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Opinions of Saturday, 22 November 2014

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

Our Final Thoughts On Ghanaian Journalism

A few illustrative explanations offer themselves as instructional circumstantiation of our general contentions advanced in the previous essay, the first part of “Our Final Thoughts on Ghanaian Journalism.” Our burden of argumentation revolved around Ghana’s abysmal public services. The reasons for this terrible state of affairs are not far from fathomable, verifiable. They are even public knowledge. Politicians’ sending their children to private institutions abroad to study or enrolling their children in expensive local private schools at public expense, that is, through public corruption, will not, naturally, care about the pathetic state of public education. The privilege these politicians enjoy through public corruption is one efficient means by which the country’s elites perpetuate themselves via leadership monopoly.

Similarly, we advance another argument involving those other politicians who seek first-class medical treatment abroad at public expense, again through political corruption, as among those greedy political scoundrels who will not give serious attention to the poor state of medical facilities across the country. However, the situation is not dissimilar to those pregnant politicians or male politicians whose wives travel abroad to give birth. Certainly, such men and women will not care a hoot about the dearth of beds, say, at maternity hospitals across the country. Further, such is bound to happen because most of these politicians want their foreign-born children to enjoy all the benefits of citizenship and economic rights in affluent societies, their children’s birthplaces.

After all, what is the point expanding and improving public services across the country if one can get them cheaper elsewhere, all paid for through public corruption? Once again, lest we are not misunderstood, we want to make it clear that we are not quarantining politicians as the only species of human beings whose genetic makeup is imbued with the social sin of corruption. We are not dealing with the question of Christian hamartiology, of which venial sin and mortal sin come to mind, either. In fact, we are dealing with a social and political question through the operational lens of constitutionality and cultural conventions and, among other things, how the question impacts the moral psychology of journalists particularly and of the larger society. On the other hand, the febrile greed of politicians knows no shame as it doggedly seeks satiation wherever material abundance is a salient feature of status assignation.

It does not matter if physical distance separates state coffers from the ocean of material abundance in other lands past Ghana’s and Africa’s littoral definition. Money laundering and encroachment of illicit drugs into Ghana’s political space are two prime examples. Yet it is also clear the social epidemiology of corruption does not exist in isolation. Social, economic, gender, and educational inequality certainly has a role in its proliferation across all levels of social stratification. These national problems are critical matters deserving intense deliberation on the social landscape of Ghanaian media.

Our view is that those of us who have advocated popular attitudinal detour from the consuming bonfire of corruption need to also realize the impossibility of lasting success in the fight against corruption if attitudinal change is decoupled from a people’s economic sociology. Standard of living, quality of life, and equality are three of such indices. This is not what Ghanaian journalism is generally asking for. Thus, once again, Ghanaian leaders conveniently make steady reliance on foreign largesse a policy clone of remediation strategy for national problems, this in spite of Ghana’s vast wealth in mineral, oil, and human capital. Also, the glaring failure of our journalists to force or encourage policy makers and public opinion to make maintenance technocracy a strategic priority of the national enterprise further adds to the layered conundrum of social frustration, architectural rot, corruption, etc.

A well-developed platform for science journalism, data journalism, and science communication could as well requisition for maintenance engineering, systems engineering, predictive engineering, preventive engineering, quality control and quality assurance techniques in our institutions of learning as strategic points of reference in addressing the urgent needs of Ghana’s aging infrastructure. The end result is that these remediation strategies, mentioned in the preceding paragraph, are cosmetic or artificial at best, further underwriting the fierce recrudescence with which national problems constantly reminds us of their sublime intractability. No society should hope for eternal survival if it consistently fails to learn to develop special preference for choice native solutions that have worked practically elsewhere in addition to time-tested foreign ones.

Ghanaian journalists have largely failed to make a powerful case for the country’s internal capacity for self-correction. But we cannot restrict the glaring failures of Ghanaian journalism to just Ghana. Ghana is a respected member of the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS and, therefore, in theory, her geopolitical ontology and strategic priorities overlap with these two bodies. Both institutions, like Ghanaian journalism, have not done too well in the area of conflict resolution. We do know for a fact that the African Union (AU) we have today is not what the visionary Kwame Nkrumah intended. Nkrumah’s African Union (AU) is a more militarily proactive, culturally focused, and politico-economically viable institution than the weak institutional shadow we have today. Ghanaian journalism is just as politically and morally feeble. The notable absence of the leadership potential of these two institutions to effectively manage regional and continental emergencies, as in the Ebola pandemic, for instance, is difficult to ignore.

Lack of effective regional and continental coordination in the epidemiological management of any of Africa’s emerging disease burdens, Ebola specifically, by both bodies constitute a lasting smirch on African leadership. This question is a throwback to the protracted problems of political corruption, pathetic public services, and unpatriotism. It is bad leadership and public intellectual apoptosis that are slowly killing patriotism! Regrettably, Ghanaian journalists have not deemed it fit to establish any critical correlations among these variables, though, as a matter of fact, such topical indulgences have made appearances in narrative smithereens here and there on a limited landscape of Ghanaian journalism.

Part of the problem might be due to the fact that science journalism, analytic journalism, muckraking journalism, science communication, and advocacy journalism have no place in Ghanaian journalism yet. Yet a society requires these forms of oversight platforms to keep a check on institutional lapses. The other side of the narrative coin has it that there must be a corresponding readership to consume what journalists produce for the public. Source criticism, critical reading, critical literacy, media literacy, and critical thinking should be part and parcel of the spatial relationship between journalists and readers. Unfortunately, Ghanaian educational institutions do not teach these concepts in any meaningful or constructive way, yet they are relevant to the success of the industry.

In fact many Ghanaian journalists may lack knowledge of these essential concepts themselves. In other words, no journalist worth his salt can state with categorical conviction that he or she is critical of lackluster institutions, corrupt politicians, and cold perpetrators of social decay without so much as an intimate knowledge of these concepts, among others. Journalism is not only about a question of praxis, common sense, vision, and courage. It is about a question of theory also. Theory, practice, and conscientization add up to the operational richness of human undertakings. Moreover, journalists who have access to privileged information particularly from politicians should go a step further to authentic this information before making it part of the repertoire of folk wisdom.

Critical consciousness in the field of journalism means Ghanaian journalists must therefore bring all their creative resources to bear on the critique of society, including, but not limited to, the techniques of immersion journalism, survey sampling, crowdsourcing, fact-finding, social science research, media ethics, etc. (See also Noam Chomsky’s “propaganda model” and “manufacturing of consent”). We should point out that our journalists be also instructed in modules as diverse as human geography, genetics (the human genome project), human and race relations, Afrocentric theory, critical theory (critical race theory, postcolonialism), cultural theory, global history, and national security studies (criminology or criminal justice, etc). The reason for suggesting the first five topics is for journalism trainees to become conscious of the commonality of humanity at the close of their professional training.

Our primary concern is journalists’ emotional or intellectual identification with ethnocentrism or ethnic chauvinism. They can take up such topics as part of their capstone projects in their last year of studies. On the other hand, journalists must guard against excessive reliance on pack journalism, churnalism, and checkbook journalism in order for objectivity to prevail. They must also shun these at all times if circumstances allow. It also means, among other things, that Ghanaian journalists must muster up courage to establish links among bad leadership, disease epidemics and pandemics, high disease burdens, pervasive corruption, scientific and technological agnosy, poor public services, superstition, and mass poverty. We also argue that threats, real and perceived, from social emphasis on celebrity journalism against the growing niche of investigative journalism not be extended an operational room for usurpation, since many of these celebrity journalists are closet, even sometime open, partisan political hacks.

Thus, it is imperative that Ghanaian journalism studies must accommodate the instructional philosophies of public relations, social science (law, political science, gender studies, etc), humanism, information and communication technology (ICT), technical writing, social statistics, political economy, epidemiology, mass communication and public speaking, environmental consciousness, human rights activism, and, finally, science, technology and society studies. Accordingly, a journalist who possesses the afore-cited competencies without a lumbering baggage of partisan politics eating away at his or her conscience should be in a position to frame social issues with the technical power of analysis so as to appeal to the conviction of policy makers.

Such a vigorous analysis of social issues should assume a linguistic investiture of moral advocacy. It is important that our journalists become critical of news items they retrieve from social media websites (see the importance of “hashtag #error” on africacheck.org). We argue further that it is a journalist’s moral imperative that ultimately succeeds in advancing his or her advocacy journalism toward the evaluative cynosure of policy decision-making. For instance, such a model journalist should be able to make useful connections among bad leadership, kleptomania, collaboration between the executive and judicial branches of government in the perpetration of public corruption, lack of universal public services across Ghana as well as across other parts of Africa.

Such a model journalist will extend the dialectic regimen of his advocacy arguments to include long-overdue demands for Ghanaian and African governments to invest in research and development (R&D), drug discovery, biotechnology, improvement and expansion of public services, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education. Speeding up research in the field of medicinal chemistry is a must. Then, according to the model journalist, the primary aim of his or her calls for scientific investigations into problems revolve around reducing Ghana’s and Africa’s overall disease burden, containing emerging diseases peculiar to humanity but more particularly those peculiar to the racial geography of Africa, and producing a healthy population for Ghana’s and Africa’s growth and development.

In effect, we need to focus research on containing emerging diseases as well as expanding infrastructure for and strengthening institutional oversight of public health. Building a reliable biotechnological inventory of human capital is relevant to our research project. Regular power supply (refrigeration), disease surveillance, and supply chain management are three areas requiring expansion and improvement. Improving public sanitation and radically revising our gustatory preferences for bushmeat, etc., should be a priority. That way, Ghana and Africa can minimize their disease burdens which have always been a drag on development and growth. Yet the epidemiological narrative on Ebola, to mention but one disease, should not be permitted an emotional siesta on a comfortable pillow of investigational cul-de-sac. Ghanaian journalists have a responsibility in this regard, educating the general public and policy makers on these important public health questions.

This is actually what well-informed, conscientious, and professional journalists do, defending human rights, social justice, judicial fairness, human dignity, and so on. Our position with a view to promoting health equality (and health equity) among the masses is bolstered by what two writers whose concerns we reprise here for additional analytic emphasis. Cameron Duodo (See his article “The African Union Must Take the Ebola Case to the U.N. Security Council”) notes:

1) Anyone aware of what some scientists some scientists can do will be remiss in not asking: Since it is reported that some in the scientific community are suggesting that the current Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia may have originated from “a toddler” who ate an infected bat and got infected with the Ebola virus, why had bats waited until 2014 to transmit the disease to humans, when Africans have mercilessly been putting bats?and other game animals?on their menu for ever?

2) Since scientists from Tulane University, in New Orleans, USA, had been carrying out research for about 10 years in Sierra Leon, Liberia and Guinea, into haemorrhagic fevers, including Lassa and Ebola, why has no one officially associated the research which they were carrying out with the Ebola outbreak?

3) The only [indirect] indication that something may have gone amiss with research in the three countries comes from this Reuter report about the US Government stopping its founding of the research (See Toni Clarke’s Reuter’s article “Exclusive: U.S. Cuts Resources for Project Involved in Ebola Battle in Sierra Leone”).

Whose primary duty is it to investigate these serious allegations? Certainly epidemiologists! Does Ghanaian journalism have a place for medical journalism? Neither science journalism nor medical journalism is a well-developed component of Ghanaian journalism. However, it is interesting to note that the said Reuter’s report alluded to by Duodo does not specifically mention Liberia and Guinea, although Sierra Leone, the main center for Ebola and Lassa fever research, is contiguously squeezed on the coast by the two other countries, Liberia and Guinea. The other interesting fact points to the long history of research on Lassa fever in Sierra Leone dating to 1974, unlike the Ebola research in Sierra Leone that began in 2004. America’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Health of Institute (N.I.H.), and Tulane University are the three institutions known to manage this research program in the three countries.

Regrettably, overt absence of direct allusion to Liberia and Guinea as part of the American-funded research on Ebola and Lassa fever in Duodu’s provocative article smacks of a possible conspiratorial censure of America’s culpability in the regional epidemiological spread of Ebola. Most importantly, Duodu’s oversight does not take anything away or detract from his overall brilliant observations. Perhaps he had access to additional corroborating evidence whose inclusive attribution may have escaped his analytic purview. We should also have to note that, Duodu’s claims represent gnomic reprises or philosophical contractions of another innovative system of epidemiological generalities, which we may want to attribute to the British science journalist Edward Hooper’s meticulous epidemiological investigation of HIV and AIDS (See his tome “The River: A Journey Back to the Source of HIV and AIDS”).

In simple terms, Hooper argues that chimpanzees infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) had tissues from their kidneys taken and then used to prepare culture formulae for polio vaccine. Hooper’s research led him to a controversial conclusion, which says transfer of culture formulae containing SIV into humans during trials may have accidently led to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the human version of SIV. That aside, the work of Dr. Wouter Basson otherwise called Dr. Death by the South African press (See also D.L. Chandler’s article “South African Doctor Found Guilty of Creating Drugs, Chemicals to Kill Africans”), former head of Project Coast, a clandestine Apartheid-era biological and chemical weapons program, and similar ones from around the world and throughout human history do add investigational weight to Duodu’s conclusions.

Significantly, we are not arguing that all our problems have the insidious fingerprint of external calculation intended for Africa’s and Africans’ ultimate destruction. Cholera and malaria, to mention but two, are not insidious largesse from wicked gods and bloodthirsty witches inhabiting the nebulous fringes of our collective psychology. Environmental consciousness, common sense, public hygiene, science and technology, and management systems for human waste (wastewater, excreta, sewage, solid waste, etc) and efficient drainage systems can significantly ameliorate the already-weakened state of public health, including cutting down on anthropogenic contributions to disease burden.

Accordingly, it is the agonizing vicissitudes of human nature and conscious failure to exercise the human mind in its fullest capacity where we should learn to look for the social gene of institutional bankruptcy, rather than to some imagined or perceived ontology in some faraway location outside the limited capacity of human horizon. What then are we in effect saying? We are in fact saying that journalism is a serious business and that our journalists should be professionally trained to look at the world and issues through the philosophical pineal eye of methodological inclusiveness.

Certainly, multidisciplinary baptism of journalists in the accommodating fire of critical thinking where they are didactically exposed to the wide range of research possibilities can fill up the pinioned hiatuses in the span of their knowledge inventories prior to enlisting in a journalism, mass communication, or public relations program, for today’s world is too complex to submit to a comical look of uncritical askance through the emotional microscope of human intellectual inadequacies. Let our institutions train our journalists to measure up to the evolving complexity of globalization, of the world! What is more, deifying journalists should be avoided at all times. Only those who exemplify hard work, provide impartial coverage of issues, goad public opinion to demand social justice in every sector of society, promote humanism, and aim their journalism at bringing cultures, communities, religions, contrasting ideologies, races, and ethnicities together who must indeed be celebrated.

Finally, our journalists should take advantage of every opportunity at their disposal to promote Ghana’s internal self-reliance and her relations of constructive interdependence with other nation-states in the interest of growth and development.

We shall return…