DOUALA, CAMEROON – Amy Banda, a young journalist with Spectrum Television, a private television station in Douala, Cameroon’s largest city, is advocating for freer access to information after a recent reporting incident.
Banda says she and a station cameraman were out in the field investigating a protest by workers of a manufacturing company that makes employee uniforms. They were striking for better working conditions.
Banda says that she and her colleague asked to see the director of the company to verify the workers’ claims, but the security guard told them he was not on the premises. Unable to get the full story, they started to leave when the striking workers rushed to them and pleaded that they tell their story so that labor authorities would come to their aid.
“My cameraman was just obliged to get those images,” she says. “And before we knew it, this so-called manager who was not on seat came from nowhere all of a sudden.”
As the cameraman began to film the striking workers, the director suddenly appeared and politely asked them to follow him to his office so they could discuss the issue.
“But every moment we passed cross a door, it was locked under key behind us,” she says. “And we had three of such doors behind us.”
Banda says she and the cameraman began to worry.
When they finally entered the director’s office, he told them they had no authorization to be there.
“He used force on the cameraman,” Banda says.
But he refused to let go of his camera or his tape. The director detained them in his office for two hours, Banda says. Meanwhile, she tried to send text messages to a police commissioner and her director of information at the station for help.
Thirty minutes later, law enforcement officials stormed the company. Banda says there was a negotiation, and the incident dissolved.
“It just died a natural death,” she says. “It’s not supposed to be that way, but I’m in a country where I find myself in, and it ended up that way. I don’t have the money. I don’t have the guts.”
Banda was able to run the story on TV and show the footage of the protesters testifying. But she still says she laments being the victim of restricted press freedom.
“After that, I was so angry,” she says. “Because I couldn’t imagine that you’re not capable of doing your job when you have the right to do it. You’re being insulted because you’re fighting for some people who have the right to exist but who are being insulted too.”
Banda wonders aloud whether the incident provoked her revolutionary instinct or made her shyer.
“But is that going to make me stop doing what I like doing best?” she asks. “Is that going to make me stop practicing my profession? That’s a question I don’t think I can answer because I’m still in the profession.”
She smiles broadly, adding that she did learn from the incident the important lesson of always verifying her stories.