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Opinions of Thursday, 31 May 2018

Columnist: Esther A. Armah

Anas, ethics, entrapment and entrepreneurship

ANAS is back!

A new investigation. A fresh controversy. A high profile official caught on camera in the midst of corruption – allegedly.

It’s called No. 12. Anas’s upcoming documentary tackles alleged corruption in Ghana’s Football Authority and it has already ignited the firestorm we have come to associate with Anas’s explosive investigations. It’s being publicly screened on June 6th at the Accra International Conference Centre. Ghana’s Football Authority boss Francis Nyantakyi is in hot water about some of the allegations presented and allegedly captured via undercover filming.

Under scrutiny are questions of ethics, entrapment and entrepreneurship.

Each relates to Anas’s approach to investigative journalism, the advance viewing of an excerpt of the documentary by our President and the resulting announcement of a prima facie case against Ghana Football Authority chair, Mr. Francis Nyantakyi.

These are resurrected issues: investigative journalism methods; entrapment accusations and questions of ethics and integrity. There has even been a call to name, shame and jail Ghana’s best known and leading investigative journalist whose pursuit of justice falls foul of some – at least one politician, Assin Central MP Kennedy Agyapong – and is welcomed by others.

Ethics

With each documentary released by Anas’s company, Tiger Eye PI, this question of ethics is the overriding issue. It is the repeatedly asked question. Does his method of investigative journalism stand up to global standards? Is it ethical? Shouldn’t we in Ghana be concerned about this approach bringing journalism in Ghana into disrepute?

Frankly, Anas offers Ghana’s media an important – too often missed – opportunity to engage in informed discussion regarding investigative journalism. What is it? What rules does it follow? How is it different than news reporting or feature writing or hosting a show? Does an investigative journalist have to build a case against an individual the way a lawyer does? What goes into undercover filming? These repeated questions are symptomatic of a poverty of training among our media and a failure to understand the specifics of investigative journalism that are different to pure news reporting.

One question raised is whether our President should have been allowed to view an excerpt of the documentary in advance of the general public. Was that an ethical thing to do? That viewing led to the President announcing that he believed there was a prima facie case leading to the arrest of Mr. Nyantakyi. That single act ignited a fire storm.

There are legitimate questions regarding over reach of the Executive in the President’s use of language declaring a prima facie case. He is a President, who in that moment spoke like a lawyer. That is an issue. However, the suggestion that the President seeing the excerpt is problematic requires more thorough interrogation.

I am an investigative journalist by training and by experience. I was an Investigative Journalist with the BBC for some years. I worked on television documentary series Panorama that required undercover filming and also was an investigative documentary radio reporter with BBC Radio 5 Live’s ‘The 5 Live Report’. Working within this structure in the BBC, it is a tightly run ship. It requires consistent engagement with lawyers. They oversee your choices and inform you of overreach where applicable. They will assist you in full understanding of actions you may want to take that fall outside of investigative journalism and therefore require a direction shift.



Investigative journalism is a long game.

It is the most expensive to practice as you simply do not know where you will end up. The best investigative journalism may begin with accusation, allegation or informed suspicion or a whistle blower. It is always followed by the highest quality research to gather enough information to definitively say the accusation or allegation has legs and requires further work. Undercover filming may or may not occur. If it does, it is after extensive meetings and discussion where its purpose must be highlighted, its methodology agreed and a process created.

Ghana was host to this year’s International Conference marking World Press Freedom Day. One of the panels explored the changes and challenges of Investigative Journalism. On the panel was Job Rankin, Head of London’s Channel 4 Investigations. In partnership with another London publication: The Observer newspaper and Channel 4 Investigations together conducted a journalistic investigation into Cambridge Analytica – the company that boasted it used Facebook to acquire information that impacted the US election that made Donald Trump America’s 45th president. This investigative journalism in the US led to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg facing questions from a US Select Committee; apologizing to billions of Facebook users and triggered difficult and messy questions of technology and regulation

Good investigative journalism is neither reckless nor speculative. Because too much of Ghana’s media can sometimes be both, we level accusations regarding Anas’s approach without knowing anything about his actual approach.

We apply the standards of legal cases to the work of investigative journalism. It doesn’t work. This does not expose Anas’s weakness; it exposes our industry’s lack of understanding of this thing called investigative journalism.

And frankly, that is the real problem.

There’s too much entertainment masquerading as journalism and too little study of this craft. That leads commentators known to generate sensationalist perspectives to occupy our airwaves and be given much air time. They offer neither informed commentary nor any real skill regarding important questions of investigative journalism.

In Ghana, journalists are poor advocates or adverts for their work. We do not fight for what we do; I am not sure we understand what we do – but every time Anas comes there is a flurry, a fury and a failure. It need not stay that way.



Entrapment

Questions of entrapment and flouting investigative journalistic rules were swiftly made and heard across some elements of Ghana’s media.

Listening to radio and participating in discussions, I heard some lawyers say the public should mistrust the documentary’s content as they simultaneously questioned Anas’s approach. Others simply dismissed the allegations of corruption due to the President being given an opportunity to watch an excerpt in advance of the public. These three things: a legal case, a politician’s concerns and investigative journalist are not the same things.

What serves politicians and lawyers, may not necessarily apply to the work of investigative journalist.

MP Kennedy Agyapong made headlines when he called for Anas to be jailed and for Ghanaians to stop Ghana’s leading investigative journalist before his lens intrudes into all areas of Ghanaians’ life.

Politicians are scared. That is good.

They have witnessed what happened with the judiciary post the documentary that led to the end of some judges’ careers and sent the judiciary into a tailspin of accusation, counter accusations, anger, fear and disgust. The public weighed in powerfully too.

There are governance questions, issues of exceeding the Executive reach by the President when he declared he had a ‘prima facie’ case against Mr. Nyantakyi. A prima facie case in legal language means that you have sufficient evidence to go ahead with a prosecution. In such a space who checks the President’s power? Who is able – with authority – to caution the President that such action oversteps his presidential power and that such words should not be heeded by either the public or the police?

But this is our President. And the sad truth is the pursuit of justice has more to do with power, access, connections and wealth than it does with rule of law and equal access to the scales of justice.

The sad truth is the rule of law is hardly an actual rule in Ghana. Privilege turns rules into exceptions and we are not strangers to witnessing the law being used as a weapon to free the guilty and a chain that frustrates the victims. Access and money can dictate an outcome that disregards evidence and favours the connected so they do not become the condemned.



Entrepreneurship

Questions regarding Tiger Eye’s wealth have been raised. There is some suggestion that Tiger Eye having money discredits the integrity of its investigative journalism.

This is absurd. It is also dangerous.

Journalism in Ghana is badly paid; but Media owners do not suffer the poor wages they pay those who work within media houses. It is an extraordinary thing to suggest poverty is symptomatic of integrity and wealth automatically points to suspicion.

I created what I call ‘entrepreneurial journalism’. This combines the highest quality of journalism with entrepreneurship in order to do great work, make money and build. It seems that Tiger Eye PI is doing that too with partnerships, a foundation and offering scholarships to Nigerian journalists to learn skills to expose and fight corruption in their world.

Isn’t this a great thing? Isn’t it also great to learn that what I call ‘entrepreneurial journalism’ combines the work with doing business and development work?

Issues regarding investigative journalism become conflated with questions regarding Anas’s business. We must unravel this conflated tangled web we in the media weave regarding Anas. Separate the issues; analyze each with accuracy and knowledge and not insult or ignorance.

I for one am happy that those in power quake at the idea or thought that their sector is under the scrutiny of an Anas.

My ask is for our industry to build investigative journalists and not believe one man can save, end or fight corruption. This is a collective project, not an individual pursuit.

No. 12 is coming. I will watch it. Will you?