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Opinions of Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Columnist: Atarah, Linus

GNA goofs - a rejoinder

The Ghana News had wrongly reported January 10 that President John Kufour had secured a deal between leaders of the warring factions in the Kenya political crisis in an apparent attempt to make President Kufour, Chairman of the African Union look good in the eyes of Ghanaians. according to the GNAgency report, President Kufour managed to bring a face to face meeting between President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader Raila Odinga. "In a communique issued at the end of their face-to-face meeting held at the Parliament House in Nairobi, the first, since election violence broke out after the Kenyan Leader's re-election declaration" wrote the GNA," they pledged to dialogue under the auspices of the AU; immediate cessation of hostilities and to do away with any act likely to jeopardise peaceful resolution of the crisis".

"President Mwai Kibaki and the ODM's Leader Raila Odinga agreed on interim measures pending the search for a lasting solution. This softening of positions followed intense diplomatic efforts led by President John Agyekum Kufuor, Chairman of the African Union (UN). Mr Odinga had earlier refused to meet President Kibaki face to face", said the GNA report. However, as it turned out this report of a face to face meeting between President Kibaki and Odinga was sharply contradicted by all major international news media that had reported on the issue. All of these international media, including Kenyan newspapers widely reported that President's Kufour's intervention had failed to bring the two protagonists face to face much less end the crisis.

After realizing that all other news media gave a lie to the GNA report, the agency then rushed to salvage its battered image but in the process dug itself into a deeper hole of more lies.

The GNA explained the following day that it "goofed" when it reported that there was a face to face meeting between the two leaders when it actual fact the meeting did not take place.

"The meeting, which was set to begin before the GNA Correspondent left to catch a flight to Ghana, was aborted in the nick of time", said the GNA report.

This explanation raises a number of questions which further aggravates GNA's lie. If the correspondent had left to catch a flight to Ghana then why was the story filed from Kenya about something that did not take place?

If the meeting was "aborted in the nick of time" it means the correspondent may not have been around in Kenya to learn of the cancellation. Why then was he definitive about a deal being clinched even before the meeting took place? Did he have insider knowledge of what would happen between the two leaders?

No journalist worth his salt would report on an event and draw conclusions in absentia based on prior information that the event would take place. The GNA correspondent had been informed that there would be meeting between Kibaki and Odinga. He was on his way out of Kenya and yet, was able to predict the outcome of a meeting that might or might not take place. How can the GNA square the circle of a correspondent on his way of out Kenya and yet filing a story from Kenya? Either he wrote the story from Kenya in which case he must have been aware at the time of writing that the meeting was cancelled; or he wrote the story in the plane or in Ghana in which case his claim that a deal was reached between the two leaders was based on wild speculation, even before they met.

It is clear from these glaring inconsistencies that the GNA told a lie. The correspondent was overzealously trying to protect President Kuffour by unwilling to report on the failure of his mission. From the perspective of GNA violating a cardinal principle of journalism to protect the image of the Ghanaian president was a small price worth paying.

To downplay the significance of its action GNA chose to describe its action in informal terms as a "goof", which means a silly mistake. But what GNA did wasn't comparable to a typographical error or getting the names of place and person wrong. It was blatant lie meant to make President Kufour look good in the eyes of Ghanaian public which violates a central tenet of journalism - factual reporting. Instead of openly admitting its lie and apologising to the clients, GNA found that action too hard to swallow and instead proceeded in a clumsy way to spin more webs of lies with ridiculous explanations. Would anyone buy used car from GNA after this premeditated lie?

Linus Atarah
Helsinki, Finland

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