New salary scales for journalists! The information sounds too good to be true. The politician, the civil servant, the man in the street; all of them were shaken by the force of last November 12 announcement. Why the sensation when journalists constitute an infinitesimal quantity?
Why has the effect of the announcement lasted even longer than that concerning regions? The reason is that it concerns the very persons who disseminate information. Information is a formidable weapon. If we consider that it is the press which identifies or even creates stars, it would not be out of place to term a journalist a superstar. Unless we subscribe to the philosophy that kingmakers can never be kings.
But there is a better reason why there was paroxysm over the announcement.Journalists, especially those of the private media, have been objects of scorn and derision since the enactment of the 1990 laws; a state of things orchestrated by some journalists, who in a desperate bid to survive have broken all the rules of the profession.
The worst of such transgressors are the Hilton journalists, "refined highway men".
A considerable number of these hoodlums of the pen and microphone belong to no news organs, at least none which is visible. Though highly deficient in writing skills they surpass the professionals in enthusiasm.
They take down notes with incredible rapidity and conduct interviews that are published only by word of mouth in bars. Some of the mini- recorders they hold are in an advanced stage of disrepair; some without tapes or batteries. During the Eleventh Items that follow each conventional news event (seminar, workshop, press conference) their appetite, oh heavens, surpasses those of the world's most voracious carnivores-wolves.
Because of such uncouth behaviour, the general impression about private press journalists is that they are not watchdogs, but a pack of hungry hellhounds ready to tear news makers to pieces who do not bow to their pecuniary requests. Most of these desperadoes are armed with a sufficient quantity of pungent, indecent language to be both obnoxious and offensive. Politicians and opinion leaders dread them more than the plague.
Those who venture to publish are often more inclined to "nailing" those who don't give them "gombo" than to informing, entertaining and educating the public. It is no surprise to see a newsmaker carried to the high heavens on the wings of panegyric in one edition of a paper and brought to dust with invectives in the very next.
After that these crucifiers of reputation, far from being ashamed or crestfallen, walk the streets, even with empty pockets, like deities capable of halting the rotation of the earth or its revolution round the sun. Biya, faced with such embarrassments (no public official is spared) was left with no option than to work towards reform.
Unfortunately, even if the Regime is ready for reform, it is doubtful if unscrupulous publishers would cooperate.These same publishers, in their indictment of the Biya Regime, give the false impression that they could transform the nation into an Eldorado if they took power, but whose workers are different from Nineteen Century serfs only because they are not bought and sold.
Yet these heartless capitalists expect their reporters to turn in balanced and well investigated stories and cry wolf when they do the reverse.Ntumfor Nico Halle, while not defending "gombo" journalism, made the point when he told journalists in Buea during the CAMSEJ General Assembly that a hungry, haggard journalist writes anything better than a hungry, haggard report. If he cannot write anything better than a hungry haggard report. That was a blunt way of warning publishers not to expect an excellent report from a starving reporter.
A journalist should more than simply survive: he should live and live in comfort. How heavenly it would be if many of our publishers condoned the views of Charly Ndi Chia, Editor-In-Chief of The Post and UCJ National President; that a journalist has the right like other human beings, to marry, raise a family, build a house or ride a car. Because they can't achieve any of these, most journalists, out of sheer necessity, have embraced the Byronic philosophy that "Man being reasonable must get drunk' or the "The best part of life is intoxication."
Needless to emphasis that when the Bacchanal anaesthesia finally evaporates they find themselves several decades behind time; like Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle, with all their problems still staring them in the face.
Those who do not resort to alcoholism are engaged in the equally un-progressive exercise of character assassination and backstabbing. Even colleagues are not spared as the few of them who have made it become victims of jealousy and slander. It has become an established principle among un-progressive people to surly the reputation of achievers.
The majority of them, to sum up, have embraced the unedifying ideology of lost paradise whereby those who are a success are portrayed as upstarts and scoundrels who could never have acquired wealth without employing unorthodox criteria. In fairness to the signatories, the Convention was a very welcome relief.
Unfortunately, while it raises journalists in the esteem of the public, it also endangers them as the public already sees them as great wage earners. A private press journalist, who went for a burial in Boyo recently, was only spared the ordeal of being pressured to sponsor the funeral because his mouth watering salary was yet to be paid.
Journalists risk an increase in their rents because of the announcement and, but for the fact that they are in the minority compared to civil servants, there would have been a sudden upsurge in the prices of basic commodities in our market.
To prevent more of such embarrassments, the Minister of Communication, Jean Pierre Biyiti bi Essam, and the Minister of Labour and Social Security, Robert Nkilli, should hasten the implementation of the convention. Should the Biya Regime renege on this, it would have once again paved the way to hell for journalists. It would be as cynical as it would be sadistic to show the press the Promised Land they are never to possess.