Feature Article of Wednesday, 28 March 2012
Columnist: Myers, Paa-Willie
The issue of insults in the Ghanaian society has become very important because it has become very common on radio and TV and that the situation is so alarming and has the ability to send the country into a war situation.
First let’s ask ourselves why people, including elderly ones, will insult another person.
The dictionary defines insult as: an act or utterance that hurts a person’s feelings or causes him to feel humiliated; treat a person or thing with contempt or scorn.
Some, especially journalists, do put up stories in the papers and put a question mark and hide behind the question mark saying that they want the truth to come out. Others twist the story and give a meaning to what someone has said, this is not a lie or a direct insult but all these have the same effect as defined in the dictionary.
Another issue is when a person jumps to the conclusion that a person is guilty before hearing of the facts in full. That attitude simply means that the accused is not in the good books of this ‘street lawyer’. One can understand if such a case happens once, but when it happens on a regular basis, it can no longer be out of reflex action or coincidence.
I think the reason is simple: to make the other lose respect in the society because there is a competition going: being it politics, chieftaincy, sports, social standing, a love partner etc. so as to attain a certain level above a person knowing very well that he can only attain that level unless through foul means and that should happen as fast as possible. Time is of essence for such people, they cannot wait.
Now to identify how this phenomenon is manifested in the society.
1. THE MEDIA
The first group that contributes to this abusive language in our society is the media.
I do not think I need to spend too much time on this group because they have been guilty of the offence of twisting facts and putting them on air ever since the country adopted partisan politics as the way of governance. This attitude has led to wars and mass killings in so many societies and countries.
The radio or TV presenter knows that in Ghana, the politician has an entrenched position against the opponent yet he will invite comments from an opponent to an issue presented by one person belonging to one political party without asking the presenter of the message what he meant, thus charging the atmosphere.
Some presenters also contribute to the discussion by showing clearly his support for one side instead of being the referee.
Some media houses also put up a story knowing very well he has not made the necessary enquiries and then hide behind the defense of qualified privilege when it is found that he has put up a wrong story, knowing very well that the harm he intends to do has been done.
There are situations where even though the case is in court, radio and TV presenters put it up for discussion on air because the offender seems to belong to the rival party. If the issue does no do any favour, members of that party will turn their heads the other way. The media has often been referred to as the forth estate of the realm but I disagree. I disagree because the private media practitioner is foremost a businessman and his aim is to sell the news to make as much profit as possible. Selling news requires that one should be the first to come out with a news item. The desire to be the first sometimes is influenced by malice, and because the press is protected by qualified privilege they rush to go to press and in that attempt most of the time they do not recheck the story. I believe that it is govt mouthpiece that qualifies under qualified privilege and not a businessman. As far as I am concerned no private media should have the protection of qualified privilege because they make their money and pay themselves, they are not paid by govt.
Some even refuse to read or publish articles that favour the political opponent because some of them are actually doing active character assassination in the name of politics.
The press also uses cartoons to depict their stand on certain issues. Most cartoons effectively give judgment on issues and no one cautions them. At the time that serial killing of women engulfed the society and the solution was not forthcoming, there was a film about serial killing. It would have been the right to get the directors to help in the investigations or to be charged with the crime because they depicted certain things that had eluded the police, but they were left unquestioned.
2. THE COURT ROOM
The court room is the second I will like to look at. Lawyers address themselves as ‘learned friends’ and yet in handling cases at the bar, they direct insults at each other all the time: words such as frivolous, mischievous etc are used all the time. They do not wait for a pronouncement by the court even though it is the legal jargon which says that a person is not guilty until so pronounced by a court of competent jurisdiction. These clearly show that the lawyer does not respect the ruling of the judge. The result is that the litigants get the understanding that the situation is likened to war. The litigants or the contestants are therefore charged by the attitude of the lawyers in the court room and attack each other the moment they leave the court room, so the case does not get settled. This favours the lawyer because the longer the case drags the more money he makes.
The judge looks on while these ‘learned friends’ trade insults without saying anything. I think that these things happen because the judge knows that his ruling can be tainted by monetary or personal consideration rather that by wise judgment.
In a case where the judge jails an aspiring MP for double registration immediately the charge is read without the option of bail and another where an MP has more than one passport and the case has drag on for over three years gives one the impression that judges do not respect the citizen and themselves as well. The code of ethics of the judiciary must be clearly spelt out so that there are checks for such attitude by both the judge and the lawyer.
The third place to look at is parliament. Parliament is supposed to be non partisan as is the highest law making body in the land and yet the Ghanaian parliament is so polarized one cannot understand why the society looks on. Parliament cannot pass a law because the opposing party roots for it and that one party has the majority to get the law through even though it will not benefit the people. The parliamentarian and everyone in parliament is addressed as ‘honourable’ and yet they verbally attack each other abusively while the speaker looks on and only calls out a warning by shouting ‘order’.
I don’t think that is good enough because when the supporters of these politicians see these acts, they think
that is the right thing to do and then they also direct the same language at supporters of the other party, this
often generate into real violence since some people believe that that is what their leaders are calling for.
The speaker of parliament should be empowered to curb this attitude and be able to punish any member
who falls foul of the law.
4. THE CHURCH.
The next place to look is the church. Most of the people who engage in insults as is happening in the society now do fellowship at the various religious centers all over the country with very powerful religious leaders. These abusive people in our society are personally known by their religious leaders and yet are not reminded that such acts are at variance with the teaching of God or Allah. One is tempted to believe that these users of abusive language are not cautioned by their religious leaders because of the level of financial support they give to these leaders. This is what the Almighty God or Allah cautioned against, not to let out attention be focused on material things. Clearly ordinary members of the church are tempted to behave like the older ones who misbehave and are given respectable positions since that will be regarded as the norm.
Then the next are the relatives of such persons. So far I do not believe that relatives of persons who call themselves politicians have attempted to caution these politicians to be circumspect in their choice of words in addressing their opponents.
One can consider that relatives are unable to caution their political office holder relatives because ether the politician is too powerful or because the caution could result in withdrawal of financial assistance or handouts from the politician.
What the relative can do is to seek the council of someone who this political relative relates to and has quite a bit of respect for.
There have been cases where wives have denied any form of service to their husbands and that has been able to let the men rethink their policies and attitude. I believe that we will get to this situation pretty soon.
6. THE LOCAL THEATRE.
One area people do not look as contributing to insults in the society is the theatre, Concert Party and local Ghanaian films. The theme of most of these is to create fun and laughter, it happens that a lot of insinuations are used to create laughter, some of these insinuations do not make sense and yet people laugh to them.
Psalm 1. Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Again we hear of the saying, what a man thinks in his heart that is what he says.
People need to be serious when the situation calls for seriousness to avoid others wading in and thinking that the whole issue is fun. Speaking on TV and on radio on national issues is not fun.
7. THE TRADITIONAL AUTHORITY
Even though the traditional ruler is not to blame for the insults in our society, they can be described as passive contributors because they have a role to play in instilling values in the society and therefore can play a significant role in curbing that attitude.
Ghana experienced a massacre which was influenced by such comments on radio in the Stadium Disaster. People called into radio programmes calling for trouble if Kotoko did not win the match and there was no caution, true to the charge there was a disaster. I believe that if the traditional authorities had put in a word of caution, that disaster could have been avoided.
Even though people tend to keep tribalism out of national issues, tribalism is very present in almost all national issues; there are various regional caucuses in parliament, what does that mean?
Any person who makes slanderous statements on radio hail from an ethnic group, I do not think such people will respect the traditional leader if the traditional leader condemns the statement at the onset but with time I believe other traditional leaders will wade in and culprits will learn to desist from the attitude of lying about others just because a person chose to do active politics.
Currently most of the insults in Ghana politics are uttered in Twi and some of their leaders are quick to respond to issues less important. If and when chaos starts no one will be left unaffected.
THE PEACE COUNCIL
I am so happy government has established the Peace Council and even though I do not know the extent of their mandate, I will wish that it should include regulating the sort of language put on air, at our courts and in parliament and that should include the authority to institute sanctions against leaders of these institutions. These sanctions should be enforceable by the court.
Ever since the Peace Council was sworn in I don’t remember having heard them make any statement about the insults in the society and yet day in and day out insults are bandied all over the place. Are the members of the PC telling us that they do not hear the insults? If that is so then they will be sitting there and war will engulf us. To prevent the unfortunate happening. I will wish that Prez. Mills dissolves the PC so that we know we don’t have any committee to look up to. I don’t think the council was set up to wait till trouble start before they move in to try to stop it, it was for conflict prevention as well.
I have a worry hear and I am not surprised at the conduct of the Peace Council since the Chairman of the Peace Council is a founding member of the NPP (Daily Guide 07*/*07/11* POINT OF ORDER. By Kwame Gyasi*. Madness has descended on the nation. Pp 1. Rev. Asante Antwi…founding member of the NPP.)
The press should be made to learn to be responsible since the constitution requires that the citizen should be responsible; the citizen includes the press. The issue of qualified privilege should be abolished so that when the press decides to be irresponsible, they can be held responsible and punished accordingly in order to save responsible citizens from the malice of the press man.
In fact, themes in the Bible and in films clearly show that bad attitudes end up in punishment. No matter how powerful or wealthy a person has become; the punishment could be imprisonment or death.
Therefore a person who puts on the attitude of insults can be likened to one signing a suicide note; Nebuchadnezzar and any role in a film that does bad things like cocaine or visits the occultist to make money are typical examples. Even though the lawyers tell us that a person is not guilty until the court says so, we all support the punishment given to bad roles when films are ending.
A friend always says that the world will give you out if you wish and do evil to others.
It is obvious that those who believe in insults do not respect themselves since experience shows that such acts attract evil unto oneself.
Then it is also believed that anyone who adopts the attitude of insults and or with lying is a murderer.
Anyone who tells lies about another expects the lies to have a particular effect, and this effect should not be pleasant to the one to whom the insult is directed; in fact the result could be that the person should lose an election, his property, his partner, his job, his friends, his family or his life. This result does not worry the culprit one bit.
When it comes to politics and insults are introduced, it becomes very dangerous because partisan politics has a room for security which involves the use of arms. It also has a way of inhibiting very sentimental agitation since politicians end up in jail when they are found to have taken what does not belong to them but rather to the state.
Because of this, the politician will want to take every known action to get an undue advantage over his opponent, and this leads to employing all sorts of tricks; including insults; hoping to make capital out of that message. Politics cannot always be dangerous, a lot of people have played politics right and have been congratulated for that. In fact the politician will like to see his opponent dead so that the threat of the opponent being alive to continue with the contest is eliminated once and for all. Such people can only be ready to take what does not belong to them that is why some people behave that way since it does not make sense if one only wants to serve the nation.
This is what I mean by all liars are murderers.
A lot of decent citizens avoid presenting themselves on the partisan political platform because they will not want to be dragged into the attitude of unnecessary verbal attacks simply because he chooses to serve his country. Those who have chosen to play politics dirty do not see public office as service to the nation; they see it as a chance to make money for themselves. There is no other reason to make another citizen look bad apart from seeing him as a challenge to ones future prosperity, like in the animal kingdom where particular animals fight because each sees the other as a threat for his territory. This is what some politicians do; most of them employ lies as the mode of operation.
This attitude has to stop somewhere.
BY PAA-WILLIE MYERS.