EDITORIAL: Ninth anniversary of CNA: Quality journalism is under autocracy

It is often said that journalism is the Fourth Estate, but what does this mean? The term ‘Fourth Estate’ is often attributed to the Victorian writer, Thomas Carlyle who coined it as a reference to the fact that the press acts as a watchdog to ensure adherence to democratic principles. Without independent journalists, politicians, powerful businessmen, and other ‘elites’ would go unchecked in society, leading only to North Korean-style results where people can be jailed or killed for voicing dissenting opinions.

It is widely agreed among champions of press freedom that the level of press freedom in a country is an indication of how democratic (or undemocratic) that country is. If we are to go by this assessment, then it would be only fair to conclude that Cameroon’s scores over the years on the Press Freedom Index published annually by Reporters Without Borders indicate a worrying trend as Cameroon tends to be near the bottom, often over the 150 mark.

And that is where Cameroon News Agency (CNA) comes in. Our founder Nfor Hanson Nchanji took a bold step as a young reporter two years into the now-bloody Anglophone Crisis and launched CNA with a little over a dozen subscribers when the digital news outlet launched its Facebook page on October 27, 2014. And subsequently extended to other platforms and a Website in 2017, during which it was legalized.

CNA’s existence and commitment to reporting news from the Anglophone regions was timely because the national broadcaster sought to shape the narrative of what was happening in the Anglophone conflict with the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society (CACSC) who were in talks with the government to seek redress for the grievances the Consortium had raised.

CNA subscriptions soared as the publication gave news reports from firsthand sources and focused on human interest stories – a 360-degree turn from what other outlets were doing in the country, tending to focus on press releases from government offices and quoting government mouthpieces without an alternate source. CNA did bold journalism which resonated with the masses.

On February 14, 2020, around 9 AM, CNA published breaking news on more than 20 civilians massacred in Ngarbuh by government forces following multiple explosions. But when this information was released, as usual, government agents and singsong birds, chastised our journalism but sooner or later, when the UN and other NGOs started confirming the unforgettable crimes, CNA was vindicated but NEVER appreciated.

As we clock nearly a decade today, we are not only proud of the achievements we’ve had over the years but also of the challenges (or opportunities as we see them) that still lie ahead of us. We are resolute in telling the side of the Cameroonian story that often gets left out – giving a voice not just to Anglophone Cameroonian audiences, but to all Cameroonians regardless of their linguistic or cultural backgrounds.

We salute not just those who have criticized us over the years and labeled us as ‘pro-Ambazonians’ but also those who’ve given us a pat on the back. We celebrate the few brave reporters who are stationed all over the country and who give their best to file stories for us. We salute all of them for their bravery and for sometimes never getting credit in the form of bylines for their stories because it would mean endangering them by naming them.

Journalism is not a job for the faint-hearted and sometimes, some lose their lives in the pursuit of truth, which is journalism’s ultimate goal. We remember those like Martinez Zogo who only in January this year lost his life in the practice of this noble profession. Samuel Wazizi who was murdered by Government agents whose corpse we never saw, Anyeh Nsoh who was killed by Separatists ( though not in the context of repression) All those who have fled to exile, hiding in the country or have changed their beats because of fear of the unknown.

We are acutely aware that there isn’t much press freedom in Cameroon and that even though we are primarily a digital news outlet, we still have to weigh our words carefully before publishing our stories.

However, we know that 9 years is a long time and we have come a long way. On our 9th anniversary, we can only promise our audience that things will get better. As we started with the creation of a Sports department, we are also unveiling the creation of AFRICA TODAY which has been airing on our page for the past months, and DIASPORA DIARIES which will start airing in two months. SOCIETY DEEP is also a podcast name we unveiled a few months ago. Please visit our social media handles Cameroon News Agency ( Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Instagram)

We understand that audiovisuals are portable via smartphones and that is why we are now bringing you television on your screen as you drive, eat, work, and talk.

With little advertising, as is the case hindering media growth in Cameroon, CNA pays its workers from the pockets of its founder. Maintaining daily reporting for the past 9 years has not been easy. In fact, it is a passion.

Source: Cameroon News Agency