Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Language issues explored in Yaounde, Cameroon
YAOUNDE, CAMEROON--It's interesting, and instructive, to fall prey to the very media practices that I'm here to combat.

Examining a story: Is it PJ?
To set the stage, Cameroon is officially a bilingual French and English country, though, in practice, this is a matter of contention. There has been an ongoing dispute (or as they call it here, “crisis”) involving the Anglophone (English speaking) community. Seven were killed and dozens injured in Anglophone protests that led to violence in northwestern Cameroon late last year. The protesters were rallying against what VOA News called "the overbearing influence of French in the bilingual country." According to those attending my peace journalism seminar this week, the English speakers feel marginalized by a government that doesn't recognize their rights or serve their needs.

As I read about this, before I came, the international media framed this story in a way that pitted Cameroonian Anglophones vs. Francophones--a framing that made me mistakenly believe that these two groups were at odds, even violently battling. However, according to both the French and English speakers in my workshop, this framing is incorrect. Instead, they insist that the proper framing, and the real conflict, is between Anglophones and the government. In fact, many Francophones understand the conflict, and even sympathize with the protesters.
At the Ebert Foundation, host of the PJ seminar

With a more correct framing now in focus, the 20 journalists and I talked about how they might cover the crisis using peace journalism principles, beginning with the correct framing, and including reporting contextually, reporting counternarratives, and reporting in an unbiased fashion.

We also discussed how their reporting might assist in reconciliation in Cameroon. Toward that end, the reporters ventured out to do some reconciliation themed reporting. 

The journalist/participants divided themselves into seven groups, and produced seven excellent stories. Perhaps the most interesting was a TV story titled, “Bilingualism as a tool for reconciliation.” The story featured interviews with many everyday citizens, as well as footage of the signage at the reunification monument celebrating rapprochement between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon. Ironically, all the signs at the monument site were only in French.

Another fine story was one about food as a form of unity…about how restaurant patrons who love the food from the “other” language community had to learn to communicate with one another across languages and cultures.

The best discussion was about a story highlighting how Christians and Muslims are living together “sans probleme” in Yaounde. One participant challenged the story’s use of the phrase “learning to live together,” which may imply that they haven’t gotten along well in the past. She suggested instead framing the story as a fight, joining Christians and Muslims together, against the Boko Haram terrorist group.

Our work continues in western and southwestern regions in Cameroon later this week. Since these are Anglophone regions, it will be interesting to see how these sensitive issues of language and culture are perceived differently  there.

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