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Opinions of Saturday, 5 March 2011

Columnist: Alpha, Shaban Barani

Rejoinders vs. Cross-checking the Facts

What comes to mind if an ordinary person tells you that the media is not merely a platform or a mirror, as is widely perceived but rather a weapon? What if the question stands but is posed by a military officer?

Well, that was what I was made to understand by no mean a person as Col. Atintande, Public Relations boss of the Ghana Armed Forces, (GAF) after he invited me to his office to clarify information I had put out in print and for public consumption.

Like me, who was caught on the blind side of the far reaching implications of putting out a one sided story sadly so, without corroborating the other side as is required of a journalist supposed to uphold the basic principles of; “accuracy, balance and of clarity.”

So the colonel went on with his admonition on the powers that the media wielded, on the second score labeling the media as the ‘conscience of society’ and with unlimited powers even constitutionally, with so much liberty as to insult the President he added.

The 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana in Chapter 12 under the topic, “Freedom and Independence of the Media,” states amongst other things specifically in article 162, subsections (1), (4) and (6) that;

“Freedom and independence of the media is hereby guaranteed.

Editors and publishers of the newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by Government nor shall they be penalized for their editorial opinions and news, or the content of their publication.

Any medium for the dissemination of information to the public which publishes a statement about or against any person shall be obliged to publish a rejoinder, if any; from the person in respect of whom the publication was made.”

On the flipside but still to do with regulations that seek to protect the best interest of the journalist and the people about whom the journalist works, the Ghana Journalist Association’s, (GJA) Code of Ethics speaks extensively about Corrections and Rejoinders in articles 9 and 10 of its Code of Ethics.

Article 9 specifically is on Corrections and states thus; “Whenever there is an inaccurate or misleading report, it should be corrected promptly and given due prominence. An apology should be publicized whenever appropriate.”

Article 10 is closely tied to the preceding here quoted above and espouses specifically on a means of correction, i.e. Rejoinders, stating in the first of two portions; “a fair opportunity for rejoinders should be given to individuals and organizations.”

The second part reads; “any story or write-up affecting the reputation of an individual or an organization without a chance to reply is unfair and must be avoided by journalists.”

Back to the Military PRO who advices that the media, as much as possible must avoid themselves from being used as a mirror or a platform, for the simple reason that, a mirror could reflect anything good and or bad.

Relative to the platform analogy, the media he continued should avoid what seems like merely providing a stage for anybody at all to put across their ‘grievances’ and especially so without recourse to corroborating the part of the other implicated side.

In order to place the issues here raised within a context, I would like to present a background to the case in point for which I had met with the very affable Colonel Atintande, Military PRO at his office at the Armed Forces Directorate at Burma Camp.

A complainant had brought an issue of wrongful demolition of his property, a situation which ideally occurs especially with land guards, the twist; call it the point of interest in the story being that, the act was allegedly perpetrated by a military man, strange right?

The complainant, somewhat convinced the journalist with pictures around which he had crafted the story, thereby putting a high level of credence on his complaint for which he badly wanted the whole country to learn of the injustice some Ghanaian was suffering supposedly under the rule of law.

But Atintande cautions, that the more reason why a journalist should not allow him/herself to be used, nor the very platform on which he presents his issues, be misused and abused, adding; “everybody comes to the media to seek a solution to his problems, no one comes to the media for publicity.”

The family in respect of which the land story had been written subsequently ‘descend’ onto the offices of the paper, as it were to clear issues on the publication, also with proof and in the end leaving the journalist looking nothing short of ‘stupid’

Not just stupid but to some extent sorry for the damage that had been meted out in the face of the clarifications by the family and the Military PR Unit. Then on the other hand, the Military PR refuses to write a rejoinder but asks that the journalist puts together a rejoinder from the real and bare facts as presented to him.

Truth of the matter, call it the reality of the prevailing situation; is that but for investigative news stories and reports which remain the exclusive preserve of the journalist in question, the media is usually in competition to break a story first.

That is what brings to the fore the very thorny issue of cross checking the facts of a particular story, vis-à-vis “damning the consequences,” putting out a story and waiting to see whatever reaction follows the story, and at worst a retraction and apology.

The big question being that, the brazen harm by way of bruised, damaged and soiled reputations built over only God knows how long, and whether or not the damage done thereof could be minimized in any way, and if at all, to any extent.

The haste as noted above has time without number landed journalists in unnecessary trouble, ranging from embarrassing goofs, misrepresentation of facts, publishing of untruths and stretches as far as to issues bothering on libel, slander and defamation.

What it looks like is a clear case of journalists, grossly underrating the extent to which stories can travel and the number of people who are affected directly and indirectly as a result of a few paragraphs of unchecked paragraphs bandied in a “story.”

The above point is however not to in the least suggest that in the face of clear evidence as is usually the case in anti-corruption exposés embarked on by ace investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a journalist should suppress any information of nation saboteurs.

Rejoinders are an admission to some extent of a wrong in the execution of what should ideally have been a thorough check, crosscheck and perhaps, re-crosschecking of basic facts as is required of any well meaning journalist as is said; “worth his salt.”

Indeed, beyond rejoinders, journalists in the opinion of Colonel Atintande must explain to complainants why they are wrong about the story and how baseless their allegations are relative to stories that may have attracted rejoinders.

He asserts that, with a plural media terrain, journalist would always hop unto the next available media outfit to tell no different a story than the one that attracted a rejoinder. A corroboration to his assertion was seen barely a week after a rejoinder had been published on my part.

What it ends up doing is giving Public and Media Relations Officers the arduous task of having to explain and to re-explain the same story over and again, all because a journalist has not crosscheck and to re-crosscheck facts.

Newsrooms where stories are cooked may not necessarily be the very plush and flamboyant of places but between the journalist who goes in search of the story, his editor, who peruses the story and decides its fate, a lot of fire power is sure to be put out.

Sometimes however, journalists are full aware of what they put out, relative to its truth or otherwise, yet they go ahead for reasons best known to them, at least as they find themselves in a highly discretionary profession as journalism.

The above fact as transpires in most newspaper newsrooms especially has led to newsroom jargons as; “diabolics,” “agenda driven stories,” and “interest based stories,” which journalists use to connote what motives are behind their stories.

Now to the words of the first gentleman of the land who has been in the middle of media bashing in the light of the very liberal and democratic ambience interlaced freedom of speech and further boosted by the absence of criminal libel against journalists, as is currently operated in Ghana.

As part of his State-Of-The-Nations address as presented to Parliament on the 17th of February 2011, President John Evans Atta Mills stated under the topic, “LAW AND ORDER AND THE MEDIA,” I hereby reproduce his full submission;

“Madam Speaker, all of us subscribe to the rule of law and free speech. It is however not enough to believe or proclaim, but rather to practice one’s belief in an acceptable and peaceful manner.

Political stability is the gift of political discipline by all actors.

Those of us in leadership positions bear the heaviest burden in ensuring that our actions and utterances do not incite lawlessness and damage our sense of community.

The media has a huge responsibility in the effort, we must all make to encourage national exchanges among reasonable people with different views.

Let us all keep one thing in mind; just because you have the right to say something does not mean you should. Exercising good judgment is important.

We must not always find fault with each other, sometimes it also helps to tell the stories about Ghanaians rising to the occasion.”

If truly the pen be mightier than the sword, the least journalists can do is to crosscheck facts of any story and to put out what is fair and right than to rush and literally crush as I once heard Bishop Palmer Buckle, metropolitan Catholic Archbishop once posit; “a rush man has no integrity.”

Shaban Barani Alpha alfarsenal@yahoo.com, newcguide@gmail.com

----Forwarded Message----

From: alfarsenal@yahoo.com

To: info@myjoyonline.com, info@citifmonline.com, akoto@ghanaweb.com

Cc: alfarsenal@yahoo.com, zickysplash@yahoo.com, emailsherif2@yahoo.com

To: info@myjoyonline.com, info@citifmonline.com, akoto@ghanaweb.com

Sent: Mon, 28 Feb 2011 10:11 PST

Subject: Rejoinders vs. Cross-checking the facts

Rejoinders vs. Cross-checking the Facts

What comes to mind if an ordinary person tells you that the media is not merely a platform or a mirror, as is widely perceived but rather a weapon? What if the question stands but is posed by a military officer?

Well, that was what I was made to understand by no mean a person as Col. Atintande, Public Relations boss of the Ghana Armed Forces, (GAF) after he invited me to his office to clarify information I had put out in print and for public consumption.

Like me, who was caught on the blind side of the far reaching implications of putting out a one sided story sadly so, without corroborating the other side as is required of a journalist supposed to uphold the basic principles of; “accuracy, balance and of clarity.”

So the colonel went on with his admonition on the powers that the media wielded, on the second score labeling the media as the ‘conscience of society’ and with unlimited powers even constitutionally, with so much liberty as to insult the President he added.

The 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana in Chapter 12 under the topic, “Freedom and Independence of the Media,” states amongst other things specifically in article 162, subsections (1), (4) and (6) that;

“Freedom and independence of the media is hereby guaranteed.

Editors and publishers of the newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by Government nor shall they be penalized for their editorial opinions and news, or the content of their publication.

Any medium for the dissemination of information to the public which publishes a statement about or against any person shall be obliged to publish a rejoinder, if any; from the person in respect of whom the publication was made.”

On the flipside but still to do with regulations that seek to protect the best interest of the journalist and the people about whom the journalist works, the Ghana Journalist Association’s, (GJA) Code of Ethics speaks extensively about Corrections and Rejoinders in articles 9 and 10 of its Code of Ethics.

Article 9 specifically is on Corrections and states thus; “Whenever there is an inaccurate or misleading report, it should be corrected promptly and given due prominence. An apology should be publicized whenever appropriate.”

Article 10 is closely tied to the preceding here quoted above and espouses specifically on a means of correction, i.e. Rejoinders, stating in the first of two portions; “a fair opportunity for rejoinders should be given to individuals and organizations.”

The second part reads; “any story or write-up affecting the reputation of an individual or an organization without a chance to reply is unfair and must be avoided by journalists.”

Back to the Military PRO who advices that the media, as much as possible must avoid themselves from being used as a mirror or a platform, for the simple reason that, a mirror could reflect anything good and or bad.

Relative to the platform analogy, the media he continued should avoid what seems like merely providing a stage for anybody at all to put across their ‘grievances’ and especially so without recourse to corroborating the part of the other implicated side.

In order to place the issues here raised within a context, I would like to present a background to the case in point for which I had met with the very affable Colonel Atintande, Military PRO at his office at the Armed Forces Directorate at Burma Camp.

A complainant had brought an issue of wrongful demolition of his property, a situation which ideally occurs especially with land guards, the twist; call it the point of interest in the story being that, the act was allegedly perpetrated by a military man, strange right?

The complainant, somewhat convinced the journalist with pictures around which he had crafted the story, thereby putting a high level of credence on his complaint for which he badly wanted the whole country to learn of the injustice some Ghanaian was suffering supposedly under the rule of law.

But Atintande cautions, that the more reason why a journalist should not allow him/herself to be used, nor the very platform on which he presents his issues, be misused and abused, adding; “everybody comes to the media to seek a solution to his problems, no one comes to the media for publicity.”

The family in respect of which the land story had been written subsequently ‘descend’ onto the offices of the paper, as it were to clear issues on the publication, also with proof and in the end leaving the journalist looking nothing short of ‘stupid’

Not just stupid but to some extent sorry for the damage that had been meted out in the face of the clarifications by the family and the Military PR Unit. Then on the other hand, the Military PR refuses to write a rejoinder but asks that the journalist puts together a rejoinder from the real and bare facts as presented to him.

Truth of the matter, call it the reality of the prevailing situation; is that but for investigative news stories and reports which remain the exclusive preserve of the journalist in question, the media is usually in competition to break a story first.

That is what brings to the fore the very thorny issue of cross checking the facts of a particular story, vis-à-vis “damning the consequences,” putting out a story and waiting to see whatever reaction follows the story, and at worst a retraction and apology.

The big question being that, the brazen harm by way of bruised, damaged and soiled reputations built over only God knows how long, and whether or not the damage done thereof could be minimized in any way, and if at all, to any extent.

The haste as noted above has time without number landed journalists in unnecessary trouble, ranging from embarrassing goofs, misrepresentation of facts, publishing of untruths and stretches as far as to issues bothering on libel, slander and defamation.

What it looks like is a clear case of journalists, grossly underrating the extent to which stories can travel and the number of people who are affected directly and indirectly as a result of a few paragraphs of unchecked paragraphs bandied in a “story.”

The above point is however not to in the least suggest that in the face of clear evidence as is usually the case in anti-corruption exposés embarked on by ace investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a journalist should suppress any information of nation saboteurs.

Rejoinders are an admission to some extent of a wrong in the execution of what should ideally have been a thorough check, crosscheck and perhaps, re-crosschecking of basic facts as is required of any well meaning journalist as is said; “worth his salt.”

Indeed, beyond rejoinders, journalists in the opinion of Colonel Atintande must explain to complainants why they are wrong about the story and how baseless their allegations are relative to stories that may have attracted rejoinders.

He asserts that, with a plural media terrain, journalist would always hop unto the next available media outfit to tell no different a story than the one that attracted a rejoinder. A corroboration to his assertion was seen barely a week after a rejoinder had been published on my part.

What it ends up doing is giving Public and Media Relations Officers the arduous task of having to explain and to re-explain the same story over and again, all because a journalist has not crosscheck and to re-crosscheck facts.

Newsrooms where stories are cooked may not necessarily be the very plush and flamboyant of places but between the journalist who goes in search of the story, his editor, who peruses the story and decides its fate, a lot of fire power is sure to be put out.

Sometimes however, journalists are full aware of what they put out, relative to its truth or otherwise, yet they go ahead for reasons best known to them, at least as they find themselves in a highly discretionary profession as journalism.

The above fact as transpires in most newspaper newsrooms especially has led to newsroom jargons as; “diabolics,” “agenda driven stories,” and “interest based stories,” which journalists use to connote what motives are behind their stories.

Now to the words of the first gentleman of the land who has been in the middle of media bashing in the light of the very liberal and democratic ambience interlaced freedom of speech and further boosted by the absence of criminal libel against journalists, as is currently operated in Ghana.

As part of his State-Of-The-Nations address as presented to Parliament on the 17th of February 2011, President John Evans Atta Mills stated under the topic, “LAW AND ORDER AND THE MEDIA,” I hereby reproduce his full submission;

“Madam Speaker, all of us subscribe to the rule of law and free speech. It is however not enough to believe or proclaim, but rather to practice one’s belief in an acceptable and peaceful manner.

Political stability is the gift of political discipline by all actors.

Those of us in leadership positions bear the heaviest burden in ensuring that our actions and utterances do not incite lawlessness and damage our sense of community.

The media has a huge responsibility in the effort, we must all make to encourage national exchanges among reasonable people with different views.

Let us all keep one thing in mind; just because you have the right to say something does not mean you should. Exercising good judgment is important.

We must not always find fault with each other, sometimes it also helps to tell the stories about Ghanaians rising to the occasion.”

If truly the pen be mightier than the sword, the least journalists can do is to crosscheck facts of any story and to put out what is fair and right than to rush and literally crush as I once heard Bishop Palmer Buckle, metropolitan Catholic Archbishop once posit; “a rush man has no integrity.”

Shaban Barani Alpha alfarsenal@yahoo.com, newcguide@gmail.com