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Corruption in media is 'way of life'

Cameroon | Media Ethics

CORRUPTION IS SO MUCH THE NORM in Cameroon's media that honesty appears criminal, according to Choves Loh, the Vice National President of the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists.

Loh made his comments at a two-day conference analyzing media's struggles in Bamenda, Cameroon, sponsored by The Media Project.  Participants agreed with Loh that corruption seems to be a way of life, and some wondered how journalists could make a difference when even positions in Cameroon's churches are sold to the highest bidders. 

The famous American author Mark Twain once wrote, "Yours was not, in the beginning a criminal nature, but circumstances changed it. At the age of nine, you stole sugar. At the age of fifteen, you stole money. At twenty, you stole horses. At twenty five, you committed arson. At thirty, hardened in crime, you became an editor."

Choves LohThat century-old quotation captures the state of Cameroon's modern media, where the editors and media men and women - much like hardened criminals - undermine the country’s democracy and deceive readers and viewers into believing that what they consume is genuine.

In Cameroon, like many other countries in the developing world, corruption is a poorly kept secret among rank-and-file reporters and media executives.  Payoffs and bribes to journalists have become so much a part of the journalistic culture here that it has a name of its own. It is known as “gombo journalism”. “Gombo” is the French word for okro, a sticky, slimy fruit used in preparing sauce.

"Gombo journalism" exists in many forms besides payoffs and bribes. Another favorite technique is blackmail and threatening public figures with confidential documents, demanding payments from those concerned.

Such acts of sabotage are most common on the eve of government cabinet shufflings and elections. Government officials who have scores to settle with their enemies frequently tip off a journalist, asking them to come out with negative information to tarnish their enemy's image.

Some media organs also sell columns or airtime, and they make no effort to help audiences identify what is paid news and what is not. Disguising paid news violates two key norms required for a functional democracy.  First, the audience is deceived into believing that whatever they are consuming is genuine news.  And, second, public officials and candidates for office violate election rules by not declaring the expenses incurred in buying paid-news packages.

The lack of consistent media professionalism and quality controls also promotes corruption. Chifu Edward, publisher of Vanguard Newspaper, said that quacks frequently go about without any identification papers and get money from officials under the guise that they are journalists. Edward supports the use of unique press identification cards as a control on this chaotic environment.

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