Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Mussa
Journalist Comfort Mussa focuses her work on seeking out and telling the untold stories of Cameroon and does not shy away from reporting on 'taboo' topics such as abortion and epilepsy [courtesy of Comfort Mussa]

'If women are dying as a result of it, then I should report about it' - telling the untold stories of Cameroon

Journalists like Comfort Mussa, based in Cameroon, say that seeking out the untold stories of real people and having the bravery to cover taboo subjects are essential to their work 

 

For those of us who subscribe to solutions journalism - also known as service journalism - helping people to solve their own problems is what journalism should be about and the first step is to identify what those problems really are.

This is the modus operandi of Comfort Mussa, a journalist in Cameroon who has dedicated her career to telling the untold stories of the communities around her.

“If we want to change anything in society, we need to tell stories that matter and are relevant to the people in the community. We can't just talk about the big political and economic issues and ignore the voices that are missing,” says Mussa.

Most recently, for example, she has worked on a story about two widows who lost their husbands to the armed conflict in Cameroon's Northwest and Southwest regions. 

The International Crisis Group says more than 6,000 people have been killed in the armed conflict and 70,000 have been displaced - but the real story goes far beyond just these figures. 

Mussa notes that most often when you watch the news about a crisis or conflict, you see only burgeoning statistics on the crisis, while the human stories are ignored. "Beyond those numbers are people who've lost relatives, source of livelihood, and property. It's due to the human suffering that those who've lost their loved ones go through yet, have to live on, that I’m eventually forced to put a human face to the statistics by telling their stories,” she says.

Mussa

A story by Comfort Mussa, published by Al Jazeera in 2020, which focused on experiences of community members who lost children to school attacks in Cameroon

 

Journalism to those of us who believe in this approach should be inclusive of gender and disability, highlight minority voices, amplify their problems and propose solutions. 

Another follower of this method of journalism is Megan Griffith-Greene, service journalism editor at the Washington Post, who defines service journalism as “anything that helps people solve a problem”. From Griffith-Greene’s definition, stories should be actionable and accessible - speaking directly to the reader and providing solutions to their issues.

This has never been more the case than in the Global South where people want and need to solve their own problems rather than have “solutions” imposed upon them.

But in Cameroon, where both Mussa and I report from, stories that highlight the plight of minorities - something that is essential for this process to be successful - have been absent in the media landscape for too long. 

It’s against such a backdrop that Comfort Mussa says she ventured into focusing on under-reported stories.

Telling unreported stories is what news is supposed to be - unearthing information that is not known and providing adequate information so that readers can make informed choices

Comfort Mussa, Cameroonian journalist

 

“My motivation for telling unreported stories that are lacking in mainstream media narrative is the fact that that's exactly what news is supposed to be - unearthing information that is not known and providing adequate information so that readers can make informed choices,” says Comfort.

Journalists have a “voice, power and platform” to use for social change, she says. 

“My motivation is to use this voice, power and platform to draw attention to things that matter to me. Sadly, most of these things are grossly underreported. Here, I’m talking about themes on social justice, human rights, gender issues and disability,” she says.

Alongside her journalism, Mussa also founded Sisterspeak237, an organisation that gives a platform to the voices of women and minority groups in Cameroon. 

Through her organisation, she trains and equips especially women with the skills and tools needed to tell their stories and be more visible. 

Mussa

Comfort Mussa's story about life for people in Cameroon during the COVID pandemic, published by Al Jazeera in 2020

 

Solid, ethical, core characteristics - fairness, objectivity and honesty can make a good journalist. But it takes more to be a journalist who goes beyond just reporting events - to unearthing untold stories.

Besides the core ethical characteristics of a good journalist, it took Mussa an understanding of her community’s needs and a desire to provide solutions - to opt for focusing on the under-reported in Cameroon.

“I come from a demographic that is not always visible in mainstream media. I’m a woman, an Anglophone in [Francophone dominated] Cameroon. As a young woman, I couldn’t get information to make informed decisions about my own life. Growing up, I didn’t see role models in the field. I had questions about sexual and reproductive health without answers from the mainstream media. So, when I set out as a journalist, I wanted to create content that could be relevant to people like me,” says Mussa.

“I live in this society and know what’s lacking – growing up I knew how difficult it was for me to find well-researched articles about certain topical issues. So, I understand the need and want to be part of the solution.

Abortion may be a no-go zone in daily conversations, but if women are dying as a result of it, then I should report about it

Comfort Mussa, Cameroonian journalist

 

“What I do is, I look for popular themes and tell the under-reported stories, as well as feature unknown heroes. It could be climate change or any other topic. Once I get the topic, I’ll look out for those providing solutions to the issues of the day and spotlight them on my platforms. I often invite guests to my programmes to talk about an array of issues regarded as taboo subjects.

"I would say pretty much, I report on every topic, but I try to mainstream disability and gender and identify whose voice is missing from popular conversations, which stories are missing, and those are the ones I'll go for. As you know, news is new. News goes beyond the soundbites, goes beyond stating the obvious - to digging and telling people what's new and not just the obvious," she says.

Another subject that is underreported in Cameroon’s media landscape is the issue of unsafe abortions. Abortion is not only a taboo subject in daily conversations in Cameroon, but is prohibited.

Mussa

Comfort Mussa wrote about the stigma of suffering with epilepsy in Cameroon for the Global Press Journal in 2012

 

Comfort says the fact that unsafe abortions account for one-quarter of maternal deaths in the country is a huge cause for concern.

“It may be a no-go zone in daily conversations, but if women are dying as a result of it, then I should report about it,” she says.

According to Cameroon’s abortion provisions, anyone procuring or consenting to her abortion shall be punished with imprisonment of 15 days to 1 year or with fines, says the Centre for Reproductive Human Rights. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) says, “the rate of unsafe abortions is four times higher in countries with restrictive abortion laws”.

“It’s not always an easy thing, because some of the topics I write about are taboo subjects. For example, unsafe abortions, the use of contraceptives by women, and how they negotiate for safe sex, as well as the armed conflict in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions. Breaking the silence around these comes with a backlash and trolling online,” she says.

“Irrespective of the downsides of bringing these stories to light, the advantages outweigh the trolling and backlash I’ve had in the past. Especially knowing that I contribute to this wealth of knowledge that helps people make informed choices about their lives,” she adds.

 

More Articles

Journalism in chains in Cameroon

Investigative journalists in Cameroon sometimes use treacherous means to navigate the numerous challenges that hamper the practice of their profession: the absence of the Freedom of Information Act, the criminalisation of press offenses, and the scare of the overly-broad anti-terrorism law.

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua Published on: 12 Apr, 2024
The Perils of Journalism and the Rise of Citizen Media in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia's media landscape is grim, with low rankings for internet and press freedom across the region. While citizen journalism has risen to fill the gaps, journalists - both professional and citizen - face significant risks due to government crackdowns and the collusion between tech companies and authorities to enable censorship and surveillance.

AJR Contributor Published on: 6 Apr, 2024
Silenced Voices: The Battle for Free Expression Amid India’s Farmer’s Protest

The Indian government's use of legal mechanisms to suppress dissenting voices and news reports raises questions about transparency and freedom of expression. The challenges faced by independent media in India indicate a broader narrative of controlling the narrative and stifling dissenting voices.

Suvrat Arora
Suvrat Arora Published on: 17 Mar, 2024
Targeting Truth: Assault on Female Journalists in Gaza

For female journalists in Palestine, celebrating international women's rights this year must take a backseat, as they continue facing the harsh realities of conflict. March 8th will carry little celebration for them, as they grapple with the severe risks of violence, mass displacement, and the vulnerability of abandonment amidst an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Their focus remains on bearing witness to human suffering and sharing stories of resilience from the frontlines, despite the personal dangers involved in their work.

Fatima Bashir
Fatima Bashir Published on: 14 Mar, 2024
A Woman's Journey Reporting on Pakistan's Thrilling Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally

A Woman's Voice in the Desert: Navigating the Spotlight

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 8 Mar, 2024
Breaking Barriers: The Rise of Citizen Journalists in India's Fight for Media Inclusion

Grassroots journalists from marginalized communities in India, including Dalits and Muslims, are challenging mainstream media narratives and bringing attention to underreported issues through digital outlets like The Mooknayak.

Hanan Zaffa
Hanan Zaffar, Jyoti Thakur Published on: 3 Mar, 2024
Why Journalists are Speaking out Against Western Media Bias in Reporting on Israel-Palestine

Over 1500 journalists from various US news organizations have signed an open letter criticizing the Western media's coverage of Israel's actions against Palestinians. They accuse newsrooms of dehumanizing rhetoric, bias, and the use of inflammatory language that reinforces stereotypes, lack of context, misinformation, biased language, and the focus on certain perspectives while diminishing others. They call for more accurate and critical coverage, the use of well-defined terms like "apartheid" and "ethnic cleansing," and the inclusion of Palestinian voices in reporting.

Belle de Jong journalist
Belle de Jong Published on: 26 Feb, 2024
Silenced Voices and Digital Resilience: The Case of Quds Network

Unrecognized journalists in conflict zones face serious risks to their safety and lack of support. The Quds Network, a Palestinian media outlet, has been targeted and censored, but they continue to report on the ground in Gaza. Recognition and support for independent journalists are crucial.

Yousef Abu Watfe يوسف أبو وطفة
Yousef Abu Watfeh Published on: 21 Feb, 2024
Artificial Intelligence's Potentials and Challenges in the African Media Landscape

How has the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence impacted newsroom operations, job security and regulation in the African media landscape? And how are journalists in Africa adapting to these changes?

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 18 Feb, 2024
Media Blackout on Imran Khan and PTI: Analysing Pakistan's Election Press Restrictions

Implications and response to media censorship and the deliberate absence of coverage for the popular former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in the media during the 2024 elections in Pakistan.

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 14 Feb, 2024
Digital Battlegrounds: The New Broadcasting Bill and Independent Journalism in India

New legislation in India threatens the freedom of independent journalism. The draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 grants the government extensive power to regulate and censor content, potentially suppressing news critical of government policies.

Safina
Safina Nabi Published on: 11 Feb, 2024
Pegasus Spyware: A Grave Threat to Journalists in Southeast Asia

The widespread deployment of spyware such as Pegasus in Southeast Asia, used by governments to target opposition leaders, activists, and journalists, presents significant challenges in countering digital surveillance. This is due to its clandestine operations and the political intricacies involved. The situation underscores the urgent need for international cooperation and heightened public awareness to address these human rights infringements.

AJR Contributor Published on: 5 Feb, 2024
Media Monopoly in Brazil: How Dominant Media Houses Control the Narrative and Stifle Criticism of Israel

An in-depth analysis exploring the concentration of media ownership in Brazil by large companies, and how this shapes public and political narratives, particularly by suppressing criticism of Israel.

Al Jazeera Logo
Rita Freire & Ahmad Al Zobi Published on: 1 Feb, 2024
Cameroonian Media Martyrs: The Intersection of Journalism and Activism

Experts and journalists in Cameroon disagree on the relationship between journalism and activism: some say journalism is activism; others think they are worlds apart, while another category says a “very thin” line separate both

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua Published on: 28 Jan, 2024
Silent Suffering: The Impact of Sexual Harassment on African Newsrooms

Sexual harassment within newsrooms and the broader journalistic ecosystem is affecting the quality and integrity of journalistic work, ultimately impacting the organisation’s integrity and revenue.

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 23 Jan, 2024
Echos of Israeli Discourse in Latin American Media on Gaza

Heavily influenced by US and Israeli diplomatic efforts, Latin American media predominantly aligns with and amplifies the Israeli perspective. This divergence between political actions and media representation highlights the complex dynamics shaping Latin American coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Rita Freire Published on: 23 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
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
Maram Humaid Published on: 11 Oct, 2023
Reporter’s Notebook - what I learned from covering the Kalash people

As journalists, our fascination with Indigenous communities can blind us to our ethical obligations to respect privacy and dignity of those we document - we must reflect carefully

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 5 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

AN
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
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