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Feature Article of Saturday, 17 November 2012

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Dr. Otabil and the strange world of morphing

…where the name of the game is spin to win

George Sydney Abugri

Jomo, when should we confront provocative external stimuli in precise kind and when should we hug tight and keep our peace? When should we speak up and when should we keep as mum as a clam, do you know?

I reckon when the need to speak up in defence of truth and justice so overwhelms the conscience and there is no choice in the first instance and in the second, when Miss Prudence says the consequences of speaking up are likely to be so negative as to make silence a better prospect.

What would you have recommended in Dr. Otabil’s particular circumstance? In the wake of the renewed attacks on the Head Pastor of the International Central Gospel Church following his overly-hyped press conference this week, some people think it may have been worth his while if Dr. Otabil had ignored the use of extracts from tape recordings of his past sermons in campaign ads.

Now, that is what I would call a truly dicey one for the preacher: To remain silent in an election year, when everyone across the republic hears your voice daily on a tape recording making statements which appear to be critical of a particular presidential candidate’s key campaign message, when your statements were not made in relation to the campaign message, is far easier said then done, yah?

By the way, I love to flee the crowd and do my thing, Jomo, which in most instances means refusing to beat about the Savanna bushes as my cudgel-wielding bush buddies and I used to do when hunting rats while out shepherding often restless and unruly ruminants in the early 50s. So then, read my lips…

The Head Pastor of the International Central Gospel Church, Dr. Mensa made it to the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers and prime news headlines across networks this week, with a controversial press conference about the use of extracts from tape recordings of his sermons, for election campaigning by a political grouping sympathetic to the ruling NDC.

In the campaign advertisement, his only too familiar voice is heard criticizing the idea of free formal education in Ghana, which is NPP presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo’s key campaign message.

As a well known motivational speaker and preacher, Dr. Otabil’s word is worth its weight in kilograms in any discussion on the issue of the feasibility or otherwise of free formal education as a national policy. That apart, Dr. Otabil is a stake holder in higher education in Ghana, having established one of the country’s leading private universities.

It all puts the television, radio and pulpit preacher in one mighty fix! Don’t forget too, that in spite of whatever protestations he may have to the contrary, Dr. Otabil is perceived within the corridors of the NDC to be sympathetic to the course of the NPP.

The NDC chaps apparently figured that if they could get voters to hear the great Pastor Otabil criticizing the NPP presidential candidate’s key campaign message, the message would lose some credibility with the voters.

So Dr. Otabil calls a press conference to try and get things into perspective, see? His was a graphic and lexically neat statement delivered in the mode of prose-poetry and the anger and resentment though subdued came through discernibly enough.

The preacher, who said his person and integrity had been violated, let fly a few choice adjectives from the unwritten dictionary of righteous indignation, describing the use of extracts from his sermons for political campaigning as defamatory, unethical, criminal, malicious, Machiavellian and evil.

Dr. Otabil said it was an act of “great impunity” for anyone to appropriate someone else’s thoughts and proceed without the consent of that person, to use those thoughts in a manner that exposes that person to public hostility and disrespect.

He made this perplexing claim that, “phrases from different messages I have preached over the years with no relationship to one another have been mischievously pieced together to create the impression that I was making a current contribution on the ongoing political debate.”

It is probably at this point that the pastor should have moved in for the big kill with at least one example or an illustration of how the mischievous crafting together of his past sermons had been done.

“Here is one example: On this occasion so-so years ago, I made this and that statement and then on this and that occasion, I made this and that other statement, all at a time when the NPP presidential candidate had not made his free Senior High School education pledge. These were technologically doctored to make it appear as if I was critical of the NPP presidential candidate’s free senior secondary school education pledge.”

So we were left with no evidence that an electronically-engineered cut and paste job had been done with extracts from his sermons for the NDC’s campaigning.

Some insisted that it did not matter how long ago he said what he said about the idea of free education or who his audience were and that each statement he made on the tapes the NDC has been playing, could well stand on its own as a clearly stated opinion about a national issue. Doing an electronic cut and paste job with voice sounds to produce the campaign jingles as is apparently being suggested is a tough proposition although the technology for doing so {digital morphing} exists. I recall with some amusement how in the early stages of the development of this technology years ago, a tape recording was played for the benefit of then Commander-in-Chief of the United States Special Operations Command General Carl Steiner: “Gentlemen! We have called you together to inform you that we are going to overthrow the United States government." General Steiner was dumbfounded to hear himself speaking. It did not make sense. How could the man in charge of the U.S. Special Operations Command overthrow the United States government? Yet General Steiner himself admitted that the voice was his, even though he had never spoken those words anywhere. Employing digital morphing, an American scientist called George Papcun had taken a 10-minute digital recording of General Steiner's voice in “near real time”, cloned the general’s speech patterns and was able develop a very accurate facsimile. Has Dr. Otabil’s NDC friends been able to get their hands on this technology? Darned if I have anything anywhere close to a clue. Dr. Otabil has called on President John Mahama to call those behind the unauthorized use of his recorded sermons for political campaigning to order because they are surrogates of the President’s party.

Mr. Mahama is himself caught in the game of spin-to-win: The internet has been awash with stories about people producing “sex videos” to embarrass some politicians including the president. Here again, morphing technology can be used to reproduce the exact body features of someone and have him at a location he has never been to and engaged in activity he has never engaged in! Website: www.sydneyabugri.com Email: georgeabu@hotmail.com editing@sydneyabugri.com

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