27 November 2005

Cameroon: Cleansing UN's Image Isn't Our Assignment - Anne Nsang


Anne Nsang Nkwain, Initiator of the United Nations, UN, Press Club in Cameroon, has said the club was created to foster collaboration between the world body and the media. In this Interview, Mrs. Nsang, who worked for CRTV before moving to head the UN Information Centre in Yaounde, says the Press Club is not aimed at cleansing the image of the UN. Nsang, 41, and a mother of five, is also a gender crusader. She explained the mission of the Press Club, which has already been launched in Yaounde, Bamenda, Douala and Buea.

What is the UN Press Club all about?

The UN Press Club is an idea we initiated in June 2003 when I started working with the United Nations Information Centre. I was just coming from CRTV and knowing our needs in the newsroom. I discovered that the centre was a true source of information; that there was a lot of documentation, which could be very helpful to newsrooms.

At that time we did not even have Internet connections, so I said to myself; why not find a way by which we can get out this information, in a systematic way, not just mailing it out to journalists at free will or when they demand.

And when we send out these pieces of information, we should not make it only one-way, but make it in such a way that when information is sent out to journalists or newsrooms, we could also have some kind of feedback. And to do that would be well, we could gather ourselves into small groups, not very formal. That is how the United Nations Press Club came about.

Is it peculiar to Cameroon?

There is a kind of press club at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and Vienna, where there are correspondents who cover the UN proceedings and meetings on a permanent basis. They do have that kind of idea and meeting but it is not the same thing we have here.

Here, there is no permanent coverage of events, but a permanent link, where we can send out information when we have it and get feed back from the media. We also hold a meeting on a UN theme once in a month during which specialists participate. Also, we let the media know, on a regular basis, about what the United Nations Systems in Cameroon are doing.

How many of these press clubs have you launched so far in Cameroon?

The first is in Yaounde, at the Ministry of Communication. We launched another one in Bamenda in September. On November 24, we launched one in Douala, and today November 25, we are in Buea. We intend to launch in Bertoua and Ebolowa, too.

What has been the feedback so far?

From the Yaounde Press Club, we have got a more effective partnership with the media. We can call on them anytime we need their assistance on any of our projects or programme. For example, when UNHCR was arranging the repatriation of Nigerian refugees in the Northwest and Adamawa Provinces, it called our centre and asked how we could get the media to cover it so that they could understand what was going on. So, we called up members of the Press Club and they travelled out and reported very responsibly.

You said with the coming of the press club, the media have been your friends; does it mean that you were not friends before?

When I started working at the United Nations Information Centre, I believed that the media were not aware of what the UN does, and the UN was not doing enough to help. I believed there was a gap. While I was at CRTV doing The World This Week, I found out that there were lots of materials at the UN Information Centre that I could have used, but I was not aware of it until I got there.

We think we need to work closely with the media; get them to be our partners as Kofi Annan said. The United Nation's agencies were not working sufficiently with the media. Most of them do not have communication persons. This means they have a little lapse in their communication strategy.

So, I thought that it was important, not only for the centre, but of the entire United Nations system, which is made up of 17 agencies, to establish a link with the media. The media could inform the population on UN's interests and activities in Cameroon other than just seeing Kofi Annan in town, for the Bakassi issue, or on how the UN budget is helping us Cameroonians to fight poverty.

Are there any pecuniary benefits for the media houses that belong to this club?

The first thing is documentations. You know what documentations mean to media houses. To help you write your reports.You know that attitude of our journalists, once they hear UN, they think of receiving some moneyâ-oe.

We do not work on the basis of money. We first tell them that we have documentation that can help them to be better journalists. Any journalist that comes across documents that may help him/her to write a story better is a better journalist. And we give out information free of charge. Sometimes, we also assist with the production of programmes.

We can assist radio houses if they want to have a UN programme, we can assist newspapers if they want to have a UN column or supplement on UN events. Even with the Union of Cameroon Journalists, we can help them organise forums where journalists can acquire skills. We can also help link journalists with other UN agencies, which want to produce programmes and that is on financial basis. We can make liase journalists with conference opportunities.

Are the press clubs abstract or physical?

It is not quite the traditional club where we sit down and drink. Nowadays, a club does not need to be physical. Ours is a virtual club that is linked like we find forums on Internet these days, in video chat rooms; that is the kind of thing we are working on. We keep the relationship going, because I cannot ask you only when I have material for you but I will also keep in touch with you.

How does the ordinary man benefit from this press club?

When we talk about establishing a link with the media, the essence is to serve the population. We are trying to demystify the notion that the UN is high up there in New York; that it is for heads of state. Since the Charter of the UN says 'we the peoples,' whatever is decided at the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, must be shared with the people.

If we receive information from certain quarters and it stays at our level, then we are failing in our work. We are supposed to disseminate whatever is decided to the people. That is the assignment we are trying to do using the UN Press Club. Kofi Annan, for example, launched a campaign with some companies for the sale of laptop computers at FCFA 52.000. This is good information that we share with the public.

There is a view that the UN has been going through a credibility crisis. Is this an attempt to restore UN's credibility?

Cleaning up the UN image is not part of our assignment. Giving information for better understanding of any issue is our assignment. When we launched this idea in 2003, Iraq was not hot then. Neither was the Oil for Food scandal on. We started it on the basis of an observation I made about the centre.

How many people knew of the UN in Cameroon and its work? What was it doing here? Along the way, there came the credibility crisis and the UN Secretary General said we needed to work with the media to get our message across. That is why I think he changed the Department of Public Information to include Communication. On the oil for food scandals there were releases, which were given out to media houses, and they had the liberty to use them the way they wanted to.

While at CRTV, you were so gender sensitive. You were a gender campaigner, have you taken this crusade to the UN?

The UN as an organisation is gender sensitive because it initiated the campaign. Gender equality and women's empowerment is the third millennium development goal. I will always be gender sensitive and I would remain at the front of the campaign for women empowerment.

Have you have encountered any problems because of being gender sensitive?

I told you the UN is the initiator of it. The context is favourable. They promote women. I do not sense any discrimination, I look at the whole system, and I personally don't even see them favouring women because all our coordinators have been women since I started working.

You think that is equality?

It is equality because how many women are around. Men are holding about 80 percent of key seats in the United Nations. Out of the five major organisations, the UN still has more work to do. There were just two. It does not have to be five-five but the UN as an organisation, is working on gender equality.

They are giving women a chance to also be at top-ranking positions. Do not think that my love for the crusade of women empowerment is uncalled for. It is a hard fact. The emphasis is not just on making noise but working with the women to help them bring themselves to the level where we would not need to say women's empowerment, it would be there.

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