Reflections of a CNA Reporter: What is it like working for the outlet?

I joined Cameroon News Agency officially more than a year ago today in the midst of the growing rift between the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) and the CBC congregation of Redeemer Baptist Church in Mile Four, Nkwen in Bamenda.

Having been a fervent reader of CNA but not a contributor, I felt that I should not be that one person who has something to offer but prefers to sit on the sidelines, offering nothing more than criticisms. I reached out to CNA executive editor, Nfor Hanson and told him of my interest in working with him. A few phone calls back and forth and he said I was in. I had to turn in 4 articles daily though (sounds easy but trust me, it’s not).

Never mind that I was in the middle of writing my Master’s dissertation at Wits University, Johannesburg. This meant an extra work load, but I was ready to give it my best. I split my time between my Master’s project and my journalism for CNA. Sometimes I was so mentally exhausted I thought I’d crack under the pressure, but like any good journalist, I kept going.

The motivation was often from the encouraging comments our readers would make when we published an article that resonated with our audiences. Some of the articles that stand out to me are the article we published shortly before school resumption in September 2022, urging separatists to allow children to return to school. Most readers lauded us for this because most previously assumed that we were a pro-Ambazonia publication, usually because we lean towards the human interest angle – a big shift of course from how Cameroonian journalism has mostly been practised. Most other outlets act nothing more than mouthpieces for government, never caring to bring their stories closer to home.

Another article we did was the interview with Fuh Denis Zang, the famed comedian of “we must take that cup” expression. It revealed a lot about the comedian’s life which audiences previously were unaware of.

Like I said at the beginning of this article, what thrust me into the limelight with CNA was the story of the rift between the CBC and Redeemer Baptist Church in Bamenda. Our interview with the Rev. Sam Jato of Redeemer, generated mixed reactions (as stories of that nature are bound to do) and we delved further, telling the story in its entirety by reaching out even to the American missionaries who fund Redeemer Baptist and they stated unequivocally that Redeemer is and has always been a church of the CBC and not Rev. Jato’s private property.

Working as a journalist in Cameroon means one always has to be careful especially in my case as a reporter based in Johannesburg and who has to always travel from South Africa to Cameroon. I often reach out to my editor Nfor Hanson and tell him “Man, I am going to Cameroon. Try and call me by this time…and if you don’t hear from me, know that they have probably taken me to Kondengui”. He is usually more optimistic than I am.

Each time I arrive at Nsimalen International Airport and present my passport, I often wait for the worst from the immigration police “Please Mr. Ngala, follow me”. That expression would most likely mean I am on a ‘Wanted’ list someplace but thankfully, our government still has an iota of deceny.

Working for CNA has also opened my eyes to the reality of the power that media has in shaping national discourse and the outcome of political decisions. The current flare-up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the longest-running conflict in human history – has shown us how the media can sway public opinion on sensitive issues such as conflict. This has made me to weigh carefully how I choose my words – a principle known in journalism as ‘media framing’. I know that calling people either “terrorists” instead of “separatists” determines how they will be perceived by the public and treated by the government. It also indicates that I am not neutral as a journalist but have chosen a side -which actually is not my job. My job as a reporter is to pursue truth and to strive for objectivity. Take note of those two expressions ie “pursuing truth” and “striving for objectivity”. This means that it’s a work in progress. We never quite achieve these two objectives since we are fallible human beings but our journalism makes a deliberate effort to attain it. We don’t just run with one side of a story but try to tell both. We report on casualties from both the military side and the separatist side. When we are not sure of a fact, we make it clear instead of stating it as if it were a fact.

In all, Cameroon has a long way to go with regards to its journalism. Good journalists are highly needed in Cameroon. Don’t do it for the money (because there really isn’t much in it). Do it for the thrill of knowing that you are giving a voice to the ‘voiceless’ – people in remote communities whose stories would otherwise be lost. People with no money to sue the rich and the powerful in court. Do it because you are passionate about holding the powerful to account. And this means you yourself have to have ‘clean’ hands. You can’t take bribes and then come to write against corruption. Do it because journalism is the biggest pillar that holds up the beams of the house of democracy.

Source: Cameroon News Agency