Over sixty journalists of the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists, CAMASEJ, Douala Chapter have been trained on the ethics of reporting on legal issues.
In a one day workshop on the theme “reporting legal issues: The Dos and Don’ts” organized last Saturday, September 18, 2021, in Bonaberi by the Douala Chapter of CAMASEJ, members were lectured on different legal issues ranging from legal jargon and their significance, the use of cameras and microphones during court sessions, shooting images during court sessions and lots more.
Renowned legal luminary Barrister Nico Halle, accompanied by barristers Fofing Jacky and Isabelle Fomukong all took turns to edify journalists on the tenets of legal reporting, the dangers of violating norms, and many other related issues.
Speaking on the theme of the training renowned legal juggernaut, Barrister Nico Halle reiterated the need for the media to respect the rule of law. He explained that ” failure to respect the rule of law makes you an outlaw” to him journalists being the mouthpiece of the masses should have that knack to detect what news is meant for public consumption, classified information must be gate-keep to prevent unnecessary controversy.
During his 30 minutes lecture on phase 1 of the training, Barrister Halle detailed the barrier of journalists while covering a court case, mentioning the non-use of cameras and microphones during court sessions and/or within the courtyard.
Having a shallow knowledge in legal reporting, it was an opportunity for most sophomore journalists to learn and hear law jargon for the first time in their careers, a lecture which many participants say was enriching and craved for more such training.
Phase 2 of the training was done by barrister Fofung Jacky who said section 35 of the penal code spells out that the magistrate has the right to confiscate the recording equipment of the journalist if he or she was not given a green light in covering the court session by the magistrate. She adds that section 306 of the penal code sub (1) gives the magistrate the right to order for a loudspeaker to be stationed depending on the nature of the case.
In her lecture, Barrister Fofung advised journalists to stay within the corridor of professionalism, stating that:
Any pending case is dangerous to report on.
Journalists should decline to announce the adjournment of cases
Desist from interviewing lawyers or presiding magistrates after a court session coz it is wrong.
Journalists should desist from hearsay, always verify and check facts
Journalists should imbibe objective reporting.
Journalists are not bound to disclose the source of their information.
Before handing over the microphone to Barrister Isabelle Fomukong, Barrister Fofung made it clear that the law doesn’t accept a director of publication who has immunity unless there is a co-publisher. It is also a similar situation with the law not recognizing a minor as director of publication or editor in a newsroom.
And talking about reporting a case that involves a minor, Barrister Fomukong, another fine legal brain who studied in Nigeria, called on journalists to do everything within their power to protect the right and image of a child who is presented as a victim. She expatiated by calling on the participants not to pressurize a child (minor) for an interview, avoid judgmental words that will stigmatize the child.
Going by the law in Cameroon, she detailed that minors are not judged in ordinary courts. Most at times, their judgment is in-camera. A child after judgment is not sent to a normal prison but to a social home. She cited the Borstal Institute in Buea, South-West region, and the social center in Bepanda, Douala. To crown it all, Barrister Fomukong disclosed that the criminal record of a minor is always confidential (sealed and cannot be published) while expounding that their criminal records are erased when they turn 18.
In her closing presentation, Barrister Fomukong highlighted the risk of journalists exposing a minor, among the consequences is the loss of credibility which to her, journalists should avoid arriving at that stage.
*Nico Halle Frowns At Unscrupulous Anglophone Cameroonians*
”The worst enemy of an Anglophone is an Anglophone,” those were the words of the multi-award Cameroonian of North-West descent. In his opening speech at the maiden workshop of the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists, CAMASEJ Douala Chapter, Barrister Nico Halle frowned at some Anglophone Cameroonians whom he says are dishonest.
To him, titles represent nothing. Those with titles attached to their names have sent Cameroon to the abyss where it finds itself today. These persons, he says, are knowledgeable but morally bankrupt.
”Anything you do at any level, without that platform of core moral values…….you are wasting your time”. It is in this light that he challenged journalists to work in synergy to bring peace in Cameroon’s restive region.
*CAMASEJ-D President Speaks*
Journalists in Douala and Cameroon, in general, have a dwarf knowledge of court reporting, this is a mind-boggling issue which we at CAMASEJ Douala think should be improved upon.
The CAMASEJ Douala chapter president, NDI MAUREEN explained why she and her team chose the theme on legal reporting which she said was important not only for her members but to all journalists exercising in Cameroon.
Legal jargon and the report on minors was an important note which the president urged Cameroonian journalists to take into consideration while reporting on legal issues.
*Proposals From Participants*
Before the training drew its curtain, the participants (journalists) were tasked to forward proposals on how legal reporting can be improved, the members were segmented into three groups, they came out with the following recommendations;
Create legal committees within CAMASEJ-D to refer back to what was taught in the workshop for a constant follow-up of members.
Encourage media houses to develop a working relationship with sponsors and partners of CAMASEJ-D and legal institutions.
Media houses should initiate a visit of legal Minds to remind all of the do’s and don’ts of legal matters
For those who cover legal issues, records should be done and sent for review before they go out.
Capacity-building should become constant like once in 2 months.
Advisable for every media house to have a legal adviser who may not be a full lawyer.
CAMASEJ-D should make the position of legal adviser more active
Journalists should be assigned on specialized beats depending on their backgrounds
Media organs are encouraged to send their newsroom staff for capacity building workshops on specialized reporting
Journalists are encouraged to practice self-censorship
News Sources must be verified before breaking the news
Journalists must be seasoned in the fundamental rules of the profession
Journalists should cultivate the reading culture on a wide range of topics and upgrade their skills
Local media organs should emulate good examples from advanced media organs
Journalism schools should have specialized branches just like law.
Simplify Legal Jargon: In partnership with lawyers, we propose to have legal jargon simplified for use in our newsroom.
Encourage Legal reporting: Journalists should propose reports on legal issues during editorial conferences in their respective newsrooms.
Create Slots in programs: Legal slots should be a priority for journalists, to help edify listeners, viewers, or readers in certain aspects.
Encourage female reporters in reporting legal issues: Female journalists should break the boundary and start reporting law-related issues.
Partner with specialized lawyers: This is to have direct contact with them on particular issues related to the court.
By Fon Rene Marquez