Colloquium on the 2018 World Press Freedom Day in Cameroon

“..the emergence of online media is advantageous but constitutes a danger when ethical norms are neglected…with the internet, anyone can become a journalist because it is open to all, with little or no control” was echoed by Mr. Ngankak Kizito, Director of Private Media Development at the Ministry of Communication (MINCOM), representing his Minister at the 2018 World Press Freedom Day commemorated in Cameroon through a colloquium organized by UNESCO, UNIC Yaounde and the Advanced school of Mass Communication (ASMAC) Yaounde. Event which held on “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice And The Rule Law” took place at ASMAC on 3 May 2018.

During the opening ceremony, Mr. Mputu Hilaire read the message of the Director General of UNESCO, followed by a video projection of the UNSG’s message by UNIC. In the message, Mr. Guterres called on “…governments to strengthen press freedom, and to protect journalist”.

 

The crux of the observance was the panel talk with the over 200 Journalism students and media professionals on the following sub-themes:

  • ·Press freedom, access to information and elections·
  • A judicial system in favor of free and assured journalism;·
  • Freedom of expression online: improve self-regulation.

UNIC’s NIO Jean Njita emphasized that the commemoration fell within the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, mostly Goal 16:  whereby “people everywhere need to be free of fear from all forms of violence and feel safe as they go about their lives whatever their ethnicity, faith or sexual orientation”. Mr Njita further stated that the 2018 WPFD will offer a renewed opportunity to address critical issues affecting online press freedom and further promote SDG16 (target16.10) on public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms.

The Director of the Advanced School of Mass Communication (ASMAC) Yaounde; Professor Laurent-Charles Boyomo Assala harped that journalist are first to understand and follow the ethical deontology of the profession and that for press freedom to be effective, a clear sociological distinction must be made between a person of the press (professional) and the individual. To him, press freedom applies only to those with a professional qualification as journalist and not the individual. Professor Boyomo thus called on journalists to be conscious of their ethical limits, as defined by the law, when reporting, for information must be treated within the social norms of the profession without distorting facts.

Professor Claude-Bernard Assira, Senior Lecturer at the Catholic University of Central Africa disclosed that; a journalist is anyone who, based on his intellectual abilities, trained or untrained can collect and treat information destined for social communication, according to article 46 of the 1990 freedom law in Cameroon. To him, this law gives room for just anyone to get into the profession, as he further state that there is no press freedom in Cameroon, pointing out some cases of journalist who were wrongly prosecuted. He alarmed at the fact that “the judiciary system in Cameroon has been politicized, government authorities who in most cases are the complainant, use their positions in power to influence judges to pass judgment in their favor”. He thus called for an amendment of the laws, with new code of ethics elaborated and adopted for the journalism profession, as he once more reiterated the need for genuine freedom and security of journalist, as well as calling for a responsible journalism to avoid judicial issues.

Dr Baba Wame; a Cyber Journalist and lecturer in ASMAC reiterated that the internet has little or no control over contents published by individuals. He added that online information is mostly produced by the authors themselves which may not necessarily be credible. Dr Baba Wame said the unreliable and unsecured publication of social media content led to 3 historical events in the month of April 2018 amongst which was the summon of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg by the American Senate for his failure to protect users’ data. He thus added that only a proper application of internet self-regulatory measures can give credibility and security to social media content and users, this by setting up of online ethical codes by social media communities.

During the question and answer session, questions asked with satisfactory answers from panelists included:

  •  It is possible for a journalist to faithfully carry out his professional duties given our political and economic context?
  •  Can we talk of press freedom in a profession where anyone can get into without training?
  •  Will the issue of auto regulation not hinder press freedom online?