Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Re-Visiting the Contending Frontiers of Development Journalism in Africa: Of Official Dogma and Journalists' Rejection in Cameroon

Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Re-Visiting the Contending Frontiers of Development Journalism in Africa: Of Official Dogma and Journalists' Rejection in Cameroon

Article excerpt

For close to six decades now, a lot of scholarly interest has been focussed on examining the role that the media and specifically journalists, can play in national development in developing countries. Theoretically, these observations regarding the relationship between media and development in these countries, have been solidified under the banner of the development media theory. Presented as a distinct media theory, the development media theory emphasises the media's role in national development, which involves but is not limited to the need for the media to ensure, in its reports, the:

'primacy of the national development tasks-economic, social, cultural and political, the pursuit of cultural and informational autonomy and the support for democracy and solidarity with other developing countries' (McQuail, 1994).

With the end of colonialism in Africa, the newly independent states in the continent embraced this development media theory as the guiding framework for their articulations of media policies and responsibilities. As history has shown, there subsequently emerged schisms, tensions, between the official requirements by states that the media and journalists in particular, should serve in 'state-defined' ways, as agents of development and journalists' hesitation and at times outright denial to heed such calls.

This article revisits this tension in development journalism in Africa with a special focus on Cameroon. After recapitulating the central tenets of development journalism, this article compares the findings of journalists' role conceptions conducted in two different epochs in Cameroon and analyses the key findings against the background of the Cameroon governments' officially sanctioned perspective of the role of the media/journalists in the country's development process. The article shows that there has been an oscillation in journalists' role conceptions in Cameroon revolving around journalists' 'embrace' and subsequent 'rejection' of state-defined parameters of development journalism. The article also examines a novel approach currently being adopted by Cameroon's Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MINATD) to address this schism, tension between journalists and the state in a way that incorporates the latter as 'development agents' but ostensibly ensures their 'independence' in the treatment of the decentralisation 'dossier' in Cameroon.

Understanding Development Journalism

According to Musa & Domatob (2007) development journalism reflects both a 'descriptive and prescriptive normative philosophy' of the relationship between the media and society in Third World countries. It is, in broad terms, a form of journalism that specifically puts the challenge of improving the living conditions within these Third World countries on the shoulders of journalists who are often perceived by public authorities in these countries as 'partners' with the government in its development efforts.

Ideally, to contribute towards national development, development journalists are expected to produce stories which, as Golding (1977) noted, are 'generally educative' in their depiction of societal needs or problems and which give prominence to successful local development initiatives in a bid to encourage the emulation of such activities in other communities. Even though generally talked about almost exclusively in reference to developing countries, development journalism, it should be indicated, is at once distinct from 'Western' journalism by virtue of its prescriptive role and at the same time similar to 'Western' journalism in that they both share similar professional/ideological tenets such as 'truth telling and advancing the interest of the society' (Musa & Domatob, 2007).

As decolonisation moved to its fateful end in Africa, successive post-independence governments across Africa all charged journalists and the media to be development agents by practicing development journalism. …

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