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Opinions of Monday, 8 September 2003

Columnist: GNA

The Journalist's Manifesto

The GNA GJA Chapter paper on who is a Journalist?

Accra, Sept 8 GNA - We have been called upon by destiny to help shape the future of our cherished profession.

We are all aware of the debate and argument that have erupted in the last few weeks following our rejection of the Journalist of the Year 2000/2001 and the call to define who a Journalist is.

Under normal circumstances, we would have just gone ahead and said a Journalist is anyone, who has undergone formal training in Journalism and practising same but we need to introduce more elaborate strings of instances and argument to send home our point.

Journalism like all professions emanated from basic philosophy, when man reached the age of self-realisation. Man has travelled very far in his quest to separate himself from other forms of life because he believes that he existed because he thought (Descartes).

He sees himself not as a reflection of other forms of life scattered around him but that he is original and has the mandate to pursue his desires, hopes and aspirations.

When the Ancient Egyptian Imhotep (First known physician) spread forth his hand over his last patient, he might have thought of a way that would take the then highly mystified art and science of healing to the uninitiated. But his eyesight was too limited to envision a virtual medical school where religion, race, creed would not be the entry requirement but a smart mind.

His "strings" ran through the fabric of the ages even to the days of Hippocrates famed after the Hippocratic oath. Medicine had taken many forms until society decided to formalise its training and unifying its procedures for the good of humanity.

In Ghana today, old traditional forms of medicine exist and 70 per cent of the people patronise it but one needs to go through medical school to become a Doctor. However, one does not need to go through medical school to practise the art of healing.

We are under severe restraint not to put the law profession under the microscope because the Ghana Bar Association has been generally sympathetic to our cause although a few of its members think otherwise. We must, however, attempt to take a short trip to the court of Hammurabi, the Persian ruler, who pioneered the codification of laws for his beloved Babylon.

The "code of Hammurabi" served as the footstool for the modification of the rules and regulations of humanity.

Biblical Moses in about 1200 BC shouted with joy and anguish on the heights of Jewish vulnerability and frailty when he received the Ten Commandments.

The sounds emanating from its polishing has echoed through the ages. Friends, the Ancient Greeks took a glance, while the Romans pursued a vigorous codification and classification of laws under Emperor Justinian known as the Justinian Digest and Code.

It took several centuries for the first law school to be established in Italy and later France and then Britain.

Journalism has undergone similar metamorphosis. Between 1760-1770, freedom of speech had become a privilege in most rich nations in Europe and newspapers and journals had emerged.

This move towards a free press was aided by the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the fight for freedom waged in England by John Wilkes and Henry Woodfall.

It could be stated that when the London Times sent correspondents to Continental Europe to report the Napoleonic wars, it marked the first time that war was reported directly to people by persons who were not combatants.

Journalism took a different turn towards the corridors of professionalism in Europe and America in an environment where the rules and skills were under a period of conception.

Courses in Journalism began in the 19th century. In America the first of such courses was given in 1869 at Washington College later renamed Washington and Lee University.

The University of Illinois offered the first four-year course in Journalism in 1904.

The debate that we are having today had erupted at that time with forerunners like Joseph Pulitzer hesitating to endorse it. However, he became the first American Publisher to recognise the value of formal training in Journalism.

Now USA can boast of more than sixty prominent schools of Journalism.

In Ghana, we know of the days where two brothers wrote on pieces of paper and gave it out to people.

We also know of the Colonial government, which introduced its Gazette and the struggle for independence from foreign colonial rule brought about newspaper publishing.

We also know of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah's radical de-colonisation strategy that involved the Evening News and other newspapers. In fact he founded the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) and said he wanted the sons and daughters of the ordinary Ghanaian to shape the destiny of their beloved Ghana by writing about the truth from their own experiences and motivation.

It is, therefore, no wonder that the elite have always thought of Journalism as just ordinary. We all know that our visionary forebear had met a largely untrained crop of Journalists, who had to be used for the task at hand.

This should not lead to a perpetual dependence of untrained Journalists. He knew that the challenges of Journalism went beyond the "tell tale" factor, which is the only aspect visible to the public.

He founded the school to train people who would be equipped with the skill of writing, the ability to decipher deception from truth, have the instinct of conceptualising ideas that would help the promotion of the development of the land and the African personality.

He was concerned about the "Paradox of Africa" so he thought he could create a platform where other experiences in Journalism are shared and how these packages could be reshaped to suit our circumstances. Now having tried to walk through the Hospital environment and stealing glances at our Law Courts, let us put on record that Journalism is a profession and should be seen as such.

What is a profession? Well, we would say it is one of a limited number of occupations involving special training. We should consider the course stages that have been created for its practise - Diploma to Doctorate.

It is very embarrassing that we have been plunged into the debate on: "Who is a Journalist?" A school of thought has emerged that disparages the profession claiming that there was once upon a time a crop of persons that excelled in journalistic practice but did not benefit from formal training.

This school forgets that history abounds with prodigies, who excel in whatever enterprise they applied themselves. So citing a few great practising Journalists without formal training is a mute point. Another mute argument is the proposition that since Journalism is part of the overall powerful freedom of expression so anybody could just walk into it. Every profession is directly connected to an item on the Bill of Rights.

For example the Medical profession is directly linked to the right to life. The Law profession is fundamental to peace, freedom and justice and every one has the right to be heard yet both professions exist. Journalism must exist as a profession and that does not preclude anybody from expressing his or her thoughts. One does not need to be a Journalist before one could express one's thoughts.

There are a number of well-trained Health Professionals from Kintampo, who are very knowledgeable and are performing great feats in the national healthcare delivery system but they are not called Doctors.

The era of untrained Journalists roaming the streets as Journalist has ended. Anybody, who wants to join the profession, must endeavour to undergo formal training.

If Ghana is to function effectively in this information communication technology world, she could not have masquerades as Journalists - they must be well trained.

The Ghana Journalist Association must be a Professional Association and must have a way of accrediting members.

With respect to the GJA awards, we propose that there should be of two categories - that of recognition for the untrained and the other based on merit for the trained.

The Association should purge itself of charlatans, who drag the name of the profession into the mud.