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Opinions of Monday, 8 February 2010

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Baby Ansaba and the Curse of Ghanaian Journalism

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

February 6, 2010

The ongoing controversy over the self-confessions by Ato Sam (Baby Ansaba) raises many questions about the state of Ghanaian journalism in contemporary times. His is a novelty. Is his “repentance” the harbinger of what will happen to journalists whenever there is a change of government? Or will it engender a massive change of heart among journalists to gain some goodwill from the new powers-that-be? How seriously do these journalists want society to take them if petty favours become the motivation for their tilting toward one political party or the other? Is that the depth to which they want to reduce Ghanaian journalism?
The controversy rages on. I want to wade into the discourse surrounding Baby Ansaba’s self-confessions to say that Ghanaian journalists are part of the major national problems that we have to solve. Providing graceful solutions to these awkward problems that they have joined our politicians to cause is difficult.
By their (mis)deeds, these journalists have made no secret of the entrenched political positions that they have taken. The result? They have succeeded in tainting their calling. It will be the height of immaturity and damaging ignorance for them to claim that they are politically neutral. Or that they are not motivated by personal gains to insistently support the wrong cause, even when the facts say otherwise. Or that their penchant for “Soli” and blackmailing of personalities they seek to exploit is not known. They have a crisis of integrity.
Every careful observer of their activities knows where each of them belongs because in one way or the other, they have unwittingly betrayed their parochial political interests. Let any of them stand up now and he/she will be told in a clear language where he/she belongs.
Political neutrality is out of the question for them because their kind of journalism itself has no room for it. As the Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o tells us, “Every writer is a writer in politics.” So, when our journalists pick on issues to write about, they need to know that no matter what they do, their political intrigues will seep through for astute readers to ascertain. There is nothing wrong about being a writer in politics. Nop one can afford to be apolitical and live a fulfilled life. After all, every human being is a political animal—if we are to believe Aristotle. The problem with Ghanaian journalists, however, is that they are not sophisticated in their transactions and always fail to suppress such biased political leanings. As a result, they are easily known for being mischievously partisan to the teeth—and they lie through their teeth too!
Standards of journalism in Ghana have been sinking for many decades now. I have no doubt in my mind, however, that the deplorable state of journalism in Ghana heightened during the Kufuor-led NPP era when much jockeying for attention and petty favours became the order of the day. As the politicians set the traps with petty baits, the hungry and unwitting journalists grabbed it and exposed themselves to public ridicule. Baby Ansaba was just one of the numerous journalists who took such baits and choked on it. Now, he his heart is full and he can no longer contain the pressure. So, off he lets go the burden.
The picture that these journalists have painted is glaring. Here is what I know about some of them:
1. Take for instance Kabral Blay Amihere (who began with the PNDC in the early 1980s, writing in his column in the Weekly Spectator and promoting the Rawlings ideal until by a slight quirk of circumstance when he lost his post as the Acting Director of the Ghana Institute of Journalism and turned coat). We all know how his journalism has fetched him juicy appointments under the Kufuor administration. I hear he is now chairing the National Media Commission with all that toxic political baggage that he is carrying.
2. Then, look for Kofi Coomson of the Ghanaian Chronicle and consider all that he has been doing ever since he caught public attention with his mischief against Rawlings (especially through the infamous headline: “Rawlings is Mad”). But his days in the NPP got numbered when he lost his bid to contest the Parliamentary seat on the ticket of the party for which he had expended his energy and talents portraying as the best to have appeared on the Ghanaian political scene.
3. Add Kwaku Baako and his so-called “Coffee House Mafia” to the list and you will see clearly how waywardness has taken a firm hold on Ghanaian journalism. Will we so soon forget that Kwaku Baako was also on the Rawlings train until the tide turned against him, whereupon he jumped boat to become a self-styled and avowed Rawlings hater? Who will forget his anti-Rawlings publications and unregulated fawning for the NPP under Kufuor? Will we forget this screaming headline in one of his publications: “I will strip Rawlings Naked”? And all other public utterances aimed at projecting his political intrigues in favour of the NPP?
4. Kwaku Baako is on record as having declared his unflinching support for Kufuor and his government and has not ceased defending that cause even though the political decision of the Ghanaian electorate in the 2008 elections should have told him how mischievous his stance is. Who doesn’t know that for his dare-devil support for Kufuor he was favoured with material rewards such as the supply of newsprint to his publishing company, being in the entourage of Kufuor on his senseless foreign trips, being funded by the Kufuor government on his wild goose chase to Norway in connection with the trumped-up damaging allegation of bribery and corruption against Rawlings in the Scancem affair? He has gained a lot of material benefits from his abuse of journalism to sing Kufuor’s praise, even against the CPP that he claimed to love.
5. Again, let’s add Gabby Otchere Darko and his role in using the Statesman newspaper for partisan political activities and benefiting from the Kufuor government’s largesse. Have we not been told that because the weekly payment of 50 million old Ghanaian Cedis was no more being made that his paper faced serious financial crisis and tottered toward bankruptcy?
6. Add others like Egbert Faibille, Tina Blay (the publisher of the Accra Daily Guide), etc. to the collection and you should be clear in your mind that Ghanaian journalism has been with the dogs for many years now.
For weal or woe, these overzealous and favour-seeking journalists have stuck their necks out to deepen the animosity between the two major political camps—the NDC and the NPP. They have also poisoned ethnic sentiments through their mischievous publications that make mountains out of petty ethnic-coloured mole hills. By their mischief, they heighten tension and are proud of what they do.
The vice is not limited to the private media alone. Journalists in the public-owned media houses have also abused space provided by such media to tout partisan political interests for personal gains:
1. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh is on record for having done the unusual in journalism. Before the final results of the 2004 general elections were announced by the Electoral Commission, he had already written a banner headline establishing Kufuor as the victor. The controversy that this act engendered is beyond dispute. As Kufuor’s “hometown boy,” was he doing all that for free?
2. Then, Ransford Tetteh, current Editor of the Daily Graphic will find it difficult to absolve himself from blame as an NPP lackey. I dare him to do so if he has the balls and I will tell him more than he can contain about his waywardness. Yet, as the President of the Ghana Journalists Association, he knows that there is a code of ethics for journalists to which Baby Ansaba must be held accountable!
3. So also will Nana Appau Duah, General Manager of the Ghana News Agency (who was lifted to that position under the Kufuor government and paid salaries that aroused anger), find it difficult to extricate himself from blame as an NPP horn-blower.
4. The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation under Eva Lokko and Ampem Darko was also guilty of favouring the Kufuor government and the NPP. By their betrayal, the GBC is still at the crossroads.
Rather surprisingly, for the 8 years that Kufuor was in power, the National Media Commission itself was at the beck and call of the NPP government because its main actors were activists of the NPP. No matter how they tried to veil their public posture, discerning eyes could always know that behind that mask were the real faces of die-hard NPP functionaries.
Forget about the Ghana Journalists Association. Under Kufuor’s regime, it was a playing ground for the NPP functionaries who always pulled strings because of their proximity to the corridors of power, from where those paying them (the pipers) called the shots. Will we forget what Francis Poku, former Minister of National Security, used these pawns to do against the NPP’s political opponents? They can’t tell me that they were just doing a yeoman’s job for the government because they didn’t like the NDC or its founder (Rawlings). Where was their sense of propriety, then?
Other journalists such as A.B.A. Fuseini of the Daily Graphic, Raymond Archer of The Enquirer, and Jojo Bruce-Quansah of the Ghanaian Palava also betrayed their support for the NDC even though those of them in the public media couldn’t be brazen about it as would their senior colleagues (being protected by the NPP government) or their counterparts in the private media.
In sum, the entire spectrum of the Ghanaian media scene has been torn between the NDC and the NPP. Each journalist knows where his or her bread is being buttered and goes there for sustenance.
So, who is without blame on the media landscape? Who among these pen-pushers will claim to be independent and untainted by the petty mouth-washing favours from the politicians?
In my own study and practice of journalism, I knew that any talk of the independence of the media was just part of the grand myth or scheme of dangerous lies, which I didn’t buy into. It’s all a ploy to deceive people. Who owns the media house and pays the employees, in the first place? To what degree will anyone say that the journalists working there would exercise their so-called right of self-determinism and still remain at post? How many times haven’t news reports been cooked up at the office of the political authorities to damage political opponents? How many times haven’t journalists put words into people’s mouths only to be denied later? Or pledged allegiance to office holders for petty favours?
Thus, if the GJA and the politicians will be honest to themselves, they will realize that they are culpable for the very things that they are rushing to blame Baby Ansaba over. None of them is clean enough to want to cast the first stone at him. Perhaps, the only difference between them and Baby Ansaba is that unlike them, he has had an epiphanic moment and realized how mischievous his previous efforts were and, hence, the need to bare it all and move on in “a new direction”. He has pointed the way to them and one expects them to come out clean too, not resort to vain threats and this misguided holier-than-thou posture.
In this situation, however, one needs to be reminded that the basis of Baby Ansaba’s complaints against Kufuor and his NPP government was that he didn’t benefit from that government despite all that he had done to promote its interests at the expense of its political opponent (the NDC). What I gather from this claim is that Baby Ansaba seems to have turned coat primarily because President Mills included him in his entourage on the trip to Trinidad and Tobago and that he benefited from some largesse. To him, then, new windows of opportunity for material gains have suddenly been opened and he must profit from his new-found love affair in journalism. Such a character is a chameleon to be watched closely.
In that sense, then, the quest for material benefits from his calling as a journalist still underlies everything he does now or will do in future. Therein lies the danger. Is he saying that he will jump ship again anytime that he is denied the benefits? If so, he has portrayed himself as a dangerous character who must be watched carefully. He is likely to be an albatross on the NDC government’s neck and those who deal with him should think twice. The risk factor must not be overlooked.
On a wider scale, this controversy is alarming because it portrays the hidden danger that the elements of the Fourth Estate of the Realm pose to our country. It paints a gloomy picture that we shouldn’t overlook. We must ensure that we do all that will rein in any tendency to cause havoc through the abuse of the power of the pen. I shudder to think of how they will use or abuse the Freedom of Information Act in the kind of bitter political game that has been played by the NDC and NPP since 1992!!
The negative trend must not continue, though. Our journalists themselves must make amends to claw back lost moral grounds. Efforts should also be intensified to instill high moral standards into the field. Institutions of state (including those responsible for training and monitoring the performance of our journalists) should be up and doing. Has the law establishing the National Media Commission no punitive measures against errant journalists? Isn’t there any sanction against them to ban them from practising their trade if they do such egregious things as no civilized society will countenance?
If indeed our journalists want to be respected by the society, then, they will have to change for the better and stop rendering themselves useless as pawns to be used by self-seekers. Baby Ansaba’s case should be enough of an eye-opener for them. The alarm bells that his self-confessions have raised are tolling loud and those who may be tempted to sell their conscience to the political vampires enticing them with mere pottage should pause to think twice before letting go their overzealousness. Journalism is a respectable enterprise and those who practise it must behave as such.