Over 30 media professionals including social media actors and bloggers drawn from the North West, South West, West, Littoral and Centre Regions have committed to combat discriminatory speech, propaganda and incitement to hatred in Cameroon. This was during a workshop that took place on the 10th and 11th of January 2019, in Douala. Organized by the United Nations Center for Human Rights and Democracy (UNCHRD), the workshop served as a platform for media professionals to examine the positive and negative impacts of their actions as well as the social media from the genesis of the Anglophone crisis till date.
Looking at hate speech within the context of the Anglophone crisis, participants agreed that though the social media is seen by many to be a technological savior as far as communication is concern, it has also being a great promoter of hate speech and incitement to hatred in Cameroon since the crisis started in 2016. The traditional media is not left out as the editorial policy of some media houses have given way for hate speech.
“This is one of the most difficult periods where- if media professionals do not take care, media action could be very critical and detrimental to national peace. This is because a lot of debates are ongoing and a lot of opinions are being shared on the media without proper coordination.” Says Fonyuy Kiven, Communication and Advocacy Associate at the United Nations Center for Human Rights and Democracy (UNCHRD) Central Africa Regional Office and workshop facilitator.
This hate speech has in turn path the way for intimidation, killings, harassment and unlawful arrests and detentions. Media professionals are victims to these effects while being caught, in between the lion and the deep blue sea. Many media houses have been shut down, burnt, harassed and threatened by both the government and separatists, like in the cases of; Radio Hotcoco, Ndefcam Radio in Bamenda, and Lake Site radio in Kumba.
“We have an interactive program in the morning during which we receive calls from listeners. During one edition, someone called from ground zero and after extending greetings to the general public, he greeted the Amba boys. Before the technician could stop the call, it went on air while the presenter continued the programme, without talking about it. After that, I was visited by two unknown persons who asked, why their call was cut and threatened us to be very careful as they have the right to use the radio. From the odor coming from their bodies, I could tell they were Amba boys. I had to make them understand that if the government shutdown the radio, it will be detrimental to the people of Kumba so they left. On the part of the government, the senior divisional officer for kumba 3 used it as her opening point during her security meeting while summoning me to explain why we allow the Amba boys to pass their messages through our air waves. I was caught in between both camps, which is a very uncomfortable position” says Innocent Yuh, editor in chief of Lake Site Radio, Kumba.
Intimidation has eaten so deep into the roots of the Anglophone regions that effective communication has been hindered. With examples drawn from the communiqués of state authorities in these regions ordering that any individual who fails to obey their order, will face the full arm of the law, participants shared their experiences while recommending that state authorities should get an alternative communication format that informs and not intimidate the population. Same recommendation goes to the separatists who intimidate the population through social media messages and the continuous kidnapping of civilians.
“After I did a report on what is happening on ground zero, an unknown person went to facebook and posted my pictures saying that, I did not report that they have brought down an helicopter whereas nothing like that happened in Bamenda. I was also visited by unknown persons in my house and they collected my laptop and other items”. Says Frederic Takang. BBC reporter and workshop participant.
On conflict reporting, participants were educated on the difference between the social media and the traditional media while indicating that in such scenarios, a reporter can either be active or independent by not sharing pictures of killings and destruction while bearing in mind that not every incident should be reported and the choice of words should be considered so as to avoid escalating the conflict.
“Media professionals in Cameroon should avoid provocative, inflammatory and stigmatizing captions as well as negative narratives to send out information to the masses”. Says Fonyuy Kiven
This comes at a time the violence in the two Anglophone regions is increasing rapidly with so many calls for ghost towns and many fleeing their homes. Life has become unbearable with a looming fear of food famine in the days ahead. It is the wish of every Anglophone that this comes to an end but the big question is; when will it come to an end?
Maikem Emmanuela Manzie