By Tikum Mbah Azonga
A Danish university don has urged Cameroonian journalists to shun « gombo » and make it a thing of the past. The speaker, Poul Erik Nielsen who is Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the Danish University of Aarhus, made the call recently while speaking at the University of Buea, on the topic: “Different Perspectives on Media and Communication in Processes of Political, Social and Cultural Change” The event which brought together academic staff and students was held in the conference hall of the Faculty of Social and Management Sciences (FSMS), under the coordination of Dr. Eno Tanjong, Associate Professor and Pioneer Head of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, and chaired by the Department’s current Head of Department, Henry Muluh.
Drawing on his many years of experience in Mongolia where he studied the media and Communication systems, Prof. Nielson pointed out parallels and noted differences between the Mongolian system on the one hand, and on the other hand, the generalized African system as well as the specific system of Cameroon. Themes he touched on included the process of democratization, the media in development and the broader processes of socio-cultural change, the fragility of democracies, governance and institutionalized corruption, as well as communication as a commodity determined by various market factors. The expression the speaker used was “corruption and clientelism”.
Prof. Nielsen noted divides in the processes, some of which he pinpointed as gender, digitalization, urban problems and rural problems, as well as wealth and poverty. He said the relationship between the media and the market is more or less touch and go (our expression) in which the invisible hand takes over and governs the market. He noted that as the media puts out products for its consumers, other forces can intervene and take control. Yet against this background the owner producer who enters the market with his commodity finds himself or herself in competition with others. The external forces, the researcher noted, can come from a number of groups, including that of politicians whom he said are capable of supporting specific media for personal interests. Quoting the Mongolian example, Prof. Nielsen said: “The media in the capital of Mongolia doesn’t cater for the needs of the people on the Steppes.” As a result, he said, such divides grow bigger and bigger.
The professor warned that corruption is ruthless and can easily carve out a niche for itself in society. Once that happens, the social ill can impact negatively on democratization and development. Other sectors very likely to suffer are Customs and Excise, Taxation, the Legal Department as well as Land Tenure.
Prof. Nielsen noted with regret that low salaries are used by journalists to justify unorthodox methods of making money. But as he put it, such a malpractice comes with a price tag. He said that in Mongolia, “the media is part of an unholy alliance because they don’t expose wrongdoing”. Consequently, the media are far from being the “snarling rottweilers” they are supposed to be. “They are lapdogs, not watchdogs”. Even so, he observed that some journalists are prepared to risk their lives in order to change the way things are done. To drive home a point, the professor warned that although many people may not realize that corruption is bad, “corruption is actually like an iceberg”. The implication is obviously that an iceberg is usually a huge block which usually exposes only its tip, thus giving the false impression that that is all there is to it, whereas the bulk of the structure is hidden in the ocean.
One of the most resonant calls the audience is likely to remember is that Prof. Nielsen made on the issue of “gombo”, tips that Cameroonian journalists accept and sometimes demand before publishing a story or after publishing it. The professor vehemently urged media men and women to break out of it and ended up by asking the rather philosophical question: “If you don’t break out of it, then who will?”
Prof. Poul Erik Nielsen holds an MA in Danish Literature and Language, an MA in Communication and a PhD in Media Studies. He has some 20 years of teaching experience in the field. He was accompanied to the University of Buea for the lecture by a former student here at the Department of Journalism (JMC), Teke Ngomba, who is doing a PhD in Political Communication at the professor’s university in Denmark, under his supervision.