By Ikome Christie-NoellaEposi in Buea
In a continuation of conversations on certain provisions of Law No. 90/052 of December 19 1990 on freedom of mass communication in Cameroon as well as the implementation of Section 49(1) of Law No. 90/05 of December 19 1990 which guarantees access to public information and records, some 50 journalists, lawyers and media scholars met in Buea on Thursday, March 24, 2022 to review the 1990 media law, its lacunas and propose reforms which could guarantee greater press freedom in Cameroon.
Implemented by AFRICAphonie Cameroon and funded by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, the training enabled the media practitioners develop skills and knowledge to engage government on laws that impede the exercise of their profession.
The media men and women examined the 1990 law and to what extent it has been attained, the defects of the law, its amendment in 1996 and how they could contribute with the implementation instrument on access to information.
Reawakening the minds of the participants in regard to the gaps in the 1990 media law and proposing reforms towards greater press freedom was the Project consultant and the Head of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication in the University of Buea, Prof. Kingsley L. Ngange who said there should be an Act of Access to Information. He gave a clear distinction between press freedom and freedom of expression. He noted that one addresses the free flow of ideas by word and image while the other points to independent and pluralistic media. Nonetheless he said both share a symbiotic relationship.
The journalism trainer said the discussions among media practitioners should hinge on looking at aspects of the law which may be problematic or need to be amended in order for journalists in Cameroon to perform their practice unperturbed. He also stressed on the need for journalists to champion their own course by being united and organize themselves in one canopy for a better performance of their profession.
Other facilitators including senior journalist Charly Ndi Chia who gave oral testimonies of professional experiences on press law wherein he stated that “our media has been turned into an orchestra of distraction but if you do your work well as it is supposed to be done, the facts will speak for themselves”.
Addressing the issue on mainstreaming access to information in Cameroon’s freedom of expression was civil society actor/media practitioner Jesse Konang who said access to public information enhances the democratic process (freedom of expression amongst others). “The lack of information incubates chaos and manipulation. Freedom is not absolute”. He noted.
He added that some barriers to access to public information include; inconsistent policies, poor documentation, preferential treatment and professional obligation to reserve, public ignorance etc. Equally having an interactive session with the participants was freelance investigative journalist Franklin Sone Bayen who also shared oral testimonies of professional experience on access to information.
The Executive Director of AFRICAphonie Cameroon, Mwalimu George Ngwane thanked the participants for turning up massively for the seminar. He encouraged them to keep up with their good work. “I only hope that this is not one of those seminars where everything ends here. AFRICAphonie is aimed at empowering professionals to carry the conversation forward. We hope that we have given you the power to congregate and forge ahead”.
AFRICAphonie is a civil society organization involved in social issues inspired by the indigenous knowledge which trains organizations on monitoring, documenting and reporting human rights violations. It is a Pan African Association which promotes person-to-person dialogue through seminars, workshops and conferences. It equally encourages research and education on issues of democracy, development, human rights and environment protection.