10 December 2012

Cameroon: Communication - Time to Deliver

Embroiled as it was at the beginning over its capacity to mobilize as many professionals as could effectively address all the problems of the sector, the National Communication Forum ended late last Friday December 7, 2012. No one expected the mouth-watering resolutions taken at the end of the Forum, especially as just about everything likely to flaw the proceedings of the three-day event remained very visible all along. The least of this was not the noisy protest of one of the major trade unions of journalists of the private sector who continued to cry foul over what they called their neglect in the preparatory phase of the Forum or even the anticipated outcome of the come together.

Now, all this hullaballoo has been silenced with the successful outcome of the Forum. Much more, the final resolutions seem to greatly address the concerns, not only of the dissenting journalists of the trade union, but the corporation across the board. The pertinence of the resolutions of the just-ended Forum and all the noise about whether-or-not it was necessary to organize it at all can only be fully encapsulated in the shortcomings of a similar Forum organized in 1994 and whose resolutions were expected at that time to revolutionise the Cameroonian media landscape. But 16 years afterwards, very little has been done or even seen to have been done. What immediately comes to mind is the non-application of the Florence Agreement which seeks customs exonerations and other forms of taxes on products destined for newspapers such as ink, news print and other inputs. This situation is largely responsible for the cottage image newspaper production has taken. For, it is difficult in the present circumstances to imagine extensive paging or huge print runs at current paper or ink prices. Promoters of newspapers are quite ready to provide the widest gamut of services on newspaper pages; but they are limited by oppressive tax overheads. The 1994 Forum agreed in letter and spirit that newspapers and other public media organisations play a public service role and, hence, should benefit from some form of aid. The authorities opted for a bare minimum. And what is today referred to as public assistance to the media, in the name of the 1994 resolution, is simply ridiculous in terms of the real material and financial needs of existing media organizations which can hardly exist as viable economic entities without government subsidies.

1994 is not 2012. The political and social setting in Cameroon has greatly changed. If in 1994, the public authorities were disordered about the future and role of the press, things have greatly changed today. More and more, the press is being perceived as a companion in the process of social transformation through the possibility it has to denounce wrongdoing and to propose the route to follow for the future. It is probably in the furtherance of this common acknowledgment of the role the press has to play that the initiators of the forum chose for its theme: "Communication as an instrument for the consolidation of peace, unity and national solidarity for a prosperous and emerging Cameroon circa 2035." For the press to fully exercise this new responsibility, it is necessary to rigorously implement all the resolutions taken at the just-ended Forum. They have the advantage of being wide-ranging and addressing the concerns of those who were militantly opposed to the holding of the Forum. The immediate implementation of the resolutions will go a long way in vindicating the demands expressed by these important actors of the media scene, unfortunately left out because of procedural misunderstandings.

Decision-makers' cupboards and drawers are full of similar resolutions. But the fact that Mr. Amadou Ali, the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister Delegate at the PRC in charge of Relations with Parliament and ECOSOC reiterated the Prime Minister's wish to see recommendations turned into workable mechanisms, is something to write home about this forum. In fact, the VPM said in his message at the opening ceremony of the Forum that the "Prime Minister prescribed to the Minister of Communication to create a follow-up committee for the implementation of the recommendations and resolutions of the second edition of the National Forum on Communication in Cameroon." So that be it!

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