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Opinions of Saturday, 15 July 2006

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Editors, Enlightenment And Human Rights

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, in Agona-Swedru, reflects on Journalists for Human Rights conclave for Ghanaian editors/senior journalists on newsroom management and human rights reporting

The Agona-Swedru workshop for Ghanaian editors/Senior journalists on newsroom management and human rights reporting by Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) was an ambitious proposition. After six months of workshops on human rights reporting in Accra, Kumasi, Ho, and Tamale, the feedback from some junior journalists was that most times editors and senior journalists, obsessed with political stories, which they believe sell newspapers faster and thinking human rights stories are dry and do not sell stories fast enough, are not enthusiastic enough running human rights stories.

The junior journalists also complained about lack of resources, leadership and organization in newsrooms. They proposed to JHR national workshops on human rights reporting for editors/senior journalists to enable them understand, in detail, the importance of human rights reporting to Ghana’s progress. The conviction here is that well packaged human rights stories could as well sell newspapers faster as are sensational political stories The editors’ workshop will also enable them hear, a bit from outside, how their subordinates feel about the disarray in their newsrooms, which has implications, among others, on human rights reporting and Ghana’s progress.

After much discussions among JHR trainers and the Ghana Country Director of the idea, a proposition was sent to Toronto, JHR headquarters, for a one-day detail workshop for editors/senior journalists on newsroom management and human rights reporting. JHR headquarters agreed in line with its philosophy and mission. The idea of the Agona-Swedru workshop, therefore, on 8 June was to assemble Ghanaian editors/senior journalists at the quiet comfort of the world class Greenland Hotel, nestled on top of one of many beautiful hills in Agona-Swedru, and help then throw their forces of light and rationality on human rights reporting, having sorted out the disorder in their newsrooms, on Ghana’s progress. It was, therefore, JHR’s moral authority coupled with its ability to listen to Ghanaian journalists that brought about 30 editors/senior journalists from diverse Ghanaian media houses to Agona-Swedru to reflect on Ghana’s progress through the ordering of their newsrooms and how to encourage their juniors to report on human rights.

This new vision of Ghanaian journalism confirms the Country Director of Amnesty International, Prize McApreku, observation that Ghanaian journalism is changing for the good of Ghana, despite the enormous problems it faces, compared to yesteryears and that the idea of growing human rights reporting in Ghana is in line with human rights as an emerging topical issue globally culminating in the setting up of the United Nations Human Rights Council. In sowing human rights reporting in Ghana, which invariably will deepen democracy and progress, Wendy Asiamah, a senior official of the Ghana Journalists Association and a survivor of human rights abuses under the Jerry Rawlings military juntas, observed that there are a lot of positive changes in Ghana as at now as a result of the on-going democratic dispensation.

Such positive views will be better sustained by wrapping newsroom management to human rights reporting, the creative sense is that a proactive newsroom with better organogram informed by efficient leadership, reasonably good resources and coherent organization will be a place, in the larger scheme of things, to drive Ghana’s progress. From some junior journalists, and which was communicated to the editors/senior journalists, the main newsroom problem facing most Ghanaian media managers is that they do not listen and receive feedback from their employees. This means editorial meetings, informed by clear-cut editorial policies, are in extremely short supply. Lacking communication, good management is poor and this translates into poor delivery of journalistic services. Considering poor resources, the dilemma is how can Ghanaian media managers balance staff competence with newsroom sources, equipment, and logistics.

Resolve the newsroom problems to a reasonable level, in the context of available resources, and it will have positive impact on dealing with the larger Ghanaian development process. But how are the editors to do this? Awareness of newsroom mismanagement. Knowledge of human rights values (from Ghanaian perspectives) and Ghanaian history and culture. Having done this, the editors are to open Ghana’s development process, through human rights values, just as the founding fathers used the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to open up independence from British colonial rule. Having done this, the editors are to re-organize their newsrooms as centers for developmental enlightenment – a throwback to the 18th century European Enlightenment thinkers who used their skills, including media communications, to lay the foundation for European progress. They are to do this by driving Ghana’s progress from the foundational ethos of Ghana (human rights values viewed first from Ghanaian indigenous human rights values), Ghana’s colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global culture.

Having heavily helped grow Ghana’s democracy (and attracting international institutions like the World Bank to tap Ghana’s experiences for West African countries like Liberia) and which attracted JHR to come to Ghana in the first place, the editors have the historical grounds to enhance Ghana’s reputation as the emerging center of democracy and human rights. A well-managed newsroom should, therefore, be a sounding board to not only radiate a new Ghanaian journalism philosophy based on Ghana’s struggles, history, culture, and national interest but also deepen Ghana’s democracy and human rights.



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