name but these few would make for a more people friendly Cameroon Tribune than what it is, presently. What this means is that this publicly funded newspaper shouldn’t be a pliant tool in the hands of a few influential civil servants and/or sacred cows, but should rather serve as a veritable forum for public examination and criticism and collective problem solving. Even the government interest won’t be hurt in any way if the news carried on the pages of this taxpayers’ funded organ is proportional and relevant.

True journalism is unbiased, critical and [reasonably] objective. Whether they work for government or not, journalists ought to guarantee the sanctity of the nation, and not that of the people who run the affairs of the nation. Cameroon Tribune could do with a bit of this without being hurt or hurting anyone for that matter.

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