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Opinions of Monday, 31 October 2005

Columnist: Yahaya, Moses Kofi

Half-Truths, Innuedoes And The Anti-Kufuor Establishment

The headline in an Accra rag, the Enquirer screamed: "Kufuor, ministers blow cash in US." accompanied by a tasteless graphic rendered with wads of American dollars, and a bottle of champagne against the backdrop of a plush hotel bedroom and a facade of a gothic structure, the headline was clearly designed to inflame partisan passions at home and abroad. The headline would have been outrageous if it wasn't self-immolating.

Though I am elated that a government spokesperson, Kwabena Agyepong, on Friday debunked the allegations, the response was tepid. Kufuor's handlers should have come out swinging, oh yes, with their guns blazing. A ferocious response would have had the enemy reeling. The enormity of this allegation cannot be overstated, Mr. Agyepong. Allowed to fester without rigorous challenge, it takes on a life of its own, ultimately causing irreparable damage to the president and his administration.
A detailed refutation, especially in these days of heightened awareness, would have served the singular purpose of assuaging pent-up feelings. Mr. Agyepong should have gone to great lengths to supplement his press release with facts and figures, such as the president's itinerary, the names of the suites (yes, the suites at the Wiliard in Washington DC are categorized and cost differently) where the president and his delegation are staying, the cost of their meals, and most importantly, how much these are costing the ordinary Ghanaian tax payer.
Incensed and intrigued by the Enquirer's story, I did a little reporting of my own Friday morning and the information I gathered, though strikingly similar to what was presented in the Enquirer's story, has a few variations.
According to Ms. Lillian Andino, a reservations department clerk at the Wiliard Hotel, there are about seven suites. The most expensive suites, Andino said, are the Presidential and Washington suites with a staggering nightly charge of $3600, the Capital suite will cost you a whopping $3400, the Federal suite will drain you out of $2400, the Oval suite will burn a $2500 hole in your pocket, an Executive suite will set you back $1400, and the least expensive, a Junior suite will siphon $850 from your coffers.
Andino insisted however, that the cost of each suite fluctuates; weekdays are less expensive than weekends. And there are discounts, she added.
Meals in the Wiliard are served in two eateries, the Cafe 1401 and the Wiliard Room. Mariana Alfa, morning manager of the Wiliard Room said a typical breakfast is anywhere from $15 to $25, and that depends largely on what you decide to eat. Lunch, Alfa added, is $40 per person and dinner is $45 per head. With appetizers and desserts, the price tag could top $60 for lunch and $90 for dinner, the manager said.
Alfa added that the Wiliard Room is more formal and consequently very expensive. "The Cafe 1401 on the other hand, is casual and thus less expensive. It serves breakfast and lunch from Mondays to Saturdays and dinner only on Sundays," Alfa said.
I take no pleasure in excoriating the Enquirer, but readers should juxtapose the information I have provided with that which ran in the Enquirer and draw their own conclusions.
The picture that emerges from the Enquirer's story is that of emboldened Kufuor's opponents. Increasingly, each time the president travels overseas on official business, he inadvertently provides an opening for his legion of opponents to pummel him with a variety of stunning fabrications and falsehoods; the detractors...running the gamut from blowhard radio and TV pundits to peevish scribes...contemptuously assail the president on mundane issues....hotel accommodation, per diem allowance, traveling overseas, etc.
Perhaps, the editors at the Enquirer are so frugal, such penny-pinchers that they expect the President to be the same. They would rather the president set up camp in a dingy, flea-infested hotel in a crime-ridden neighborhood the next time he journeys overseas. Like other heads of state visiting Washington DC, Kufuor deserves decent accommodation. Given the intense animosity towards the president from his foes, one is left wondering how low would the Kufuor haters stoop to register their disdain and disgust?
While some critics have the gall to blandly rabbit on about the "outrageous" per diem allowance paid to the president, others portray him as sleazy and incompetent. Even the dearth of concrete, irrefutable evidence to shore up their claims does very little to deter these critics; they continue to soldier on, determined to pull down a president whose reign has ironically engendered an atmosphere of unheralded press freedom, and resuscitated an economy that continues to draw raves from observers around the world.
The bare-bone Enquirer article apparently culled from bits and pieces of information from "highly unreliable sources" (diplomatic rumors) was rushed to print ostensibly to make the Enquirer the first newspaper to get the scoop on the president's living arrangements in Washington, and without much thought accorded the story's ramifications and the uproar it would cause.
A further probe of the article reveals a glaring journalistic flaw. A story of this magnitude if it can described as such, ought to be written in the inverted pyramid style which allows hurried readers to get the important facts first and the least important facts, last. The mainstay of the story...Kufuor and his boys are partying in Washington instead of attending to the nation's business...does not get adequate treatment until the sixth graph.
If claims of merrymaking by the President and his delegation are to withstand any close scrutiny, a journalist worth his/her salt would provide readers with relevant facts of the allegations bolstered with strong quotes from untainted sources immediately after the introductory graph.... there should be no holding back. This is journalism, Mr Enquirer, and not creative writing. Facts, facts and more facts, please.
But the Enquirer does not apply this simple journalistic rule. After a teasing lead...the opening graph....the paper deluged readers with background information about the Wiliard Hotel. Frankly, this background information....the Wiliard's proximity to the White House, it being home to top presidents visiting Washington D.C. and home to the creme de la creme of business executives, the birth place of lobbying and a place where many African government officials have been advised to stay clear from because of its prohibitive cost ...should have been truncated and placed at the end of the article.
I am not in any way dismissing the background information about the Wiliard hotel. Far from it. The information is relevant to the overall narrative. Ghanaians however, want to know with immediacy how much the alleged good time the president and his delegation are having in Washington is costing them.
Lately, Ghanaian journalists have come under withering criticism for their perceived sloppiness, lack of journalistic integrity and penchant for anything sensational? While I have not always agreed with some of these criticisms, the Enquirer's story does absolutely nothing to alter long held negative notions about the state of Ghanaian journalism.
It only reinforces the current refrain: Ghanaian journalists are lazy buffoons who regularly flout the fundamental principles of journalism - fairness, objectivity and balance - to tar political opponents. Whatever happened to in-depth analysis of issues?

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