(A conversation with Anglophone entrepreneurs ahead of and after the Communication Forum)
By Mwalimu George Ngwane*
“The media are not the holders of power but they constitute by and large the space where power is decided” Castells Manuel
In my last write-up, I invited Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma to a conversation on breaking French language hegemony in our state media. I emphasised that the present lopsided state of biculturalism in our state media has had a toll on our nation building project, broken the communication mirror that is supposed to reflect our bicultural image to the world, stifled the mental production of Anglophones, atrophied the creative space of cultural professionals both as producers and consumers of English language, deprived a critical mass of taxpayers of their legitimate information rights and benefits, distorted the prism of Cameroon’s historical trajectory, closed the doors on employment, limited the marketing and sale of their products and thrown a large segment of their customers into the international market of Cable network.
I always send my articles to a single newspaper. But because we need to expand the frontiers of debate, my last write-up and the present have been sent to various news organs including Cameroon Tribune and online discussion forums. More so this is my last newspaper article as I shall be taking a break after twenty-five years of newspaper feature writing.
My concern this time is the timid presence of Anglophone media moguls in the private or Independent communication landscape in Cameroon. To quote Chinua Achebe, until the lion produces its own historian the story of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. So it is with the mass media especially Television. Until Anglophone entrepreneurs learn to put their money where the survival of their kith and kin hinges, the song of marginalization, exclusion and polarisation shall be rehearsed from generation to generation. The Anglophone struggle has in the main been a political manifesto aimed at recovering waning political power. For some, it is taking too long and for others it is just a matter of time. Be that as it may, Castells Manuel contends that throughout history, communication and information have been fundamental sources of power and counter power. This is because while coercion is an essential form of exercising power, persuausion is an even more decisive practice to influence people’s behavior-hence the power of the media. No doubt famous media moguls like Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey and Silvo Berlusconi continue to use their media conglomerates to assert both personal and corporate influence as well as shape public opinion. They recognized a long time ago that media politics has become the core of politics. Beyond the canons of information, education and entertainment lies the covert agenda of influencing public opinion and shaping people’s minds. In fact it has been argued that what does not exist in the media does not exist in public mind, even if it could have a fragmented presence in individual minds.
Africans, especially from Anglophone countries, have now joined the empire of media moguls like Koos Bekker in South Africa with twenty-three magazines and shares in DSTV, Reginald Mengi in Tanzania with ten newspapers, two TV stations and ten radio stations, the Ghanaian Patrick Quarcoo with six radio stations and one TV station, Ben Murray-Bruce of Nigeria with three radio stations and one TV station, the Kenyan Chris Kirubi owner of Capital FM radio popular among the upper and middle classes of Kenya, Prakash Desai of South Africa who owns sixteen newspapers, nine magazines and a record label, the Nigerian Raymond Dokpesi owner of the first Satellite TV station in Africa called African Independent Television (AIT) and S.K Machara of Kenya with one TV station ,eleven radio stations and nine local language radio stations.
Our Francophone brothers in Cameroon be they media practitioners or business professionals have not been left out. Apart from Spectrum Television (STV) and DanTV with national spread which belong to Anglophones, the biggest TV stations in Cameroon are owned by francophones. This means debates, discourses and discussions are defined and determined through their mindset. This means politically related messages are conveyed and interpreted by one part of the whole and virtually foisted as national mantra on all of us. This means our worldview as a people can be shaped to tailor the veiled agenda of those who own the electronic media in Cameroon. This means consigning the public sphere of debate for Anglophones to pubs, newspaper kiosks and social meetings. I watch with dismay Anglophone Opinion leaders jostle for media space and speaking in French in Thierry Ngongang’s popular STV programme ‘Entretien’. I watch them on Canal Presse and Jambo on Canal 2 struggling to add their voices in English in a dominant French language discourse. This means creating heroes, role models and mentors more out of linguistic correlation than meritorious profile. I watch with consternation the ongoing media hype over the death of football guru Theophile Abega over the media paucity on a national scale of the death a few months ago of football icon Joseph Ewunkem. It has always been so whenever the arguments on the Anglophone problem surfaces-those who control especially the TV get the better end of the debate stick. No one can tell the story better than the one who experiences it. The virtual absence of Anglophone media moguls has left a vacuum in Anglophone cultural renaissance, limited the space of Anglophone intellectual expression and propelled the hostage minority syndrome.
Media democracy or liberalization is about the linkage between power and counter-power; it is about policy engagement around the three power firestones of culture, politics and economics. Those who think TV is only about moving images and vibrant sounds are as wrong as wrong can be. Owning media conglomerates especially TV is not beyond the entrepreneurial reach or even economic savvy of Anglophones. It is a problem of priorities, complacency and sometimes outright fear and cowardice. It would be foolhardy to prescribe Anglophone TV stations whose programme content synchronises with the symphonies of irredentist or insurgent movements. Yet like STV, Canal 2, Equinoxe, LTM etc whose programme distribution ratio is 95% French language to 5% English language we now need TV stations whose programme distribution ratio is 95% English language to 5% French language. Hi TV Buea is a laudable initiative to emulate for it rubbishes the growing media concern that most Anglophone-owned radio stations are gospel and Pentecostal in character as if Anglophones in Cameroon have already lost the battle for political survival on earth and looking up to the benefits of spiritual survival in heaven. One needs to congratulate the written Press where Anglophones are holding their own but here again it is the media practitioners themselves who sometimes find difficulties to remain professional and yet cover the expenses related to management who are in charge. If Anglophone elite from the business sector could lend support to the communication industry, professional journalists would spend more time honing their skills at the service of consumer needs. It is a communication paradigm shift that should in the long term balance the vanity of hegemonic agendas and the virtue of national interest as well as heal the communication industry of the wounds of skewed information, education and entertainment in Cameroon.
*Mwalimu George Ngwane is author of a new book ‘The Cameroon Condition’ published by Miraclaire Publishers and available online