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General News of Wednesday, 28 September 2016


National Media Commission (NMC) ruling not adequate

The National Media Commission (NMC) ruled on a matter between the Attorney-General (AG) and Minister of Justice, Mrs Marrietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, and Mr Kojo Yankson of Joy FM.

According to the deputy executive secretary of the commission, Mrs Appiah-Oppong sought to establish that a broadcast on Joy FM made an untrue statement about her that was also defamatory.

Inconsistent ruling

The NMC ruled that Mr Yankson did not adequately introduce himself to the attorney-general and did not disclose his purpose for the interview as is consistent with ethical protocols of interviewing. First, the ruling, for me, is inconsistent with the reliefs sought by Mrs Appiah-Oppong.

The commission, by this ruling, has not established whether Mr Yankson or Mrs Appiah-Oppong lied. Second, the ruling has not also mentioned whether the broadcast and publication was defamatory. Third, the ruling said Mr Yankson could not substantiate the claim he made in the broadcast.

Recording gadgets

In the special circumstance where journalists were not allowed to carry any recording gadgets with them for the event that this encounter took place, it is difficult to say Mr Yankson was negligent and the commission made no specific point in their release about this.

The fact that government officials prevent journalists from carrying recorders to press conferences/meetings and yet expect them to provide proofs of discussions in the form of recordings, to me, is problematic.

Now that I have established that the NMC ruling has not met the expectations of Mrs Appiah-Oppong as per her complaints and even the pragmatic issue of “politicians eating their cake and wishing to have it”, I would like to locate the core of the ruling, ethical protocols of interviewing, in theory.

Deontology vs Consequentialism

This line of thinking is rooted in the ideas of a German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant. The ethics of Kant known as deontology say that an act in itself determines its correctness or incorrectness regardless of the outcomes of the action.

This school of thought assumes the presence of ethical supremacy to make an action moral. Most deontologists argue that the end does not justify the means.

Contrary to the Kantian view of ethics is the ethics of consequentialism where the ends do justify the means. One must acknowledge that these two world views exist.

I feel an application of deontology in its complete form by an institution such as the NMC is in itself an imposition of a view on the practice of journalism because there are journalists who believe in the ethics of consequentialism.

It would not have been a worry if the NMC was an association whose membership was voluntary to journalists who believed in their principles.

In this case, no journalist in Ghana has the luxury of not operating with an NMC standard and that is why the NMC must be conscious of the application of world views because they have implications for the practice of journalism.

Questions raised by the ruling

Let us return and take a further look at questions raised by the ruling. Is the NMC saying that information gathered by journalists without proper introduction to the subjects involved isn’t valid? Or by extension, is the NMC suggesting that the core matter of “truth” (whether or not Mrs Appiah-Oppong spoke to Mr Yankson on this matter and made the specific comments she is alleged to have made) is irrelevant or less weighty compared to the ethical protocols of interviewing? For example, if I see a policeman beating a suspect and I confront him and later mention this on a public platform, would I have erred because I did not introduce myself as a journalist? Or would my inability to produce a recording of the confrontation make me a liar? So how do I recount such an encounter?

In any case, did Mrs Appiah-Oppong tell the commission whom she felt she was talking to on that day? By inference, if Mrs Appiah-Oppong was privy to the GITMO detainees’ arrangements, why did she not mention the laws under which she (they) accepted the deal and did she not consider that refusal of that question leaves room for several possibilities and interpretations?

For edification, of the general public, wasn’t it important for Mrs Appiah-Oppong to mention the laws under which she brokered the deal? Aren’t these relevant questions a journalist can ask on behalf of Mrs Appiah-Oppong’s employers (the general public)?

Mandate of the NMC

I think the NMC must exercise its mandate by concentrating on reliefs complainants seek. Where the commission lacks the necessary information to take a decision on the core matter brought before it, the commission must say it.

Shifting the goal poles very wide to ethical protocols of interviewing, as in this case, establishes a bad precedent. After all, Mrs Appiah-Oppong was seeking a defamation pronouncement not consistency with ethical protocols of interviewing. The commission also needs to explain its decision with some more details as a way of assurance to all of us both journalists and the general public that they were thorough.

— The writer is PhD Fellow, School of International and Intercultural Communication (SIIC)

C/o Erich-Brost Institute for International Journalism

Otto-Hahn str. 2, 44227, Dortmund