When Rumours Fill The Information Vacuum

In our society, rumour is usually referred to as the smoke that heralds the fire. In other words, it is the dark clouds that forebode a rainy storm.

But the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary defines rumour as “general talk, gossip, hearsay, or statement, report, story which cannot be verified and is of doubtful accuracy”.

Due to the huge information vacuum the authorities create in Cameroon, rumour has been given added value, for; it entertains the tricky mutuality between fact and fiction.

Creating a big information void on burning issues of grave national import, makes rumours so resilient that it sometimes rivals and even ditches true stories. Its main platforms are the social media and the consequent relay of the fraternity of tongue-in-ear gossips.

The vivacity of rumour mongers is a sickening malaise in the information sector. It unveils the information battle and a raging clash of wills between the people’s right to know and Government’s might to hide, manipulate and even suppress information.

Besides the Constitution, the citizen’s right to quality information is enshrined in Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet, this right is often violated in Cameroon for the ordinary citizen bears the brunt for the fierce battle between the quest for quality information and the imposition of propaganda.

For one thing, Government’s communication policy has been, more often, reactionary. The Government Spokesperson usually comes back to react to the strong rumours that fill the information vacuum that Government creates. It is a “selling-after-the-market” policy that wades only after the damage has been done.

The wild rumour that rocks the nation to the effect that some Anglophone and MRC detainees were killed after the Kondengui Prison rioting is the dividend of this poor communication policy.

Why not publish the list of the detainees who were brutally whisked off from the Kondengui Prison to an unknown detention facility?

Rumour has it that some of the detainees are undergoing hellish torture in the underground cells at the Gendarmerie headquarters, while many others have been taken to Yoko Prison. Others like Mancho Bibixy were rumoured to have been killed.

Yet, Government has not provided concrete information about these people. The Government Spokesperson said Mancho Bibixy and the MRC Vice President, Mamadou Mota, are alive.

He did not react to allegations that they were being seriously tortured, nor tell Cameroonians where they are detained. T

his poor communication policy stamps a devastating blow on the corporate image of Cameroon.

For the information vacuum gives an upper hand to the social media to feed Cameroonians with just any kind of junk.

Until Cameroonians saw President Paul Biya receiving the outgoing Canadian Ambassador at the Unity Palace last week, they were waiting for his obituary.

The social media was awash with reports that our lovely President was not only very sick, but had lapsed into a comma and was evacuated to Germany with the use of a military plane. Government did not react as the rumours rocked the nation for close to two weeks.

Taking a pro-active move by communicating on the health situation of the President, seems to be a taboo for the Government. Yet, Cameroonians have a right to know how their President is faring.

It is not normal that the Government should communicate only when the grapevine has taken some burning issues to the streets. Cameroonians have a right to know even if it is the bitter truth.

It becomes even more preoccupying when journalists are not allowed to have easy access to official sources of information.

It is an abuse of a fundamental right here because citizens still rely on verified, accurate and trusted information from the traditional media as opposed to the rumours and sensational half-truths of the social media.

But, in the absence of verifiable information, some citizens take the wild allegations in the social media for gospel truth. Ever since rumour mongers went berserk, our lovely Head of State, President Paul Biya has “died” in the figment of their imagination more than 10 times.

Just imagine the kind of confusion that this rumour, could cause one day if the Government continues to widen the information vacuum on issues of public interest that citizens are supposed to know.

There have been media reports about the Swiss opting to negotiate between the Government and the separatists in order to end the ongoing crisis in the Anglophone Regions, yet the authorities have decided to maintain sealed lips on the matter.

Right now, citizens are feeding on all sorts of rumours and propaganda from the social media. Giving timely and quality information is also a means for the authorities to be accountable to citizens.

There is suspicion and misinterpretations of certain issues in the country. It is also within the province of these lapses that journalists in the country are advocating the enactment of an Information Act.

The act will be a law that compels public authorities to ease access to official sources of information.


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