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Opinions of Tuesday, 30 November 1999

Columnist: Akyeampong Kobby

Misinformation Via Feature Articles

As a regular visitor to Ghana home page and also a contributor to the opinion section, I have observed a rather disturbing development that ought to be discouraged if we as Ghanaians want to be seen as very responsible and accountable citizens. The headline of my piece will immediately draw attention to this cancer of presenting lies, fabrications and unsubstantiated allegation of wrong doing on the part of public officials, under the guise of a feature article.

While it is very necessary to distinguish between those who write about issues based on a thoroughly done research for facts and relevant data, there exist a group, whose only duty as far as I can surmise, is to brazenly lie, make unsubstantiated allegations, and peddle rumors. I will be the very first person to applaud the usage of this forum to address issues whether tangible or intangible, provided the subject matter can be discussed or defended from a factual perspective. More so, this forum in a way provides an avenue for the exchange of views and ideas.

It will be an understatement to deny that anyone one who posts a feature article has a bias of a sort, be it economic, ethnic, cultural, religious and educational. However, the existence of these biases should not in any way serve as the basis for the kind of feature articles that we have to grapple with.

The following are very good examples of what I am referring to: Rawlings is wrongly proud, Post Rawlings Moira, Mandela -Kufuor and Rawlings -Abacha and very recent a piece- On changing times and the Ghanaian. I have attempted to understand what prompts people to write these articles knowing too well that the factual basis of the subject matter is very much in doubt or can not be cross checked for accuracy? Are these examples of reportorial ignorance or incompetence? Or are these examples of the inability to exercise care and caution in characterization in these features?

Reading through some of these features, it is very interesting to note that many of these writers have formed their opinions and perceptions of public officials particularly the president, based solely on what they glean from our local newspapers, particularly the private press. I know many readers (Ghanaians) would argue that the private press does not sing the praises of public officials. This may be true but no politician, whether in the government or the opposition has gone on record to chastise the state-owned press for libeling them.

The case against the state owned press has always been that they (state -owned press) do not provide adequate coverage on the opposition. This is in sharp contrast to what pertains with the private press, where government and opposition constantly duel with the editors of these publications on matters bordering on libel. It is interesting to note that regardless of the numerous libel cases /writs against these publications, people continue to heavily rely on these media as sources of information for what they write. I do not have a problem with this. My fundamental disagreement has more to deal the fact that these writers, are failing to observe the ethical underpinnings of the writing and reportorial profession as it relates to the use of public fora.

While many of us would not necessarily see the features column of the Ghana homepage as media publication, the stark truth is that it is an online media publication. Again, while the Ghana home page is not edited or moderated for content purposes, it is incumbent on anyone who posts a feature article to observe a code of ethics.

Obviously many of us are not professional reporters or journalists but I think it will not hurt us to be ethical in our writing. To help many of us to gain a clear understanding of what is at stake, it is very important to present a semblance of a universally accepted code to serve as guidelines for our feature writers and any others who are contemplating a similar line of writing.

The basic principles mandates the as writers, reporters, and members of the media, we seek and report the truth in a truthful way, serve the public interest, exercise fair play, maintain independence, and write with integrity. Under the broad guideline of seeking and reporting the truth in a truthful way, it is necessary to:

Dedicate ourselves to writing or reporting our subject matter accurately, thoroughly and in context. Be honest in the way we gather, write and present our opinions feature articles and news-worthy information. That we hold information in opinion and feature articles to the same standards of facts and accuracy With regards to serving the public interest, our writing should aim at: Providing a public forum for diverse people and views Reflect and encourage an understanding of the diverse segments of our Ghanaian community. Promote understanding of complex issues that affect Ghanaians as a nation In the exercise of fair play, our writing should accomplish the following: Treat people with dignity, respect and compassion Strive to include all sides relevant to the subject matter at stake Desist from using very questionable sources of information as the basis of our articles. In terms of maintaining our independence, our writing should seek to: Differentiate advertising from a real subject of interest to our readership Maintain an impartial, arms' length relationship with anyone seeking to influence what we have to write. Finally, our ability to write in integrity depends on: Observe common standards of decency Assume the responsibility for our writing and consider the possible consequences of what we write It is my hope that by observing these guidelines, our feature articles and opinion columns will attest to our cherished ambition of entrenching democracy as part of our national culture. I believe that with time, access to the internet will be enhanced in Ghana, and our local writers, reporters and generally the media, would be able to relate to the fact that (Ghanaians who read, write and visit the Ghana homepage), are not ethically challenged by virtue of our writing.