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CNN and the promotion of African journalism (1995 – 2011) Hip, Hip Hurray. By Lambert Mbom.


It was veteran Cameroonian journalist, Charly Ndichia who cast a damper on my thirst and taste for news spewed by government run Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) when in one of the usual intros to the newscast, he boldly proclaimed: and now lies from CRTV.

When Nigerian movies made their debut, they became an instant hit and safe for the fact that CRTV is funded by taxes, it should have been something of the past now outclassed by competition.

News junkies heaved a great sigh of relief when with the liberalization of media, vistas to the outside world were opened and CNN became a luxury many guarded jealously and consumed lavishly.

Thanks to CNN, I had the rare privilege of staying up late to watch “Operation Desert Storm” commissioned by President George W. H. Bush. One lived the grim events of September 11, 2001 vividly from far away Cameroon thanks to the live feed on CNN. I will never forget how I pulled an all-nighter just to watch live President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address live. Again, thanks to CNN. One would not be exaggerating to say that CNN is the most watched American channel in Africa.

My first cultural shock then came when I got to the US and discovered that CNN is not that global media juggernaut or enfant cheri of the American population. Yet, I was consoled by the fact that of all major TV networks in the US, CNN is the only network that since 1995 has sought to groom African talent in this elite profession of journalism through its African journalist of the year award.

It would be interesting to conduct a survey on which is the most popular cable TV network among African immigrants in the US. Given that many African immigrants lean towards the Democrats, MSNBC will surely win. This is even more so with an African in the White House and FOX News is often seen wrongfully albeit to be spinning an anti-Obama rhetoric. In this “feud” between MSNBC and FOX, CNN seems to enjoy a comfortable middle ground.

Within the last 16 years, CNN has been in the frontlines grooming African journalists through its African journalist of the year award. Alarmed by the lack of respect for African journalists, Edward Boateng, then regional director of Turner Broadcasting (CNN’s parent company) launched this prestigious award “to try and help them gain recognition for their hard work and commitment.” The competition also aims at “reinforcing the importance of attaining and maintaining high quality journalism while rewarding, recognizing and encouraging journalistic talent across all media disciplines in Africa.

The competition’s history reveals that Kenya and South Africa are the power houses of journalism in Africa having produced six winners each. Kenyan Fatuma Noor last June 25th was named CNN MultiChoice African journalist for the year 2011. With Kenya as the silicon valley of Africa and South Africa’s famous South African Broadcasting Company (SABC) such spectacular feats could not be otherwise. South Africa has produced 49 finalists and Kenya 19 while in the individual categories, South Africa still leads with 24 winners, Kenya 21, Nigeria 3, Zimbabwe 2 and Ghana 1.

One cannot resist the urge to ask where Cameroonian journalists are especially given the fact that one of the reasons often touted to support the union between Southern Cameroons and East Cameroon is the fact that Cameroon was meant to be an epitome of bilingualism in Africa. This is yet another proof of the systemic failure of this experiment.

If this competition is the barometer of journalism in Africa,, then one cannot but lament the fact that Cameroon continues to lag behind. Even though one may argue that it is myopic to measure the true state of journalism in Cameroon by one competition, yet the fact that just two Cameroonian journalists of French extraction have won in the individual category in this competition is a grave call for concern. Originally limited to the English entries, later expanded to Francophone Africa in 2002 and to Portuguese speaking category in 2005, it is shocking to find that Cameroon with Portuguese roots and English and French as national languages has not featured prominently in this competition.

And back to CNN, it is worth noting that this is also the only network with an African – a Sierra Leonean of British background with a mellifluous British accent who appears on cable TV. Isha Sessay who anchors on AC360 and hosts Inside Africa was just the right person to emcee the 2011 CNN MultiChoice award.

While the NAACP last July 6 critiqued CNN for failing to include any African American journalists in primetime news, it would be disingenuous for one not to laud the network for programs like Inside Africa, Marketplace Africa, African Voices that it broadcasts to Africa.

Even though one would have loved to see African faces and hear African voices within the elite division of CNN, CNN must be commended for eschewing the temptation of depriving Africa of its rich talent. CNN could have used this competition to feed itself but rather has sought to groom for local consumption and spared Africa from brain-drain. It is fitting to say congratulations CNN and thank you.

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