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Feature Article of Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Some Reflections on Professionalism and the Media in Ghana

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

22nd March 2012
Introduction

How many times do we have to worry about the sunken image of some of our media houses in Ghana? Day in day out, some upstart as well as seasoned journalists ply their trade in a lewd and bawdy manner, which raises eye-brows. These errant crop of media practitioners in the fourth estate of our realm, think that the job of a media practitioner is to peddle insults, lies, half truths, and engage in the most nefarious and vociferous altercation, a manner not in keeping with our long cherished Ghanaian traditions of respect for authority and the elderly. Maybe, their thinking is that, whoever shouts most, gets the largest market share, albeit, if they stoop so low as to the level of, “the rape of the lock” or if they engage in mock epic media theatricals. They forget that they are operating in a globalised world, where a mere cough in a quiet corner of the globe is picked up by the networks and global microphones, and resonated and reverberated at supersonic speed around the world in seconds. Current political disquiet in our country is fanned by some incorrigible and irresponsible media hoodlums, who are hell-bent on poisoning the political chalice in order to serve their diabolical and nefarious ends. Some of these spineless broadcasters, incessant paparazzi serial callers, uncouth presenters, and stomach-direction journalists, show blatantly which side of the political divide and spectrum they belong to, by unprofessionally and unwittingly writing and speaking unashamedly of their political biases. They forsake objectivity, gravitating in a humongous and obdurate manner towards where their bread has gargantuan and dense buttering, in their shameful conduct. Many of our friends in the guild, have become media prostitutes as they get paid by their political masters, who coach them which lie to concoct and peddle around as the truth. Invariably, majority of such scum are neophytes and greenhorns who are yet to learn the ropes of the trade, and who in their sophomoric braggadocio, are too soon swooned off their imbecile feet by youthful exuberance, and the desire for cheap filthy lucre, as well as cheap popularity (ostensibly, notoriety), palpably getting by, more or less, by youthful impetuosity. Some Ghanaians have become so gullible that they swallow hook, line and sinker, any breaking news on the airwaves, unsuspecting that some of these young media upstarts, have perfected their lying acts so much so that it is sometimes hard to sift the grain from the chaff.
It is as if we were being entertained to media theatrics and a circus. Hardly a day goes by when our erring brothers and sisters in the media fraternity come up with some eerie, weird, and outlandish fabrications; they forget that the pen is mightier than the sword and that by their wicked acts and inactions, they are sowing the seeds of national discord, which is a recipe for mayhem and civil strife. Yes, media practice requires reporting the unusual, yet it is a desideratum that they observe media ethics and use their sense of propriety in deciding what to report and what not to report. Sometimes, they rush to press without researching deep enough on their scoops. Media practitioners are supposed to be diligent in their search for the truth and they must substantiate their stories with facts, figures, and photos, and observing the tenets of balanced reporting. They are supposed to report in a balanced manner by presenting both sides of an argument in a matter- of- fact manner. Much as we expect them to be creative, proactive and innovative, we also charge them to be responsible and ethical. It is said that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. Sometimes in being creative, some of these media practitioners have stretched the truth and overstepped their limits, injuring innocent people in the process, causing irreparable damage by raising false alarms. Being alarmist and sensational is not part of good media practice. I will venture to suggest to those errant lot, peddling arrant nonsense in the media, to jack up and stop their tomfoolery, because they cut a sordid picture for the image of Ghana. I will suggest to them to seek proper professional education by following best practice around the world. In Africa, I think the media in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe are mature and professional. Perhaps, some of our media owners should start thinking of exchange programmes and staff development for their employees. The more senior and seasoned practitioners should be encouraged to fashion out internal training arrangements for their inexperienced staff, by the process of coaching and mentorship. Those who seek self development can take private courses with the universities, which offer online and distance courses, such as Pen Foster, College of Professional Management, University of South Africa (UNISA), and the International Department of the University of London. Our media houses should intensify training in areas such as media law, media ethics, public relations, excellence in service delivery, development economics, communication for development, national security, and public administration, among others. The media owners in Ghana should research their market to find out what programmes their audience and clients want.
I also call on the Media Council, and various professional bodies such as the GJA, to heavily censure their members and to put in place practical interventions to rein in the media rot. I will also ask our media practitioners to look for role models such as Anas Amereyaw Anas, AdjoaYeboah Afari, Gyewu Kyem, Elizabeth Ohene, Cameroon Duodu, among others. Our media people should engage more in investigative journalism and less of speculative journalism, because the latter is dangerous, treasonable and destructive. In some African countries such as Somalia and Gambia, journalists are an endangered species. I hope our own journalists will borrow a leaf from what has transpired in other countries of the world, where journalists are arrested, tortured, incarcerated or sent letter bombs (c.f Dele Giwa in Nigeria in the 1980s). What happened to Ken Saro Wiwa in Ogoniland in Nigeria under the barbaric General Abacha is also a case in point. We all know what transpires in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and some ex-communist countries. We need our journalists, broadcasters and presenters to observe decency and decorum. Unlike what transpired recently in a known radio station, where the presenter dared the interviewee, musician/artiste, Kubolor to prove whether or not he wore pants, and he did expose his genitalia in the full glare of the TV cameras. What a national day of shame! No opprobrious epithet is enough to decry that shameful mishap. I will venture to state that one day, we the viewing public may exercise people power by boycotting such stations or we may march on them to stop their broadcasts. What with some journalists making the allegation that a known presidential aspirant had engaged in lascivious and lewd acts of fondling seedy women? That is prurience and lack of prudery. Such salacious gossip goes against our social mores. As much as possible, our journalists should try to steer clear of gauche, louche and base language in the press, because some of these issues are private issues and do not bode well for public morality. If people are abused, they have recourse to the law courts and other avenues for redress. It is the height of irresponsible, speculative reporting to rush to press with news which is not verified but based on mere hearsay.
Media Expectations
We expect our media to prove to us that they are nation-builders and not nation-wreckers. They need to prove also that they are constructive peacemakers and not troublemakers and rabble-rousers. We expect them to exercise high moral sense in making informed decisions when they are caught on the horns of a moral dilemma. We exhort them to be objective, ethical, vigilant, balanced, impartial, diligent and competent. We expect them to carry their mandate through by informing, entertaining, educating, and sensitizing us. However, on their part, they should exercise high levels of personal self discipline. They should sanitize their language to ensure that society maintains its high moral fibre. Each individual practitioner should have his or her own value clarification so that they do not bow to pressure at work to do what they believe to be professionally wrong. They should refrain from being used as media assassins by politicians to undermine the integrity of their opponents. I am sure, most of our media personnel are aware that they are being used as agent provocateurs and they will be dumped by their paymasters when the time comes. To avoid information asymmetry, they should endeavour to adhere to the dictum of audi alterem partem (listen to the other party) before they jump to conclusions, because it takes two to tango. Our media personnel should avoid over-exaggeration, or making mountains out of mole hills, or fussing over storms in teacups. They should report on critical social issues, and update us on developmental issues, environmental hazards, even promoting our rich cultural heritage, our national products and our tourist attractions. How can we make Ghana the number one hub or gateway to West Africa if we paint a negative picture in the global media that there is political disquiet in the country? We should try as much as possible to avoid washing our dirty and sordid linen in the public glare. We have had enough of gutter journalism, yellow journalism, journalese, speculative journalism, and character assassination. Let us beef up our laws on libel, sedition, treason and larceny. Let us cage our errant journalists and do away with the cacophonous arrant media nonsense. Democracy does not mean chaos or total breakdown of law, order and decency. It also does not connote unpatriotism, disrespect for properly constituted authority, or licentiousness.


Conclusion
Ghanaians have no country other than Ghana. Let us unite to build our nation and avoid the politics of insults and wild unsubstantiated allegations. We should refrain from putting a spin on the utterances of our politicians or putting words in their mouths. Let us avoid the undignified manner in which we insult and bash our national leaders in public. That is the height of being unprincipled as a journalist. The Bible in Exodus chapters 20 and 23 enjoins us to respect our elders and our leaders (Exodus 22:28), for it states, ‘You shall not revile God or curse a leader of your people’. Exodus 23:1-2 state, ‘You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness; you shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing when you bear witness in a lawsuit. Exodus 23:8 states, ‘You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.’ Listen to the voice of Holy Scripture and do the right thing to save your soul. For, whatever a man sows, so he shall reap. A word to the wise is enough.

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