Sunday, October 31, 2010

Zachaeus Forjindam : Architect of President Biya’s life Presidency jailed for Embezzlement

Mr Zachaeus Forjindam, formally General Manager of Shipyard and Industrial Engineering Corporation (SIEC), and architect of President Biya’s life presidency has been jailed for 12years – 2yrs more than half the total spent as GM of this highly technical engineering company in Cameroon, noted for corruption. Forjindam, said to be an engineer of exceptional qualities, and a member of the ruling political party in Cameroon (Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement), was jailed, at about 8:30pm, on Thursday, after a court in the country’s economic capital of Douala, found him guilty on charges of corruption and embezzlement of state funds. He was arrested and detained since 2008

By Yemti Harry Ndienla

Forjindam, who has 10 days to file an appeal, is required also to pay damage and interest worth of CFA 849m as well as CFA 47m worth of collective compensation for court expense. Furthermore, the former GM, would also see his multiple bank accounts, buildings and vehicles all seized by the state. Three of Forjindam’s partners in crime who misused the commonwealth of the people of Cameroon for selfish purposes were sentenced accordingly; Youta Samuel - 15 yrs, 13 yrs each for Djandé Antoine and Moubala Julius Fotikali including Wegang Anette, Ngounou Mathurin, and Nguéwou Odette. Like their former GM, these accused also have to repay damage and interest of CFA489m and CFA 47m collectively in court expenses.
Though Forjindam, was highly acclaimed by many including the head of state Paul Biya, for his professional acumen and managerial qualities which lead to the success of the company, a state audit found his activities questionable – a situation which lead to his final caging
But sympathizers of Forjindam, portray him as a victim of Francophone persecution claiming the amount embezzled is relatively small compared to billions embezzled by francophones including the likes of Ondong Ndong, Mounchipou, etc… “It’s a very lame line of defense. Jurists would tell you the gravity of a crime is measured by the intent and the act and is usually not equated with the weight of money involved. As the saying goes, the man stole so much that the owner (the State) took notice” agues Sam Nuvala Fonkem. Lame indeed when you consider that the money embezzled no matter how small can be used for developmental projects rather than taking expensive trip overseas, buying expensive cars, building mansions, stashed in foreign bank accounts etc…
The demise of Zaccheus Forjindam, should act as a deterrent – particularly members of the ruling CPDM party who thought by asking Biya to cling to power till death were safeguarding their ill gotten wealth. They should think again and think aloud. Like the fallen Forjindam, it is even naïve for those General Managers of state corporations many of whom have been there for decades as well as other embezzlers of state funds not to read the writings on the wall. While taking advantage of the country’s relaxed accountability system to pilfer, many embezzlers of state funds turn to the public for sympathy claiming to be saint who never stolen a franc. Some even enrolled in Major seminaries with the hope of becoming a priest. Priest for what?

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Public Service Exams and Income Generation in Cameroon

Cameroon organizes dozens of selection tests for entrance into training centres and professional schools every year. Examinations for the 2010 season begun with the Common Entrance into secondary schools, General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary and Advanced levels, and First School Leaving Certificates (FSLC), for English speaking Cameroonians.

Christopher Fon Achobang

As always, a multitude of candidates will be queuing in front of different offices to register for these examinations. Usually candidates will have to produce certified copies of all their credentials; birth certificate, school certificates. The more certificates you have, the more stamps you have to buy to obtain government signatures. Even with government officials signing the certified copies of certificates, you will need a trip to the Senior Divisional Officer (SDO) or the Governor to authenticate that you actually presented the originals of the certificates which have been certified.
The list of papers, not older than three months, then swells when a medical certificate, certificate of non-conviction, certificate of height is obtained over the counter without meeting any of the competent authorities. To crown it all, candidates have to pay from at least FCFA 10,000 by post office money order to the authority organizing the examination. The post office (CAMPOST), today, managed by a French national imposes the amount of postage stamp you stick to a self-addressed and stamped envelope.
As I went to register a cousin, holder of a FSLC, for the entrance into the school of penitentiary personnel, I realized how the government of the Republic of Cameroon has transformed these selection tests into income generating activities. The state is the main beneficiary while many private businesses jump in to reap from the free for all examination bonanzas.
First School Leaving Certificate, the main certificate for candidates aspiring to become prison warders has not been issued in Cameroon since 1998. Only attestations are delivered in lieu of the certificate. To obtain this attestation, candidates are requested to pay FCFA 1,000 at the regional delegation of basic education. At the South West Regional Delegation where I paid the money no receipt was issued. Well, you pay the money or you walk away and miss the examination. The question you may want the regional delegate to answer is whether the huge examination fee paid is not enough to produce an ordinary attestation. Behold, some candidates for this lowest rank of penitentiary personnel will be university graduates, making nonsense of the FSLC.
Certificates of Non Conviction or police report not older than three months have to be obtained from the chief town of candidate’s division of birth or from Yaoundé. My cousin, like most candidates born in the adjoining landlocked divisions of the South West Region know it is hell to get to their divisional headquarters. Only Limbe for Fako Division and Kumba for Meme Division are accessible by road during the raining season. Curiously, registration for most of these examinations is launched at the beginning of the raining season. Candidates cannot request a certificate of non-conviction in anticipation as it is not supposed to be older than three months. The justice and police departments should have a database of police reports. None seems to exist in Cameroon as former convicts have become ministers and allowed to manage sensitive positions where they end up embezzling tons of money. With the noise about decentralization of the public services in Cameroon, people born in Mudemba, Bangem, Mamfe or Allou should be able to obtain this formality of non-conviction certificate from Buea where they have to deposit their registration files. This practice of going back to the place of birth to be counted, closely resembles the Biblical return of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for a census, which ended up with baby Jesus being born on the way over 2000 years ago. Today, many pregnant women miscarry on the way to hospital in these landlocked divisions.
Post Office Money Orders are an indication that an examination registration fee has been paid and that it will be delivered to the competent examining authority. For the penitentiary personnel selection tests, the announcement signed by the Minister of Justice stipulated that the fee to be paid is FCFA 10,000. But by the time candidates went to deposit their files, they were informed that it had been announced over the radio that the examination fee had been increased to FCFA 15,000. To forward this amount to the director of penitentiary authorities CAMPOST charges FCFA 1,500 for services. If you had first paid FCFA 10,000, by the time you went back for FCFA 5,000 you need to pay another FCFA 1,500. At the end of the day you would have paid FCFA 3,000 to wire FCFA 15,000 to the Director of Penitentiary authority in Yaounde.
Self Addressed Stamped Envelopes are destined for the return of registration materials in the case where a candidate failed to make it through the unpredictable selection process. Rarely does anybody bother about what happens to the files of those who have failed. You will meet cookie vendors using them as parceling papers on our street corners.
The value of the postal stamp is supposed to be the cost of transporting printed material locally. Postage stamps for mails within Cameroon cost FCFA 125. Post office staffs claim the amount which is needed for the penitentiary personnel entrance is FCFA 500, stating that if this was not paid, nobody will transport a candidate’s file to Yaounde. This cooked up story fails to explain that the postal service has to dispose of the thousands of stamps printed in 2005 worth FCFA 500 bearing the effigies of President Paul Biya and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan. With the advent of the internet and the unreliability of the postal services, people stopped posting letters through the post office. To make my frustration worse, I met a friend who was mailing a letter to Paris using only a FCFA 250 worth of postage stamp.
Certificate of Height indicates that a candidate is over 160 cm tall. This is the minimum height for pretenders to the uniformed corps (police, army, gendarmerie, warders). After waiting for two hours and buying a fiscal stamp of FCFA 1,000, the identification agent simply filled 1 m 65 cm even though candidate’s identity card showed 1 m 70 cm. The agent explained that 1 m 65 cm was the normal height for females. After insisting that he either respects the height on the identity card or he proceeded to measure the height again, our agent was not patient enough to repeat the formality as he went ahead to write out the height on the identity card.
Attestation of presentation of originals must be issued exclusively by the SDO or the Governor. Though forms for this attestation are sold everywhere, the clerks at the governor’s office claim the governor does not sign handwritten documents. Woe betides you if you had filled out one and francked (automatic fiscal stamping with a machine) it at the treasury or passport service of the police station. The process has to start all over again. In Buea you have to give FCFA 500 to the typist in the governors’ office for the form and then go to the Divisional Office (D.O) for the fiscal stamp. Here the fiscal stamp, since it is the old format which is transferable, is sold at FCFA 1,100 and not 1,000. The D.O. explains that it costs an extra FCFA 100 because it is somebody’s private business. Why will a private business be lodged in a public office? Former D.O. Kuemo Simon of Buea sub-division claims he has struggled to stop the business, unsuccessfully.
Let me end the list of worrying practices you notice in the government organized public service examinations not even the deserving candidates are presented as passing the examination. By the end of the day, government agents beat their chests for collecting millions for the government treasury. Some private individuals also jubilate after extorting money from the gullible and eager candidates. Adjacent mafias also creep up, promising to facilitate candidates’ success in different public examinations requesting a bribe to be paid to someone in the corridor of power.
Of the tens of thousands registering for the warders’ entrance examination only 410 are needed. Even so, the dateline to deposit registration files will be postponed to allow more candidates to register. Officially, the reason is to give late candidates more time to register. But the undisclosed reason is not to close the doors so that more money can be collected from the wretched of the earth for ‘government’. Many candidates confess they go to all sorts of extremes to raise the amount needed for the examination. Averagely, a candidate spends over FCFA 40,000 to have a complete file for one of the many concours launched in Cameroon. Quite some revenue for the State, isn’t it? Indeed bleeding the poor to transfuse the rich.
Wonder is that while the Cameroon government campaigned and qualified as a Heavily Indebted Poor Country, it does not consider Cameroonians as poor and wretched. Every day, government evolves new schemes to impoverish citizens. Little wonder that the results of some of these concours are not published more than 24 months after. Even when they are published, names of some folks who never sat for the examination are declared as successful.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, October 14, 2010

From the Commonwealth Journalists Association

Police suspended after journalist’s murder

Six journalists have been murdered in Pakistan in four months. They are:

Mujeebur Rehman Saddiqui, senior correspondent with Daily Pakistan and a talented poet, shot dead probably by militants on September 16 as he left evening prayers in Malakand.

Misri Khan Oraksai, who wrote for several local papers, shot on September 14 outside the district offices in an area at Hangu thronged with police. Five police and five levies were suspended for negligence.

Faiz Mohammed Khan Sasoli, shot in his car in Khuzdar, Baluchjistan, in June. The car veered into a shop, injuring two more people. Sasoli wrote for Aaj Kal

Ameer Ahmed Dhoal, correspondent for an Urdu weekly near Bahawalpur, South Punjab. Shot while sitting in a restaurant.

Ejaz Raisani


A driver for Aaj News TV and a camera operator for Samaa were killed in Quetta on September 3. A suicide bomber attacked marchers who then started firing bullets.

Ambushed broadcaster dies: no money for hospital treatment

At 5am on September 13 Dickson Ssentongo, a 29-year-old local broadcaster, was walking to work through a potato field east of Kampala (Uganda) when he was set upon by men with metal bars. A farmer found him four hours later, lying in a pool of blood. He managed to say “Prime”, the name of his radio station, owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. He was taken to a health centre and transferred to hospital where he died untreated 12 hours later. The hospital authorities had demanded payment before treating him. Ssentongo was an active member of the opposition Democratic Party

Ugandan court strikes down law on sedition

Uganda’s law on sedition was declared null and void by the constitutional court in August. It was petitioned five years ago by the East African Media Institute and the journalist Andrew Mwenda who has been charged with sedition 18 times. Eight Uganda journalists faced sedition charges in the first half of 2010. See crackdown on bomb reporting page 13

The CJA loses its man of action

Pieter Wessels at a CJA dinner, Trinidad 2004

Pieter Wessels, president of the CJA in Australia, died from bone cancer in August. He was 71.

Pieter was highly energetic, widely travelled and very willing to spend his own money if the need arose. In 2004 he arrived early for a conference in Trinidad, so that, when others got there, he had all the local details at his fingertips.

In Nigeria in 2003 he set up a computer room to bring the latest technology into the CJA conference. For training courses he travelled repeatedly to Southern Asia and the Pacific, inspiring keen students eager to learn about the journalism of the future.

In 2008, he returned to his former employer, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, to help it cover the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Much of the coverage came in ‘tweets’ from guests trapped in hotel bedrooms. This was when the Twitter electronic service first came into its own.

Pieter was the son of a Dutch diplomat, also called Pieter Wessels, and a seventh-generation Australian. He joined the ABC in 1962 as a cadet and stayed – mainly producing and directing – for 27 years. In 1981 he was conducting a training course for Bangladesh TV when President Zia was assassinated by army officers. Pieter found himself sending out reports with rifles pointed at this head.

The CJA’s president, Hassan Shahriar, said he was shocked to hear Pieter had died. Former president Murray Burt recalled Pieter’s “gangly, charming, matter-of-fact quality”. Ehsan Ahmed Sehar, president of the Rural Media Network Pakistan, for which Pieter set up a website, said: “Pieter Wessels was a true friend of Pakistani rural journalists.”

CJA vice-president Martin Mulligan recalls in 1999 seeking Pieter’s help for a Bangladeshi journalist who feared for his life after losing his job. Pieter gathered the facts for a story on the then CJA website, which won the Bangladeshi acceptance as a refugee in the United States.

CJA discusses training scheme with Indian institute

CJA representatives have discussed in Delhi with Commonwealth secretary-general Kamlesh Sharma and the Indian Institute of Mass Communications a joint training scheme for journalists, especially from developing countries. The scheme would include six-week courses and specialised workshops. The CJA will suggest potential partners from Commonwealth countries and will discuss with CJA Sarawak the idea of setting up a joint training institution with IIMC. The CJA was represented by its president Hassan Shahriar and by Mahendra Ved.

Cameroon’s champion of press freedom dies in American road crash

Pius Njawe, torchbearer for press freedom in authoritarian Cameroon, was killed in a road accident in the United States in July. Njawe, then 22, founded Cameroon’s first independent newspaper, Le Messager, in 1979. He was arrested 126 times and imprisoned three times.

South Africa’s press is under pressure, and it’s serious

Writes Guy Berger

Non-racial elections in 1994 confirmed South Africa’s rehabilitation as a nation in the world. International well-wishers celebrated as South Africa rejoined the international stage as a model democracy.

Emerging from a terrible past, this was a country now setting the pace with a progressive constitution guaranteeing the gamut of human rights – amongst them the right to information and the right to freedom of expression and the media.

No wonder then that many journalists in Commonwealth countries and elsewhere looked with envious eyes at the shiny new kid on the block.

But, in 2010, things have taken a different turn. South African journalism has been battered by a left-hook in the form of a draft secrecy law, a right-hook - a statutory tribunal to replace press self-regulation, and a violent head butt in the form of serious harassment of an investigative journalist.

In more detail:

* The Protection of Information Bill in parliament gives government huge power to designate state and commercial information as confidential, and provides for prison sentences of up to 25 years for publication of anything so classified.

* The ruling African National Congress has revived a two-year-old proposal to set up a state-based tribunal as a superior appeals body to the voluntary self-regulatory Press Council.

* In an arrogant show of force, investigative journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested at his newspaper by a posse of policemen, who held him incommunicado and interrogated him at ungodly hours. The intimidation came after an ANC provincial premier laid charges against him of having received a purportedly fraudulent letter about the premier’s intention to resign. Not a peep of condemnation of this abuse of power was heard from anyone in the ANC.

Squandering the World Cup legacy

What should be made of the fact that the South Africa “poster child” for free journalism now looks decidedly tatty? Was this inevitable?

Orwell suggests in Animal Farm that all revolutions are bound to turn sour, and erstwhile liberators to become the new oppressors. In this view, the innocent idealism of Mandela’s days has inexorably given way to the corrupting nature of power.

But, in the South African context, there are two things wrong with this analysis. First, it does not explain why it took 16 years of democracy before things went downhill. Second, it prematurely assumes that the South African trajectory will continue on a negative course.

The question of why only now the South African press is coming under pressure is partly a poignant one. The pressures come fresh after South Africa’s successfully hosting of the FIFA World Cup. Billions of dollars were spent as an investment in re-branding South Africa (and Africa more widely) to overcome dominant images of Africans as people to be pitied or feared, not befriended.

The incident-free tournament did indeed go some way towards displaying a nation, and indirectly a continent, that comprises friendly, capable people with world-class facilities and a convivial modern environment. This was a far cry from the depressing picture of strife, crime, violence and despotism that is so often part of reality and reporting on the African continent.

Yet, it is precisely this upbeat legacy from the World Cup that the ANC has seemed hell-bent on squandering with the offensives against the press. Maintenance of the new brand has fallen victim to a mix of political stupidity with personal factors and politics.

On the stupid side, the ANC wholly under-estimated the extent of resistance both international and domestic. Responding to the outcry, the government minister pushing the secrecy Bill resorted to blaming the media messenger for the opposition.

Personal issues were also a factor. Key ANC leaders have born the brunt of newspaper exposes that affected their reputations. President Jacob Zuma in particular has attracted a lot of negative coverage of his own personal affairs, and his family members have been revealed as enormous beneficiaries of dodgy business deals.

Political calculations have played a part, too. Left and Right, and various factions focused on power rather than ideology, have jockeyed for power within the ANC. All sides seek to dominate South African society through the state in order to advance the specific interests they represent.

For a time, these rivals were wholly absorbed in fighting one another, and trying to gain advantage by selective leaks to the press. This was particularly so in the contest between then president Thabo Mbeki and his ultimately successful rival, the current president Jacob Zuma.

Politicians yearn for an easier ride -

However, in 2010, although cracks opened in the erstwhile anti-Mbeki alliance, a perceived shared interest began to emerge as regards relations with the press. There seemed to be an assessment of the press as a common enemy to the ANC as a whole – that is, a realisation that whoever dominated the party could not count on the press as a lapdog. An expedient reason also kicked in. It helps any ruling party to have a scapegoat to blame for society’s problems – and a major thrust in the ANC’s position has been that a “reactionary” press has not offered itself as an instrument to support government programmes.

Probably the main political logic driving the ANC, however, has been embarrassment about news stories showing cabinet ministers buying top-of-the-range cars and staying in the best hotels. Two years earlier, a scandal also tarred parliament when dozens of MPs (including some from opposition parties) abused their travel allowances.

Nest-feathering and extravagance in the political class contrast rudely with the conditions of the people who elected them. Despite 16 years of governing the country, the ANC has been unable to overcome 40 percent joblessness. The ANC has vastly increased social welfare; but the sums seem a trickle to the nine million individuals now receiving minimal grants. There have been thousands of local protests against poor delivery of services and local corruption.

Ironically, the very success of government in delivering the World Cup has heightened expectations amongst the citizenry – evident in a crippling strike by teachers and other public servants just one month after the jamboree.

In sum, a perfect storm of logics have converged to trigger the ANC’s current attempts to shrink South Africa’s information environment. There seems to be a delusion that, if the press can only be muted, the leadership will look pretty, social problems will be solved and community protest actions will stop.

- But they probably won’t get their way

But whether the ANC will have its way is another thing. Journalists (and journalism schools), and several civil society groups including to an extent the country’s most powerful trade union body, are not standing by.

A major campaign has been launched to alert the wider populace, including the ANC’s own supporters, that a changed information climate will curtail the public’s right to know. International support – including from around the Commonwealth – is a valuable part of this attempt to keep South Africa’s democratic gains intact.

The ANC will almost certainly find that its measures are taken to the country’s Constitutional Court if parliament pushes ahead with the Protection of Information Bill and the press tribunal (should that get to legislation).

In the end, the envisaged repression is likely to be blocked. That will come as a relief to journalists everywhere, and not least in South Africa.

Currently, a highly negative signal is being sent out to other African countries. Already, Zambia has rationalised its rejection of press self-regulation by alluding to the unsubstantiated ANC claims that the South African Press Council is ineffective. The Media Institute of Southern Africa has expressed concern that the South African “role model” has the potential to legitimise statutory regulation in Botswana, Swaziland and other southern African countries.

Successfully halting the ANC’s campaign will thus be important for others, not South Africans alone. A further question is whether the growing mobilisation succeeds in attracting overwhelming support across southern Africa. What will also be important is the extent to which the experience confirms broadly that one can never be complacent about press freedom.

Ultimately, press freedom and self-regulation can be secured only when citizens in South Africa and more widely are persuaded that these are values to be cherished and that there are major benefits to society if they are protected.


Attacks on media on the rise

The intimidation of journalists by physical attacks, threats and legal proceedings against them is increasing in Orissa, Eastern India, according to a new report.

The report from the free speech hub of the journalism portal says there have been 12 physical attacks on reporters, stringers or camera staff this year, and six cases of threat and intimidation, up from three attacks in 2009.

"Between 2004 and 2009, four cases of sedition were filed against stringers or reporters and a writer," the report adds.

Attacks took place "either in retaliation for reports written or while the journalists were on reporting assignments".

The perpetrators of violence against the media were politicians, security people or village heads and students. "In three cases the police were present but chose not to act. Cases filed have not made much headway."

The report sees the attacks as linked to aggressive industrialisation, political interests and competitive media houses. It alleges that the state government has either actively supported industrial corporations, branding the critical media as Maoists, anti-national or seditious; or it has played the role of spectator.

The report was compiled by Geeta Seshu who visited Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Puri, and Jajpur (Kalinganagar).

- Mahendra Ved, CJA, India Chapter

* Freelance Hem Chandra Pandey was killed on July 2 when police clashed with Maoists in Andhra Pradesh.


A deadlier deadlock than ever

For Richard Holbrooke, US special representative, Kashmir is so sensitive that he refuses to call it by its name, simply referring to it as the K word.

President Obama’s top envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is far from the only one whose blood pressure rises at the mention of Kashmir.

It is divided between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, which have twice gone to war over it and came close to a third conflict in 1999. Over 60 years on from Indian and Pakistani independence, Kashmir remains a source of tension.

Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers met in July in Islamabad to try to renew dialogue after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. They failed to find common ground.

A few days after this, three experts met in London for a discussion organised by the CJA’s UK branch.

Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former high commissioner in London, outlined three possibilities for Kashmir’s immediate future: prolonged deadlock, managed tensions, agreement on a problem-solving approach. She saw it as important for India and Pakistan to leave their militaries out of any resolution of the Kashmir disputes.

M.J.Akbar, editor of India on Sunday and the Sunday Guardian, said the Kashmir deadlock is deadlier than ever. [According to TV reports, over 100 people have been shot dead recently in clashes between Indian police and Kashmiris demonstrating for independence.]

Akbar believes that peace will never come while Kashmir is viewed through sentimental eyes but it is difficult to get away from sentimentality when so many Indians and Pakistanis have personal Kashmiri associations.

Victoria Schofield said that some people want to set the Kashmir issue aside because it is an obstacle to better relations between India and Pakistan. She argued vehemently against this, saying: “It is imperative to discuss it now.”

Walking away from the CJA discussion, it would have been easy to feel downhearted. But discussions are positive. They may not bring instant solutions but they do keep the debate alive.

Tom Baird

*With a curfew preventing journalists getting to work in Kashmir, regional dailies did not print and regional TV was suspended for several days in September, reports Reporters Sans Frontieres. The assistant managing director of JK Networks was beaten by police.

How media are sacrificing ethics for bucks

By Mahendra Ved

FOR someone who has been part of the Indian media, it is painful to see them being vilified. It is worse when there are strong justifications and when some of the criticism comes from within.

One of the world's oldest, largest and fastest-growing media industries enjoys freedom that is the envy of most developing nations. It has a history of more than two centuries. It publishes and broadcasts in a score of languages, each with a following of millions.

I have no hesitation in claiming that the media have taken up issues and served the public good. Social ills and prejudices have been exposed and criticised. A lot of celebrities and well-connected people would get away with their misdeeds, but for the media.

But there are numerous instances of the media going overboard. They have an obvious urban bias that favours the upper classes.

Owned and staffed by upper castes, they speak for them. Driven by commercial interests, they have become the handmaids of corporate and rich farm interests, ignoring the poor and rural folk.

The old adage about news being sacred and comment free does not hold true for the new media managers. Yes, editors are now media managers. Their corporate bosses not only make policy decisions but also influence the news and editorial content.

In India, the internet and 300-plus TV channels -- 100 of them into news and views 24/7 -- have overtaken radio and newspapers in visibility, although not reach.

The dynamics of news on TV are such that competition and the race against time seem to make TV staffs discard much that has traditionally gone into news gathering and dissemination -- things like checking facts and striking a balance by getting others' versions of a story.

The BBC-like sobriety of India’s state-run Doordarshan TV service, still enjoying the largest footprint and audience reach, is under threat from private channels that copy the aggressive, even hysterical American model, sometimes in a right-wing direction.

Sister media have joined in. Let me illustrate this from Bollywood movies.

Peepli 'Live' is about a frenzy among TV channels to cover ‘live’ the expected suicide of a farmer in the village of Peepli. The farmer is sidelined in a tussle among political rivals and TV channels. The movie mocks the apathetic, voyeuristic reaction to the farmer’s suffering.

Or take the Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan film Pa. Politician Abhishek is thwarted in his attempts to get TV channels to arrange homes for the homeless. He organises attacks on the homes of the anchors of the offending channels, thereby highlighting the point that only when your own home is attacked will you care about other people's.

Rann is about an upright owner, journalist and anchor, played by Amitabh, who wants to stick to his ideals while his channel's viewership ratings are declining. His United States-trained son forces him to change course, only to become a puppet of the power-hungry.

One would think that the TV channels would want to hit back at Bollywood. Far from it. This has become a mutual admiration exercise. Film-makers and actors appear on TV channels as star guests on reality shows and have their films promoted.

President of India concerned at “paid news”

India’s President Pratibha Patil said in July that paid news could distort news, which “interfered with the concept of a free, fair and objective press.” She thus joined the debate in India about politicians paying media – both journalists and organisations – to ensure ‘positive’ news coverage.

There are varying estimates of how many millions change hands during elections to parliament at the national level and to legislatures in 25 states.

When Outlook, a leading magazine, sounded out Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda about allegations that he paid for favourable news during the assembly elections in October, he was surprisingly candid.

“When I noticed the leading paper of my state printing baseless reports on its front page day after day,” he said, “I called them up and offered money to print the right picture. The paper in question apologised. They even returned the money taken from my rival to publish news items against me.”

Whether the Indian media like to admit it or not, journalism is up for sale. Hooda is not the only politician to point to the malaise. Politicians across the country came forward to tell Outlook how they were asked to loosen purse-strings if they wanted good press.

Offer money, and you could get uncharitable comments from rivals blocked. Pay cash, and you could have negative news published about a rival.

Former editor B.G. Verghese, a signatory to a complaint to the Press Council of India, says that offering editorial space for sale has become an epidemic.

*Under new rules, Indian media companies must disclose any shareholdings in companies they report on.

Off to the World Editors Forum

Editors from the Indian sub-continent attending the World Editors Forum in Germany this month include:

Pakistan Imtiaz Alam, Owais Aslam Ali, Mehmal Sarfraz (Daily Times) and Ehsan Ahmed Sehar (Nawa-I-AhmedpurSharqia).

Sri Lanka Sinha Ratnatunga

Bangladesh Mahfuz Anam (Daily Star), A.R.Hannan and Jashim Uddin

India Ashish Aron, Rohit Bansal, Sajjad Haider (Kashmir Observer), Bachi Karkaria (Times of India), Ashok Kumar, Sukumaran Mani, Jacob Mathew (Malayala Manorama), Nidhish Parayarukandi Vettath, Pratap Pawar, Ashok Sahni, Aritra Sarkar, Nandita Sengupta (Times of India) and V.K.Sharma (Hindustan Times)

News from round the world


Mahmudur Rahman, editor of Amar Desh, a paper associated with the opposition Bangladesh National Party, was sentenced to six months in August for contempt of court in an article criticising the judiciary. He was earlier charged with fraud and obstructing the police. An officer of the International Press Institute commented that jailing Rahman “could reflect an attempt to intimidate and silence a news outlet that does not reflect the ruling party line.”

ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh and the Information Commission held training in September for public officials providing information under the Right to Information Act.


Robert Mintya, former editor of Le Devoir, was clubbed over the head and seriously injured by a fellow inmate in prison in August. One of three journalists accused of forging the signature of a leading official, he blamed the forgery on leading Cameroon personalities. Another of the three journalists, Bibi Ngota, died in prison in April.


Fiji’s biggest newspaper, the Fiji Times, faces takeover under a new decree from the military government. This says that 90 per cent of the shares of a media organisation must be locally owned. The Times belongs to the international Murdoch group.

Richard Naidu, news editor of FijiLive was detained overnight on July 30 after the website claimed that Fiji’s police chief had been suspended.


Edwin Nebolisa Kwakaeme, a Nigerian who publishes Window magazine and works for ADG, a human rights organisation, was sent to prison for six months with hard labour in September for giving false information to the president’s office. He was arrested in March after writing to President Jammeh, asking him to make his daughter a goodwill ambassador to ADG.

Amadou Samba, publisher of the pro-government Daily Observer, is suing the on-line Freedom Newspaper in the United States. It inaccurately reported in 2009 that he had been arrested over a coup attempt.

The International Federation of Journalists has asked Israel to release Bubacar Ceesay, formerly of the banned Independent. Fleeing The Gambia, he sought asylum in Israel but had no papers.

The West African Economic Community Court has ordered The Gambia to release Chief Ebrima Manneh, of the Daily Observer, who disappeared in 2006.


Local broadcaster Alexander Afriyea was taken to hospital, gasping for breath, after being attacked by members of the ruling National Democratic Congress in Effiduase (Ashanti) in September. Afriyea is himself seeking election to the district assembly.

Angry prison officers stormed a Kumasi radio station on September 16, shoving programme manager Kate Frema Adomako to the ground. They wanted to attack a talkshow panellist who had called a prison officers’ demonstration irresponsible.


A court in Chennai in August refused bail to A.S.Mani, whose magazine Naveena Netrikkan published an article about police corruption. Mani, who is accused of attempted murder, was in prison for a month last year also.


President Bingu wa Matharika said in August he would close down newspapers that lied and tarnished his government’s image. He was complaining about a report of a Southern African Development Community study which said a million Malawians will need food aid.


People demonstrated in several cities on August 1 against the Internal Security Act, now 50 years old. The Act allows journalists and others to be detained without trial. Well-known blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin was held for eight weeks in 2008 and now lives in exile.

Cartoonist Zunar went into hiding on September 24, for fear of being detained under the Internal Security Act. Police had seized copies of Cartoon-o-phobia, a collection of his satirical press cartoons some of which feature the prime minister.

Blogger Irwan Abdul Rahman was charged on September 2 with publishing false information. He said his report that a power firm was going to sue the World Widllife Fund for urging people to switch their lights off was a joke.


In the newly democratic Maldives, the offices of broadcaster VTV were vandalised early on August 30. VTV and another broadcaster have been verbally attacked by local politicians.


Umer Cheema, an investigative reporter with The News, was seized by 12 men as he drove to his home in Islamabad at 3.30am on September 4. They held him for six hours, stripped him, shaved his hair, eyebrows and moustache and released him 120 kilometres away.

Journalist Asma Anwar of Noshehra in the Swat valley was among those killed in the Pakistani floods. Over 200 journalists lost their homes. Broadcasts by Geo TV and ARY News were blocked on August 8 when they reported the hurling of shoes at President Zardari during a visit to Britain. His being abroad during the floods roused controversy. Abdul Rehman Afridi, editor of the Daily Sitara at Jacobabad, Sindh, was beaten up at his office on September 8 by supporters of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. The Daily Sitara had criticised the distribution of flood relief.

Shakil Turabi, editor-in-chief of the South Asian News Agency based in Islamabad, has appealed for the release of his 18-year-old son Hasan who disappeared in January. It has been alleged that Hasan is linked to a group who attacked a mosque, killing army officers.

Six women and children were hurt in August when grenades were thrown at an ARY TV correspondent’s home in the Bajaur agency. The correspondent had moved to Peshawar.

British Pakistani journalist Asad Qureshi, kidnapped in March while travelling with two former spooks, was released in September.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) demanded on September 26 the release of two French TV journalists seized by Taliban in Afghanistan late last year.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has asked for documents to support TV allegations that thousands of containers of goods intended for international forces in Afghanistan did not get there because of corruption in customs.

Mohammed Imran, Dunya News TV correspondent in Sialkot, Punjab, was pushed against a wall by motor-cyclists in August, fracturing his shoulders. A fortnight earlier he had filmed an enraged mob beating two brothers to death. At Hyderabad (Sindh) on July 14, Anwar Kamal of Geo News and his driver were hit when their vehicle was fired on. Sarfraz Wistro of the Daily Ibrat was beaten unconscious by five men on July 22 near his Hyderabad home.

The PFUJ won legal power in July to represent newspaper employees seeking implementation of a pay board award. The PFUJ complained that many media houses had not paid their employees for months.

Pakistani newspapers complained in June about the Sindh government’s failure to pay for advertisements.

Seventeen district correspondents attended a workshop organised by the Rural Media Network Pakistan in July. With some help from the CJA, the Network has published a training manual in Urdu. The workshop heard that lively rural media can help forge a relationship between informed citizens and responsive elected officials. People at the workshop asked for courses in online journalism and election reporting and for press clubs to have computers and other kit. Ehsan Ahmed Sehar, president of RMNP, presented a fax machine to Ahmedpur Press Club on behalf of his paper, the Daily Nawa-I-AhmedpurSharqia.

The Sindh High Court granted Geo TV in August permission to air an American programme about Pakistani Americans’ problems. The media regulator had warned Geo not to show the programme.

A new English-language magazine, Newsweek Pakistan, was launched in August. It will be followed by Pakistan Today, a full-colour daily to be published in Lahore.


Staff of Radio Democracy were threatened in September when it announced it was resuming broadcasting. It had stopped after being evicted from its offices during a rent dispute.


A 75-year-old British journalist, Alan Shadrake, was arrested in Singapore on defamation and contempt charges in July when he visited Singapore to promote his book about the death penalty, Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock.


Two journalists were hurt when Siyatha TV’s studios were destroyed in July by men armed with rifles and petrol bombs. Siyatha mainly broadcast entertainment but its owners were reported to support General Fonseka, the opposition candidate in the presidential election.

The wife of a dismissed and exiled producer of state broadcasting received threats to her life in September from visitors who accused her husband of supplying video footage to overseas organisations.

Government tough guy Mervyn Silva said at a public function on September 9 that “journalists should not write in a way which would ultimately force them to be hanged”.


Top Radio man Paul Kiggundu was beaten to death in South Buganda in September by motorbike taximen who thought he was spying for the police. He was filming the bikers’ demolition of the home of a man they suspected of murdering a biker and stealing his bike. The police have arrested five bikers.

A magistrate in August ordered the media not to report police inquiries into bomb blasts which killed 70 rugby supporters in Kampala in July. Police, who arrested hundreds of people, fear that reports warn suspects to get away. Somali insurgents have claimed responsibility for the bombs – Ugandan soldiers are supporting the weak Somali government. Timothy Kalygira wrote for the Uganda Record about what lay behind the bombings and became the first Ugandan online journalist to face a sedition charge. See Ugandan court strikes down law on sedition page

Police grilled for five hours a radio talk show host who, during riots a year ago, had as guests two opposition representatives. Elections are due next year.

Hajji Hassan Basajjabalaba, a business supporter of the ruling National Resistance Movement, slapped and punched a New Vision photographer who tried to take his picture at a party conference in September. Two months earlier, Basajjabalaba hit a broadcaster.

TV journalist Harrison Thembo was arrested on the Congolese border in August. He was reporting on the exasperating procedure for getting into Uganda.

Photojournalist Tony Kizito sent his family to safety in September during a dispute with two government commissioners in Central Uganda. The dispute stemmed from a government campaign last year to stop King Ronnie of Buganda visiting his realm.

Invited to a graduation party in Kampala on September 22, Stuart Yiga of Red Pepper took pictures of a city lawyer’s romantic moment with a woman. The lawyer smashed his camera.


The Newsreel programme of Short Wave Radio Africa, staffed by journalists in exile, was jammed several times in September.

Sphere: Related Content