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Opinions of Sunday, 13 February 2011

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Prez Mills and the reporter in a mask

By George Sydney Abugri

I give my word and pledge on my honour, not to take any scandalous liberties with English lexis today, although it is always quite tempting to give native English speakers a taste of their own medicine, for saddling the world with an international language now legendary for its sheer arbitrariness.

I also promise not to call a crab an aquatic arthropod or a crustacean or refer to a spoon as an item of cutlery:

A newsman has made more news last and this week than the president of the republic and all the other traditional newsmakers put together. It is one confusing, muddle of a bizarre tale related to our ever fumbling war against almighty corruption.

Mr. Anas Amereyaw Anas has been the recipient of many international awards for good journalism and is acknowledged as an outstanding investigative reporter in the country. During his visit to Ghana, President Obama had a good word for Anas, following the journalist’s exposure of an international human trafficking ring.

Wearing false moustaches or dressed up as everything from street tramp, through lunatic and ordinary woman to Moslem cleric, Anas has employed all manner of strange disguises and infiltrated a brothel patronized by minors, a children’s home where children were routinely abused, a food factory using contaminated food materials, the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, etc

Ana’s style of investigative reporting using disguises and hidden cameras and tape recorders has been received with mixed feelings by some media academics.

Professor Kwasi Ansu-Kyeremeh of the University of Ghana has expressed the view that Anas’s sting operation at the Elubo border where he filmed corrupt security and revenue collection officials colluding with smugglers to smuggle cocoa out to Ghana involved the use of subterfuge, which he argued, is unethical in news gathering.

.In Professor Ansu’s view the business of collecting the evidence needed to prosecute criminals is the responsibility of the police and not news reporters.
Dr. Larweh Therson-Coffie has given Anas’s style of investigative journalism such labels as “Orwellian Journalism”, “Spy journalism” etc.
Dr Venkat Iyer, has advanced the contrary view that the use of subterfuge or deceptive newsgathering techniques, such as the use of secret cameras, tape recorders and other clandestine recording devices or posing as someone other than a journalist as Anas has been doing, is justifiable if it is done in the public interest to expose what would otherwise have remained secret.
If that is indeed the case, the public is well within its rights to ask questions when aspects of a project undertaken in its interest do not make sense, don’t you think?
Recently Anas, working undercover, shot a video which showed revenue collection officers and security personnel at the Elubo border collaborating with smugglers in the smuggling of cocoa.
Then only last week, a video he and others produced, which showed customs officers at the Tema Port happily receiving bribe money from shippers was made public.
Initially it appeared that these were the investigative reporter’s independent work, until the government announced that it sponsored both undercover projects.
An extremely angry President Mills who visited the port where he berated customs officers and shippers over the contents of the video, gave the impression that he was in full knowledge of the undercover operation.
The media is supposed to be independent and non-partisan. So what business does a journalist have collaborating with the government on a project which should be in the domain of professional crime investigators?

One government spokesman said the government collaborated with Anas the whistleblower committed to fighting corruption and not Anas the journalist. Another said the government collaborated with Anas the private investigator:

Part-time intelligence officer, crime detective, investigative journalist and lead investigator of his investigation firm. Don’t you think that is one hell of a load for one man, old chap?

Too bad for Mills’s man; the public only knows about Anas the investigative reporter. Besides, the Crusading Guide newspaper on which Anas works, was mentioned as a collaborator in the project.

Crime detectives don’t go beyond producing the evidence needed to prosecute criminals. Investigative journalism gives the public a broad view of the nature of the social ill that needs to be dealt with.

As a work of journalism, the Tema Port story would have incorporated interviews with those who pay bribes, security officials working at the port, freight forwarders, clearing agents, importers, exporters, shipping company officials etc

Anyhow. the use of video technology to identify the offending officers has been sensational; otherwise bribe-taking at the port predates corruption itself and the report is therefore nothing new at all:

Comb the news archives for past reports on corruption at the Tema Port and you will find an avalanche of reports on the following malpractices at the port:

The over-invoicing and under-invoicing of imports and exports to cheat the state in the payment of customs duties, the use of the Tema Port as the final destination for stolen luxury cars mostly from Canada, the use of Free Export Zone customs duties payment exemption forms to clear cargo meant for individuals, the false description of cargo to avoid paying taxes, the false declaration of transit cargo as cargo meant to be delivered in Ghana, the brazen clearance of cargo without paying duties etc.

I am yet to meet anyone who has not praised Anas for his efforts at exposing social ills. Unfortunately, I have also heard folks cracking jokes which portray Anas as a kind of disruptive organism hiding in the woodwork, a prying social bogey on the constant prowl with a hidden camera, ready to film people and record conversations.

Run man run, Anas is in town. I don’t know about you, but I have my misgivings about a hardworking, investigative journalist who still has many years of practice ahead of him, earning such an image. It appears some what incompatible with journalism.

I sit prudent for an investigative reporter to be constantly in the limelight, Jomo? One of my journalism professors used to say there are no stars in journalism. Big league football, the modeling, movie and music industries icons etc may parade their stars but not journalism which is by and large, an intellectual activity.

There are certainly personal safety challenges to Anas’s brand of journalism. Those who do wrong in society or have something to hide and are exposed do not applauding whoever it was that exposed them. The natural inclination is to try and harm those who exposed them.

That is why the government’s revelation of Anas’s identity as the producer of the Elubo and Tema videos is puzzling. The revelations were reportedly met with threats to Anas’s life.

I am off to investigate all private detective agencies in town: During his tenure of office, then Inspector General of police, Mr. Peter Nanfuri was dead set against the idea of licensing private crime investigating agencies to operate. He argued that the law made no provision for the operation of private investigation companies in Ghana.

He also argued that even in countries where they are allowed operate strictly on police license, private detectives must necessarily be trained and qualified professionals screened and approved by the police administration.

It is not certain whether two of Anas’s operatives, Ms Rukaya Musa and Ms Jennifer Anderson who worked on the Tema Port clandestine project, were amateurs.

They were caught filming customs officials receiving bribe money at the Tema Port during the undercover operation and were promptly arrested and placed in the police cooler until it is alleged, Anas and his friends at the Crusading Guide called up people in high-up places who re-secured their liberty! Bizzare. Wacky. Totally weird, Jomo.
Email: georgeabu@hotmail.com
Website; www.sydneyabugri.com