Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Cameroon Independence Plaza in the very heart of Yaoundé [Sidoine Mbogni/Shutterstock]

‘I had to work for free’ - life as a disabled journalist in Cameroon

Working as a journalist is not easy for people with disabilities in Cameroon - many of whom are forced to work as volunteers for years to ‘prove’ themselves able to do the job


It takes a lot to practise journalism in Cameroon. Precarious work environments, hardline media laws, criminalising journalists for doing their jobs, arrests and kidnappings are rife and place a chokehold on the work of journalists. All journalists are affected by these issues, but none more so than those living with disabilities.

Bonkung Handerson, a journalist with a speech impairment, says finding a job as a journalist was very difficult. “Everyone liked my writing but employing me full-time wasn’t easy [owing to my disability],” he says. “They didn’t say it outright but I could tell they were wondering if I could sustain a job position. To prove the point, I decided to volunteer my services to the media house - Cameroon Baptist Convention Communications Ministry for about three years.

“Given my expertise, I rose from writer to desk editor and then managing editor - still as a volunteer on a monthly stipend that hardly allowed me to make ends meet. Then I found my current employer - the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) Health Services - which hired me in 2000 to start up their Communications Unit.” The department has since grown to include eight communications staff, where Handerson is Editor-in-Chief.

Chansiline Nanze, a sports journalist with a mobility impairment, had a similar experience of getting a job. "Journalism to me was a dream profession but after my training in 2017, picking up a job wasn’t easy,” she says. “It’s difficult to have a job in Cameroon these days."

Unwilling to let her dream career slip away, Nanze decided to work as a volunteer in order to prove she could deliver as well as to hone her skills.

“I had to start as a volunteer with the state media organisation CRTV (Cameroon Radio Television) for two years before I was recruited. Then I had to go through the normal recruitment procedure everyone goes through. I wasn’t given any exceptions or favours.

Bonkung Handerson, a journalist with a speech impairment, says finding a job as a journalist was very difficult [courtesy of Bonkung Handerson]

“I served as a volunteer just because I needed to gain experience so that if in the end I was not recruited, I might be able to find a job elsewhere,” she adds.

According to the United Nations’ disability “twin-track” inclusion strategy, disability is a cross-cutting issue and should be considered in all walks of life. Sadly, the needs of journalists with disabilities in the media industry in Cameroon are rarely, if ever, considered. Even if they do manage to find jobs, journalists with disabilities quickly start facing challenges at work.


‘Our buildings were constructed in the 80s’

“My major challenge is accessibility,” says Nanze. “The work environment is not disability friendly at all. Our buildings were constructed in the 80s when disability awareness and the need for a universal design in construction were not commonplace in Cameroon. To get to our newsroom, you have to climb the stairway to the second floor. Imagine climbing two floors to the newsroom and that is what I have to do every day. That’s quite challenging,” she says. 

“Another challenge is adapting to the speed at which news breaks. When there is a major story happening somewhere far from the workplace, since my mobility is reduced, I may only get to the scene late. 

“Covering sports is another difficult aspect of my work. Sports is extremely fast-moving; imagine at the end of a football game you have to rush for a post-match press conference, or to the mix zones, with my reduced mobility it becomes challenging. It’s worse when the stadium is not disability friendly.

“I went to the last game Cameroon played against Botswana at the Prince Moulay El Hassan Stadium in Morocco during the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. That sports facility was not disability friendly. To get to the media tribune, mix zones and press conference room was a whole long trajectory, so I had to go round and round. Nonetheless, I’ve found a way now. I always rush down a few minutes before the blast of the final whistle to get to either the mixed zone or the press conference room in time.”

Handerson says he faces challenges daily which are both internal and external. "As a journalist with a speech impairment, I find it difficult but not impossible to respond spontaneously to emergencies. I need to write to express myself in every instance."

During his interview with Al Jazeera Journalism Review, Handerson used his personal computer to respond to our questions - a process which took more than half an hour.

He adds that people frequently express that they cannot understand how someone that doesn’t speak can be a journalist. Getting a taxi or travelling by public transport to make a deadline is another everyday challenge for Handerson.

Chansiline Nanze, a sports journalist with a mobility impairment, conducts an interview [courtesy of Chansiline Nanze]

He also found arranging interviews for news stories very difficult during the early days of his career.

“Initially, I had difficulty gaining acceptance from my news sources. However, this perception changed over time when they realised how credible my writings were. From that moment, I can’t remember when I’ve been turned down from doing my job because of my disability. Rather, I receive invitations sometimes to cover events from previous interviewees”.

Unlike Handerson, Nanze says interviewees accept her requests but are usually surprised when they meet her face to face. "They are surprised when they match my voice to the one they hear on the radio. At times they're shocked that I'm a person with a disability."


Inflexibility over training

The challenges journalists with disabilities face on the job can to an extent be managed individually but when it comes to training, they are deep-rooted, says Handerson.

"My training was another ball game. I acquired my disability at a time when issues of disability were still a taboo subject in my country with little or no consideration given to persons with disabilities. Government officials outright rejected my application to sit for public examinations because of my disability. I was refused extra time to sit my GCE (General Certificate Exam) Advanced Level because my disability also affected my hands and drastically slowed down my writing speed. This greatly affected my grades.

“With all these, a person with a disability at that time just had to struggle on his own. Thank God, I finally secured a scholarship to receive my training abroad in editorial management,” he says. 

Making societies inclusive for all is imperative

According to the Media Diversity Institute, journalism is about people and if journalists with disabilities are ignored in the newsroom, that will translate into many important stories going unheard.

As for Nanze, the way to ensure journalists with disabilities in the newsroom are not ignored is by making their working environment much more accessible. Another inclusion strategy could be the direct recruitment of journalists with disabilities by the government upon graduation or to reduce the length of time they must serve as a volunteer, she adds.

"Often, it is the journalist that has to buy his or her work tools. I, for one, with mobility impairment, can function like any other person. But colleagues with visual or auditory impairments - who need adapted and assistive devices to ease their work - come to my mind. It becomes difficult because that equipment is very expensive.

“So, I think if these equipment or devices are provided by media houses, it will enhance the performance of journalists with disabilities. What is essential is to make the newsroom inclusive,” she says.

Chansiline Nanze, a sports journalist with a mobility impairment, says she struggles to climb the two flights of stairs to her office every day [courtesy of Chansiline Nanze]

Handerson believes it will take understanding on the part of society for newsrooms where journalists with disabilities can thrive become more inclusive.

“My experience is that persons with disabilities make good journalists,” he says. “Society must understand this fact and give them a chance to do their jobs. Journalists with disabilities are giants who have overcome self-pity and are very hard working. I’m a typical example of someone who has overcome self-pity and is excelling as a journalist with a disability. At the Communications Unit where I work as Editor-In-Chief, my colleagues rather depend on me to pitch the spirit that reigns in the newsroom,” he says.

Jolenta Rose, a broadcast journalist and amputee, says journalists with disabilities should have equal access to reporting and employers should learn to inquire about their capabilities - rather than their disabilities - before assigning them. “Sometimes bosses sideline me because they feel I can’t do certain jobs which is not supposed to be the case. It’s high time colleagues and employers respect us as humans and stop the open discrimination towards us.” 

From Nanze’s, Rose’s and Handerson’s stories, it is clear that journalists with disabilities can thrive if attitudinal and structural barriers are broken.

For this to happen, it takes enlightenment and the media should be at the forefront - not only in raising awareness but in integrating journalists with disabilities. As the Media Diversity Institute puts it: “When you open the door for journalists with disabilities, you open the door to a more inclusive and accurate reporting that reflects diversity”.    


More Articles

Journalistic malpractice monitoring in Gaza coverage

On this page, the editorial team of the Al Jazeera Journalism Review will collect news published by media institutions about the current war on Gaza that involves disinformation, bias, or professional journalistic standards and its code of ethics.

A picture of the Al Jazeera Media Institute's logo, on a white background.
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Published on: 28 Nov, 2023
Why have opposition parties in India issued a boycott of 14 TV presenters?

Media workers in India argue that boycotts of individual journalists are not the answer to pro-Government reporting bias

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 23 Oct, 2023
Punishing the popular: the suspension of a youth magazine in Vietnam

Media outlets not directly affiliated with the state are not allowed to produce ‘news’ in Vietnam - but the loose definition of ‘news’ means many fall foul of the rules

AJR Correspondent Published on: 19 Oct, 2023
When journalism and artificial intelligence come face to face

What does the future really hold for journalism and artificial intelligence?

Amira Zahra Imouloudene Published on: 12 Oct, 2023
The bombs raining down on Gaza from Israel are beyond scary, beyond crazy

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: As Israel bombarded Gaza for the third night, I found myself closer to a missile hit than I could have imagined

Maram Humaid Published on: 11 Oct, 2023
‘We are not going to stop doing journalism’ - reporters defiant after raids on India’s NewsClick

This week’s raid on the offices and homes of NewsClick employees is the latest in a string of attacks on independent news outlets critical of the Indian government

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 6 Oct, 2023
The French banlieues and their troubled relationship with the media

Discriminatory media coverage of recent unrest in the suburbs of Paris shows that little has changed since the uprisings of 2005

Ahmed Nazif Published on: 28 Sep, 2023
Why are Zimbabwe’s elections always surrounded by media controversy?

Election season in Zimbabwe has long been shrouded in controversy, with intimidation of opposition activists and journalists, combined with disorganisation at the ballots creating a perfect storm for chaos. This year was no different

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 25 Sep, 2023
Analysis: The media’s coverage of the Pakistan cable car incident

It was a roller coaster ride with news organisations all over the world giving minute-by-minute reports on the daring rescue. How does the media create suspense and is this sort of coverage useful?

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 21 Sep, 2023
How to use data to report on earthquakes

Sifting through data sounds clinical, but journalists can use it to seek out the human element when reporting on natural disasters such as earthquakes

Arwa Kooli Published on: 19 Sep, 2023
‘I had no idea how to report on this’ - local journalists tackling climate change stories

Local journalists are key to informing the public about the devastating dangers of climate change but, in India, a lack of knowledge, training and access to expert sources is holding them back

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 13 Sep, 2023
Ethical reporting - how to cover suicide responsibly

Sensationalist reporting of suicide cases has been shown to cause a rise in the numbers of people taking their own lives in affected communities. Journalists must take great care

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 7 Sep, 2023
‘Don’t let someone else narrate your stories for you’ - travel journalists in the global south

THE LONG READ: Life as a travel journalist isn’t just for privileged Westerners ‘discovering’ quaint parts of south-east Asia and Africa

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 1 Sep, 2023
‘People need to stop blindly obeying the law’ - journalists fighting on the fringes in Vietnam

THE LONG READ: Imprisoned, exiled and forced to base themselves overseas, independent journalists in Vietnam are punished harshly if they publish the ‘wrong’ sort of content. Some, such as Luật Khoa tạp chí, are fighting back

AJR Correspondent Published on: 25 Aug, 2023
Ethics and safety in OSINT - can you believe what you see?

OSINT is increasingly important for journalists in a digital world. We take a look at ethics, safety on the internet and how to spot a ‘deepfake’

Sara Creta Published on: 15 Aug, 2023
‘Other journalists jeer at us’ – life for mobile journalists in Cameroon

Journalists in Cameroon are using their phones in innovative ways to report the news for many different types of media, but major news organisations have still not caught up

Akem Nkwain Published on: 1 Aug, 2023
‘Life of journalists is cheap’ - how the Philippines became deadly for reporters

Forging ahead with a career in journalism is fraught with difficulty in the Philippines - and many are walking away. What went so wrong?

Ana P Santos Published on: 19 Jul, 2023
Analysis: Could AI replace humans in journalism?

Recent advances in AI are mind-blowing. But good journalism requires certain skills which, for now at least, only humans can master

Mei Shigenobu
Mei Shigenobu Published on: 17 Jul, 2023
Understanding the pitfalls of using artificial intelligence in the news room

We’ve all been amazed by new advances in AI for news rooms. But we must also focus on ensuring its ethical use. Here are some concerns to address

Konstantinos Antonopoulos Published on: 10 Jul, 2023
AI in the newsroom - how to prompt ChatGPT effectively

Interested in using ChatGPT in your work as a journalist? Here’s how to do it more efficiently

Konstantinos Antonopoulos Published on: 29 Jun, 2023
Analysis: Comparing coverage of the Titanic submersible and migrant boat disasters

Two disasters costing human lives have occurred at sea in the past two weeks, but the media coverage of each was markedly different. How and why?

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 28 Jun, 2023
AI in the newsroom - how it could work

AI is now our colleague in the newsroom and is poised to become even more helpful as it gets smarter and we see more opportunities - we look at the potential uses and problems

Konstantinos Antonopoulos Published on: 22 Jun, 2023
What is ChatGPT and why is it important for journalists?

AI is taking the world by storm. In the first of a series of articles about the latest developments, we explain what it's all about

Konstantinos Antonopoulos Published on: 13 Jun, 2023
The silencing of Sudan's journalists - again

THE LONG READ: Detained, beaten and their cameras smashed - Sudan’s journalists are enduring a renewed crackdown on the media

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 7 Jun, 2023