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Feature Article of Thursday, 4 October 2012

Columnist: Dowuona, Samuel

Did GJA Sacrifice MTN’s Ghc70,000 For Airtel’s Ghc3,500?

– Part One

At the 17th Ghana Journalists Association Awards this year, the Guest Speaker, Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson described journalists as social prophets, and journalism as social prophetism. He explained that as part of their social-prophetic role, journalists reflect on issues in ways the rest of society do not; and it is only when the journalist speaks on or writes about those issues that the rest of society realize the full depth thereof.

The Cardinal indeed noted that, as social prophets, journalists have a responsibility to, among other things, point society to wrongs and rights around them, denounce wrongdoing/wrongdoers, guide society to the right things, and build bridges where necessary.

On the basis of the Cardinal’s charge, this writer, a four-time award-winning and proud member of the Ghana Journalists Association, and a leading telecoms writer at that, would like to play a little bit of the social prophetic role with regards to the conspicuous absence of MTN on this year’s GJA awards.

For the most part, the Cardinal referred to the social prophetic role of journalists in ensuring a free, fair and peaceful political election this December. But it was also interesting that he made that analogy at a time when the long-time Headline Sponsor of the GJA Awards, MTN Ghana was obviously absent.

MTN, GJA AND THE LAPTOPS A brief history would put the issues in perspective. MTN got on the GJA Awards train in 2008, at a time when the Freedom Forum had sponsored laptops for all award winners some time back, and GJA needed a sponsor to sustain it. MTN came in handy and made that possible by ordering laptops for all award winners, and also giving them MTN modems, SIM cards, airtime and souvenirs every year. Indeed in 2007, I won my first GJA Award (Features Writer of the Year, Print Category) but I did not get a laptop. I got my first laptop in 2009 because MTN had come onboard a year before. This allowed the GJA to use the rest of the money given by category sponsors to organize the awards, even though the GJA tells each sponsor part of the money they paid was to purchase a laptop for the category winner.

Speaking of laptops, in 2008, MTN purchased better quality laptops for the award winners, but for the subsequent years, GJA asked to be given the money to purchase the laptops by themselves, and they chose to purchase some cheap entry-level Toshiba laptops for Ghanaian Journalists who have excelled in their profession in this modern day of information technology. You can ask the current GJA Journalist of the Year, Manasseh Awuni Azure, and he will tell you how cheap the laptops are. I am not surprised that GJA has not mustered the courage to make a strong and sustained case for better salaries for Ghanaian journalists, because GJA itself treats journalists cheap.

MTN spends up to GHC70,000 every year to support the GJA awards, without any direct commercial benefit, apart from mentions in announcements, commercials and LMPs before and during the event, and also post event news reports, plus the branding opportunity at the awards event, which is usually live on TV. For GHC70,000, what MTN gets may not be enough, but it is okay because GJA is not a profit-making organization. Besides, MTN spends four to five time more on other events, and MTN came onboard the GJA’s not for commercial benefit, but to support the development of journalism, which they have so far been doing very well in several other ways.

BRANDING THE TOP AWARD But as headline sponsor, MTN did not get to brand the top-most award – the prestigious Professor PAV Ansah Journalist of the Year Award. That award is sponsored by Unilever, which does not spend any extra pesewa on the GJA Awards, apart from giving the ultimate package estimated at about $22,000 to the Journalist of the Year, which is also quite substantial though.

What that does is, even though MTN gives the biggest amount to the GJA for the awards, Unilever takes the shine out of MTN’s efforts by featuring prominently at the climax of the show, and in the post event media reports. This is something for society to reflecton. But it is also important to note that Unilever gets that opportunity because of legacy. Unilever/UAC is the pioneer of this whole GJA Awards. Indeed, the maiden edition of the GJA Awards was initiated and sponsored entirely by Unilever/UAC. That is how come they grabbed that juicy opportunity to brand the prestigious top award.

It is not as if MTN has not raised concerns about the status quo, given that the Corporate Services section of MTN have always had to justify to management why they have to spend up to GHC70,000 on GJA Awards without any direct commercial benefits, particularly in these times of dwindling revenue margins, which is pushing every one of the telecom operators to undertake some serious austerity measures to the detriment of their own staff welfare. So the question has always been how come MTN pays the biggest, but Unilever takes out the shine from MTN? That is something for society to reflect on. But I am aware the GJA has been speaking with Unilever to stand down for MTN to brand the Journalist of the Year, so Unilever could brand the ‘Most Promising Journalist of the Year’. That discussion is still ongoing.

MTN GJA AWARDS? A GJA official (name withheld) told this writer MTN, at some point, requested to rebrand the entire GJA Awards as MTN Ghana Journalists Awards, but the GJA refused. But upon investigation, I found out that it was rather the GJA executives who went to MTN to ask for a top up on the sponsorship package from the then GHC50,000 to GHC565,000, with the promise that MTN could rebrand the awards MTN GJA Awards, if they so wished. I am told MTN increased the amount to GHC65,000 but refused to rebrand the event because they felt it would have been unethical and an over kill. I reverted to the GJA with MTN’s counter claim, but they have not been able to provide any concrete counter claim. That is something for society to reflect on.

But MTN still worked with the GJA to institute two new categories – The Telecoms Reporter of the Year, and the Most Promising Journalist of the Year. MTN also branded the Sport Journalists of the Year category because Vodafone (Onetouch) abandoned the category when MTN became headline sponsor of the GJA Awards. Those were all part of efforts by MTN to leverage a little bit more on its benevolence.

I am reliably informed that MTN is of the opinion that, apart from going on the one month study trip that Unilever sponsors, the Journalist of the Year also deserves a car or some substantial property, particularly when winners and even runners up in other schemes like farmers, teachers, and doctors’ awards, as well as beauty pageants and musical competitions, are winning cars and houses every year. MTN for instance, sponsors a car for the first runner up in the teachers’ awards every year. MTN also gives a car to the winner of MTN Sport Academy and to the winner of Stars of the Future, plus other gargantuan cash prizes for runners up.

MTN seem to believe journalists play an equally, if not more important and sustainable role in society so if a journalist excels, he or she deserves better than the winner of a beauty pageant or musical competition, for instance. Besides, the trip sponsored by Unilever has become a bit monotonous and stale. One of the Journalists of the Year, I’m told, had to negotiate with Unilever on his own for extra support to leverage on the trip for an extended academic program, because the package Unilever gives is now of no much value. It is time to add something to it, or change it. After all, beauty pageant winners get cars and also undertake sponsored trips to represent Ghana in international pageants.

Beyond the concerns about branding the top award, MTN also raised a number of issues with GJA regarding the awards. While those issues were still on the table for discussion, GJA brought on Airtel to even deepen MTN’s concerns. The second part of this article will look at the other issues raised by MTN, and also delve into how GJA accepted peanuts from Airtel, over MTN’s GHC70,000.

The second part would also look at the GJA’s concerns about the MTN’s culture of delivering the sponsorship package very late, MTN’s alleged attempts to hijack the organization of the Awards event and running it on their own terms, as evidence in MTN proposing an event organizer for GJA last year, who, according to GJA, almost made the event a fiasco.

There was also a near legal suit in the whole saga.

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