Remarks by Embassy Spokesperson at Workshop on Journalism and Accountability of Local Governance

The representative of the Minister of Communication
Dear participants,
Members of the media,
Good morning.

First, let me say that I am very delighted to see you all here this morning and I particularly welcome those who travelled from other regions to take part in this training.

Mr. Representative of the Minister of Communication, I am very glad to be side by side with you to preside at the opening of this workshop.  This is another confirmation that the United States and Cameroon are strong partners who work together to promote shared values related to empowering media professionals to better inform and educate citizens.

The United States is a true friend and committed partner of Cameroon and all its people.  That is why we are supporting this workshop, organized by Club Po on the media’s role in accountability of local governance, to help ensure journalists have the skills to fulfill the critical role they play in good governances and elections.

In America, we have a saying, “All politics is local.”  This describes how voters decide how to cast their vote based on what affects their personal lives and home communities, despite whatever political drama may be unfolding at the national level.  The upcoming legislative and council elections on February 9 are important part of the democratic process.  It should give citizens the opportunity to make decisions about what will affect their personal lives and home communities.  But their ability to make an informed choice depends on you.

As media professionals, you must track political and institutional processes by which decisions are taken and implemented at the local level.  Your reports must critically analyze the methods and the effectiveness of projects in the field.  The public depends on your reports – in print, audiovisual, and online – to assess how their city councils, mayors, and members of parliament are performing.  As media professionals, you can assess how the councils are managed and whether there are adequate checks and balances in place for effective governance.  This is what allows citizens to know whether their local officials are fulfilling their promises and meeting their obligations.

In the United States, we have seen a decline in press coverage about local governments as small newspapers have closed due to financial pressure from the rise of digital media.  This leaves large, national papers and few local papers.  Last year, a prestigious journalism university did a study of the impact of this decline.  The results showed that in places with less media coverage of local issues, voters are less informed, fewer citizens vote during elections, and politicians are less responsive to the people they represent.  Not only that, but local governments were less efficient and their costs were higher in places without local newspapers.  In other words, local governments wasted money when journalists were not regularly informing the local citizens about their decisions and performance.

Your role as the watchdog of democracy is particularly important during elections.  Incumbents or candidates will tour villages and towns to seek for votes from the electors.  You have the responsibility to report professionally and accurately on the stakes, the electoral process, the candidates, and the campaign.  Media reporting helps ensure transparency and accountability and promote participation.

By collaborating with Club Po on this workshop, and the one in Bertoua in November, we are contributing to your ability to strengthen democracy in Cameroon through meaningful citizen engagement.  I would like to commend Club Po for its work to support journalists covering political issues in Cameroon.

The U.S. Embassy in Cameroon values a strong and independent press which is an instrumental pillar of any democracy.  We will continue to emphasize the importance of free media in a democratic society and support media professionals who take their role of accurately informing the public seriously.

Thank you, and I wish you a productive workshop.