It wasn’t a secret. The late Jean Forchive, was the Government’s hangman. He was mourned on dry cheeks because of how he dealt ruthlessly and summarily with regime dissidents. I was his unwilling guest on a couple of occasions. He told me in Pidgin English: “I fit finish with you.” It was a frightful, chilling experience!
My crime was to have asked Mr. Biya how the very gendarmes that voted 99 percent for him could turn their guns on him barely two weeks after election results were proclaimed.
The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, was three years old at the time. CPJ fought for my release. CPJ has been consistent on its fight for free media worldwide and defending the rights of journalists to report news without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, CPJ has so far been rather conveniently hesitant to draw a line between impostors, “Journalists Iscariot” and professional journalists imbued with high ethical and deontological standards.
On Tuesday, July 18, 2017, I was at the New York headquarters of the CPJ where we debated issues of freedom of expression and media regulation. It was stormy, with yours truly challenging the CPJ for advertently defending criminals purporting to be journalists. I suggested to my New York hosts that CPJ practically prays for any mindless scribbler to run into trouble so that the committee has work to do.
This brings me to a certain scandal house of communication, aka ‘VISION 4’ and the dreadful tripe and treacle it has been spewing, often with the blessing of nebulous judicial artifice. Note that the latest sleaze ‘VISION 4’ broadcast was the purported death of Gabonese President, Ali Bongo. ‘VISION 4’ Invited to tell their own side of the story, ‘VISION 4’ snubbed the National Communication Council, NCC, invitation. They were served a relatively mild sanction, hardly commensurate with its diffusion of fake news and disregarding constituted authority. As usual, the “bawdy house,” including hirelings on its payroll ranted like ants while heaping invectives on the NCC. Even when it was proven beyond all reasonable doubts that Bongo was alive, ‘VISION 4’ neither retracted nor apologized.
Besides ‘VISION 4’s’ latest brainlessness, the TV station is noted for systematically devoting hours of hate speech, with muckrakers referring to some Cameroonians as cockroaches and rats good to be fumigated. This media outfit is noted for cheap rant and cant, including broadcasting pictures of a nude professor in the name of journalism. Their warped idea of press freedom is shared by quite a good number of busybodies and wannabes.
As far as this class of people goes, journalists are above the law. Journalists can publish seditious libel and go Scot free. Journalists are free to destroy the good name of any institution or individual, unchecked by any social legislation or laws. In short, journalism in their view is the art of criticizing, even denigrating everyone else without recourse to legality. That is why ‘VISION 4’ expects to be hailed when the outfit broadcasts pictures of nude or calls individuals unprintable names on air. That is why when some other television station screens gory pictures of decapitated human bodies and is sanctioned, cringing inconsequential lobbyists must turn up, draw the attention of Western vested interests and decry press censorship. For people of their ilk, it is either their way or the highway.
Certain other points that I raised at the New York meeting with officials of the CPJ included why it was that after the bombing of the Twin Towers next door to the headquarters, not a single one of the thousands of dead people was shown on an American television Channel. I asked why it was that even at the level of the “permissive” social media, Americans were wary of posting gory pictures or even using insulting language on presumed opponents or enemies. And why was the CPJ always so quick to defend proven gangsters, especially in African countries that were pretending to be journalists?
The good thing was that we agreed that all journalistic freedoms have limits; that limitations on free speech have to be legitimate and proportional. No doubt, Cameroon’s National Communication Council has all along been operating within this context. Understandably, norms are created within individual countries. How laws are interpreted would be up to peculiar jurisprudential options. Sometimes they are poorly or deliberately wrongly interpreted, depending on the tastes, preferences, idiosyncrasies or gullibility of the presiding judge. I suspect this to have happened when ‘VISION 4’ celebrated with idiotic fanfare the fact that Peter Essoka, NCC President was jailed after the media outfit was duly sanctioned.
Lest we forget, relative freedom of speech or media came to Cameroon like a spurt. Journalists and ordinary citizens alike were shocked to the reality of what is meant to discuss and publish issues freely and so preyed on the freedom like locusts on a maize farm, ravishing it. To the extent cocktail journalists like we have at ‘VISION 4’ thought they could justifiably glorify hate speech and insurrection on the pages of newspapers or on airwaves.
Imagine family members of the senator/varsity don zapping to ‘VISION 4’ only to see their husband and dad being paraded stark naked. Imagine Bongo’s family members getting the announcement on ‘VISION 4’ that the president of Gabon had died. Imagine a bona-fide Cameroonian citizen being labeled on television as a cockroach and rat. And Tchiroma, minister of Communication as he then was, turns up at the very station to congratulate the local version of ‘Radio Mille Colline’ for “doing a great job…” Then I ask you, ‘who then, is responsible for ensuring that the media is honest and is telling the truth? Whose responsibility it is to ensure that the legal bar to establish inciting violence is absolutely high?
‘VISION 4’ may be flamboyant in their buffoonery, but we could still forgive them their press passes.
By CHARLIE NDI CHIA