By Lindsay Boyle
On Tuesday, July 10, the second International Mass Media summer course was held in Copeland Hall at the Ohio University campus. During each class, two SUSI scholars give a lecture about their own country’s media systems, journalism practices and political cultures. All of the lectures are streamed live through Ohio University distance learning and are available online to 35 students who are taking a summer class instructed by Dr. Brook Beshah.
The SUSI summer institute — in which scholars from all over the world come to the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at OU to study journalism and media — is funded by an annual renewable grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Study of the U.S. Branch in the Office of Academic Exchange Programs.
Prof. Divine Bisong
At the beginning of scholar Divine Bisong’s presentation, he first pointed out the location of Cameroon in Africa. He then explained that although Cameroon is technically a republic, its government actually aligns more closely with one that is libertarian or authoritarian.
Bisong said that governmental interference, among other things, has caused the basic values of journalism to be flouted with impunity in Cameroon. Stories there are treated unprofessionally, according to him.
For many media, Bisong said that costs of publication can be up to 50 percent of income, leaving the rest to not only pay staff salaries, but also to make a profit. As a result, he explained that many journalists in Cameroon quickly become “academic prostitutes,” hopping from publication to publication in search of the best salary. Such practices cause journalists to have little loyalty to the company they are writing for, and to pay little attention to detail in the stories they produce.
In addition, Bisong said that some journalists get so caught up with politicians that it is hard to tell the difference between the two. Some journalists engage in writing stories with clear conflicts of interests. Others are completely used by politicians as a stepping stone for ulterior motives.
SUSI scholars and staff listen as Prof. Divine Bisong presents a lecture that is streamed live through OU distance learning, and is available online.
To make matters worse, Bisong said that Cameroon has no overarching union or association delegated to regulating the news. The lack of rules often leads to “news” that is twisted in the way the writer wants it to be rather than how it actually is, he explained.
One plus, according to Bisong, is that new media is growing at a remarkable rate. Forty percent of Cameroonians have mobile phones, and Internet penetration is increasing.
Regardless, the environment is still hard for journalists, and especially women. According to Bisong, women struggle to obtain significant positions. If they happen to work hard enough to do so, they face trouble with their husbands and families, because Cameroon is still a largely paternalistic nation.
Ultimately, Cameroon’s media atmosphere is quite repressive. Bisong explained that most media are pro-government, and most journalists employ self-censorship to avoid governmental threats or even imprisonment. Bisong himself said he has been detained in the past.
A monopoly in the printing sector of things means that stories seen as unfit are simply not printed. Additionally, Bisong said that critical, in-depth investigative journalism is difficult in Cameroon, because sources are not always credible, and many people are denied the right to information from governmental and other organizations.
“Media is a weapon to be guarded against rather than a vital pillar of a democratic state,” Bisong said.
Prof. Silvia Callejas
Scholar Silvia Calleja first offered a personal introduction, explaining what she has done in her past and current editing and teaching jobs. As a teacher, she said she strives to make media theory and public relations more interesting and fun for her students.
Callejas then gave a brief overview of El Salvador, followed by a history of El Salvadoran media throughout the years. She first focused on its first national print publication, which began in the 1800s and has changed names several times.
That publication had the goal of criticizing authoritarians, Callejas explained, and though it was censored at one point, it continued publishing. During the Salvadoran Civil War, however, its writers were threatened and its building was burned.
When word of that turmoil spread, the publication received national and international help, according to Callejas. It is still running today as a private paper called the Co-Latino.
Though it is the oldest, Co-Latino is not the biggest publication in El Salvador. Callejas explained that there are two major papers in El Salvador, and that only four publications hold 92.2 percent of the Salvadoran readership.
A problem with one of those prominent publications — Mas! — is that it targets the lowest social class in El Salvador, and therefore is more sensationalistic than realistic.
The view seen by those following Prof. Silvia Callejas’ lecture online or through OU distance learning.
To help combat the existing media oligopoly, the Association of Radio and Participatory Programs of El Salvador has been helping community radio stations to get a start in an environment that sometimes makes doing so difficult.
In addition to print publications, Callejas said there are magazines targeted at many different audiences, four radio corporations that are more likely to cover entertainment than news, and television stations that are mostly syndicated. Some publications, such as La Prensa Grafica, are also exploring the online world with the hope of reaching an international audience.
Throughout the years, censorship in El Salvador has been based on the government in power, Callejas said. The constitution says that people are free to make their own opinions, and the ability for people to do so in 2012 is much better than it was in the 1980s. The evolution of media in the digital world — including citizen journalism and social media — has only expanded that ability.
According to Callejas, some journalists in El Salvador are big critics of the government. Though journalists sometimes receive orders not to publish, Callejas said that that practice is becoming less frequent. Regardless, she explained that, if important people are involved, there are still some situations in which scandals go unreported.
Callejas said that she used a combination of Internet searches, past research and class materials to compose her picture-filled presentation.
“At the beginning of the presentation, I was really nervous because it is really difficult to think in Spanish and try to translate, but I tried to write a script before so I could remember most parts of the presentation,” Callejas explained.
However, she quickly settled in, and said that by the end she “felt really good.”
“I think that time ran out faster than I thought it would,” she said.
Saturday, July 21, 2012
By Lindsay Boyle