5th March 2018
By Tom Law

Central Africa: Journalism for Democracy in the Digital Age

Douala, Cameroon

26-27 February 2018


The global information crisis in which journalism is being overwhelmed by the narrow self-interests of political and corporate centres of power at great risk to pluralism and democracy is felt strongly in Central Africa where hate speech, fake news and abusive exploitation of information technology are ever-present threats.

Democratic processes — such as the upcoming elections in Cameroon and DR Congo – are in danger of being undermined by unscrupulous politicians and the prevalence of false, hateful and divisive information that creates fear, ignorance and uncertainty within the public at large.

We, the participants at this regional conference of journalists, editors and educators meeting in Douala to discuss the defence and promotion of ethical journalism in Central Africa, believe that the crisis of propaganda, fake news and hate speech requires a practical and comprehensive response which puts ethics, self-regulation and good governance at the heart of journalism across the region.

The future of democratic pluralism and the defence of human rights are dependent on the right of all citizens to receive reliable and useful information. We believe that ethical journalism is the key provider of the information democracy needs to survive.

We call on journalists, editors and media owners to build professional solidarity and to work together to promote ethics and good governance to confront the information crisis. In particular, we recommend the following actions to strengthen journalism.

On Hate Speech:

  • We call on all media professionals to support the continental campaign Turning The Page of Hate to expose, isolate and eliminate all forms of incitement to intense hatred and violence.
  • We recommend the EJN, FAJ, SNJC and other partners work together to promote practical tools such as the 5-point test for hate speech for the training of journalists in newsrooms and for freelance reporters.
  • We ask the EJN and FAJ to work with SNJC to launch a tri-lingual glossary of hate speech in Cameroon to promote better understanding of words and terms that can lead to hatred and intolerance in anticipation of the elections due for October 2018. The glossary should explore all aspects of hate expression including the targeting of vulnerable groups, minorities, or women in society who are particularly the victims of abuse.

On Election Reporting:

  • We welcome the timely nature of the event and call on the EJN and FAJ to work with media groups to create reporting guidelines ahead of this year’s elections in Cameroon and DR Congo. This should be based on the lessons learnt from the experience of the 2011 elections in Cameroon as well as more recent elections in Africa, such as Kenya.
  • We ask that EJN and FAJ deliver training of trainers ahead of the elections in Cameroon and DR Congo with a particular focus on impartiality, hate speech, safety, verification and fact checking. These trainers should then deliver training in newsrooms and for freelancers across the country in advance of the election campaigns.
  • The guidelines and the training should encourage media not to focus only on horse race journalism – polls, personalities and controversy – but to properly scrutinise the manifesto commitments of all parties and analyse what effect they will have on citizens.
  • Furthermore we ask that FAJ and the EJN develop a long-term strategic plan for similar interventions ahead of other elections in Africa.

On Ethics, Good Governance and Corruption

  • We recognise that political corruption is a significant obstacle, not only to democracy and economic growth in Central Africa, but to the expansion and development of journalism. Journalism that will hold those in power to account. In order to confront this issue there must be greater commitment to investigative journalism and sound financial reporting. The meeting agreed this will not be possible without more actions to improve
  1. the capacity of newsrooms to have the time and resources to carry out adequate research and;
  2. the editorial freedom to scrutinise centres of state and corporate power.
  • We note the crisis of perceived and real bias between Cameroon’s public and private media, as well as along regional lines, and call on media owners and managers to engage in dialogue to improve levels of governance and transparency.
  • We welcomed the participation of media leaders and agree to circulate the EJN Ethical Media Audit to inspire further discussion in Cameroon and the region on the value of transparent and accountable ownership and management of media organisations.

On Self-Regulation

  • The meeting also noted that it should be for the media industry to decide upon accreditation criteria for journalists and that governments should not impose prohibitive criteria, for example insisting on the completion of a three-year undergraduate course or demanding a certain number of years experience bellowing allowing new news organisations to be established.
  • The meeting heard that credible self-regulation remains an essential objective in building public trust in journalism. Particular concern was raised regarding the undue pressure and influence of the political community on the exercise of journalism.
  • It was agreed that improvements to media self-regulation will only be possible if there is greater recognition of the need for self-discipline and restraint in the public communication of political parties and their representatives.

On Gender

On The Ethics of Authors’ Rights in the Digital Age

  • The meeting noted that the traditional defence of authors’ rights in the digital age requires the strengthening of awareness of the importance of the economic, professional and legal rights of authors.
  • We recognised the progress that can be made through collective bargaining to ensure that journalists maintain some rights to their material and are compensated when it is syndicated or sold on to other media houses. The meeting welcomed the proposal of creating a reporting mechanism for the worst cases of plagiarism and copy and paste journalism in order to have the evidence to negotiate agreements with media houses and encourage better recognition of the rights of journalists in theory and in practice.
  • Those present welcomed the EJN proposal to develop an Africa-based programme to strengthen authors’ rights protection in journalism and media. This will be established through an online tool for journalists to raise awareness on the importance of authors’ rights and how they can defend their interests across the new information landscape.

On Reporting Terrorism

  • The meeting agreed that reporting terrorism remains one the most dangerous pursuits for journalists in terms of their physical safety but also through laws that demand journalists reveal their sources.
  • We note that more training is needed, especially on the issue of protecting sources and dealing with terrorist propaganda based on UNESCO’s “Terrorism and the Media” Handbook.

On Teaching Journalism

Cognisant of the financial, technical and other resource challenges faced by teaching institutions the meeting recommended the following actions to improve the quality of teaching the ethics of journalism and to prepare students to the realities of working in newsrooms and as freelancers in the modern media environment:

  • Deeper collaborations and dialogue between academia and practitioners, including university lecturers and professors spending time in newsrooms.
  • Encouraging teaching institutions to be more open to contributors or guest lecturers who may not have academic qualifications but do have valuable practical experience of the industry.
  • Support the sustainability and development of existing professional institutes of journalism to provide mid-career training as well as supporting the creation of new institutes of journalism where a need is identified. Central African countries can learn from the experiences of Nigeria and other countries that have successfully developed institutes of journalism.
  • Mentorship schemes between students, teachers and journalists should be expanded so that journalists are prepared to for the reality of the newsroom and to give them ideas about how to prosper and think about under-reported stories.
  • Institutions should consider amending their curricula so that:
    • Ethics and law are taught separately and that ethics is taught through the curricula, with a focus on how journalists can remain impartial amid political and financial pressures.
    • Greater emphasis should be given to ethical decision-making based on African, as well as international case studies.
    • Efforts should be made to ensure classes are small enough for lecturers to be able do more student-led seminars based on critical thinking and decision-making.
    • Considering the evolving nature of the digital communication landscape, we recommend that universities review curricula regularly in consultation with news organisations, unions and other professional bodies.
    • A greater part of the final grade should be based on practical assignments rather than final exams.
    • Students are made more aware of the author’s rights and the dangers of plagiarism.

On Media Literacy

  • The meeting agreed on the need for holistic media literacy programmes that bring together, media owners, regulatory bodies, journalist unions, academic institutions, media development groups and civil society. We have to get out of our silos and form collaborations with all stakeholders and involve citizens as equal partners in the debate around media literacy and ethics.
  • The meeting agreed that initiatives linking journalists, media, and wider civil society were needed to promote civil discourse in the public sphere and that journalists and media must proactively communicate what the mission and goals of journalism and its role in society based on the values of; transparency about who you are and your agenda, shared humanity, and accurate fact-based communications.
  • Teaching of media literacy must go beyond the technical, and use Africa’s history of oral storytelling.

Douala, February 27th 2018

Cameroon Signatories:

  1. Annie Payep, Vox Africa, Directrice Afrique centrale
  2. Aline Fomete, Sweet FM, Chef service
  3. Aristide Ekambi, Challenge Pro, Journaliste
  4. Jude Atemanke, TBC
  5. Armelle Sitchoma, Délégation de la Communication Littoral, Chef service
  6. Blanchard Bihel, Le Messanger, Service société
  7. Carole Yelelong, Canal 2 International, Directrice des Programmes
  8. Catherine Tsogo Minsta, ABK TV, Journaliste
  9. Denis Nkwebo, Le jour, Rédacteur en Chef adjoint
  10. Dipita Tongo, STV, Rédacteur en chef
  11. Edmond Fotue, Vision 4, Coordonateur Agence Douala
  12. Elodie Mbopda, Comnews, Rédactrice en Chef
  13. Hélène Tientcheu, Expression Economie Chef Desk Douala
  14. Hervé Perkins Moukouri, Miango FM, Rédacteur en chef
  15. Hervé Villard Njele, La Nouvelle Expression, Chef service
  16. Hilaire Ham Ekoue, Freelance, Consultant
  17. Gilbert Ele Ndzana, Crtv Littoral, Chef Brigade Reportage
  18. Joseph Roland Djotie, Le Quotidien de, Rédacteur en chef
  19. Jude Atemanke, Veritas Radio/TV, Rédacteur en chef
  20. Leonard Kum, HIT Radio/TV, Rédacteur en chef
  21. Mathieu Nathanaël Njog, L’essentiel du Cameroun, Chef desk Littoral/Sud-ouest
  22. Marion Obam epse Mahel, Well’done, Directrice Agence Communication
  23. Monique Ngo Mayag, Ecofin, Chef service
  24. Narcisse Oum, Sikka TV, Représentant Cameroun
  25. Nfor Hanson Nchanji, Equinoxe Tva, Rédacteur en Chef Adjoint

International Signatories:

  1. Rosie Pioth Ganao nee Massengo Mpassou, News Coordinator, Africa News, Congo Brazzaville
  2. Abdulwaheed Oduola Odusile, President, Federation of Africa Journalists, Nigeria
  3. Gabriel Baglo, Secretary-General, Federation of Africa Journalists, Senegal
  4. Jacques Larme Belngar, Union des Journalistes Chadian, Chad
  5. Joseph-Boucard Kasonga Tshilunde, Union National de la Press Congolese, DR Congo
  6. Thomas Law, Director of Campaigns and Communications, UK