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Opinions of Tuesday, 4 July 2006

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The North and Human Right Reporting

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, in Tamale, reports on the problems of human rights reporting in northern region of Ghana in the wake Journalists for Human Rights workshop

Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) trainers embarked on the northern regional workshop on human rights reporting in Tamale with the fact that there are differences in human rights problems in various parts of Ghana due to slight differences in each ethnic group’s cultural values. It is these regional human rights troubles that coalesce into national human rights problems like labour, disability and tribalism. While a microscopic part of the Volta Region flashes the “trokosi” traditional practices, where teenage girls are enslaved to shrines for sins committed by the their parents, the northern sector talks of problems of water, witchcraft and female genital mutilation.

Added to these problems is the fact that journalists in the north really get workshops and other innovative journalism programs compared to their colleagues in the south. In fact, one journalist remarked that there are two Ghanas – the north, which is least developed, compared to the south, which almost always receives all the developmental goods and services. This fact revealed at the JHR workshop is buttressed by Dr. Peter Quartey, a Research Fellow at Ghana’s Accra-based Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research analysis of the World Development Report 2006 Equity and Development that “78 percent of northerners...residents of the Upper West, Upper East and Northern regions...are either poor or very poor, and 38 percent of the area's inhabitants spend over 15 minutes accessing drinking water.” No doubt, for logistical reasons, journalists from Upper East and Upper West could not attend the Tamale JHR workshop try as JHR did to bring them to Tamale.

As Ghana increasingly opens up her development process nationally and internationally, how can Ghana solve these human rights problems in her progress? Through holistic human rights reporting informed by Ghana’s culture and history. JHR, a Toronto-based Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded non-governmental organization committed to human rights reporting, is convinced that by universal inferences channelled through human rights reporting the power of the media can be harnessed to “combat human rights abuses and empowers victims to fight back.”

Accepted, JHR trainers told the attentive northern region based journalists [18 in all, with two female] at Tamale’s sleepy Radach Memorial Centre that there are natural link between human rights and journalism, and that this link flows from human rights values of fairness, diversity, equity and objectivity. This means journalistic ethics are not only to be seen in the context of human rights ideals but are also to be tied to practical, everyday human rights practices. And at a higher level, human rights and journalism are to be seen, practically, in Ghana’s progress and not in any abstract context. If we accept this JHR new paradigm, then the human rights-journalism model is to be used not only to open up Ghana’s development process but also drive her progress by helping refine the inhibitions within her local and international values, and also promote the positive enabling aspects of Ghana’s values for development process.

To practice this, the journalists were run through Ghana’s 1992 Constitution (especially the Chapter 5, the longest chapter that deals with human rights), human rights language, journalism ethics and journalism ethical writing, the history of human rights, especially from Ghanaian perspectives, and its evolving principles, as seen from the recently created United Nations Human Rights Council, and how all these are to drive Ghana’s development process. Universally, examples, in terms of journalism, human rights and progress was drawn from diverse sources such as the European Enlightenment thinkers who battled “darkness” and “neo-darkness,” erroneous thinking and beliefs in the 18th century to open up progress. More than ever, as Ghana’s democracy and human rights evolve, journalists are compelled to help battle inhibitions such as witchcraft, rape, female genital mutilation, women and child abuses, prison abuses, poor sanitation practices within Ghana’s development process that entangles her progress. They are also to watch and expose how some international practices such as the World Trade Organization [WTO] are unfair or violate the rights of Ghanaians. The journalists were told to have healthy exchanges with non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross and HelpAge on human rights issues.

To complete the two-day workshop, the journalists were sat in groups of five and drilled in a case study from a report by the Accra-based “The Ghanaian Chronicle” on how children accused of witchcraft rights are violated by their family and the society’s cultural beliefs. In the exercise, the journalists were to track how human rights centred is the report, human rights language and ethics, cultural values employed, non-governmental organizations sourced by the reporter, the degree of balance, and the resolution of all these at the conclusion of the report.

After twenty minutes, the grouped journalists reassembled and each group, through their spokesperson, explained its findings, with occasional responses and interventions from their colleagues and the trainers to explain difficult issues such as when negative freedoms and some ethical issues occur when two rights clash and a mediator such as the law courts are employed to resolve it. All these were done in a highly interactive atmosphere that brought out a lot of revelations such as the increasing abortion rate in Tamale, new ideas and thinking. More or less, the workshop came to the conclusion that human rights reporting could be a complicated matter and demands not only open mindedness but also intense knowledge of Ghana’s culture and history in the context of universal human rights values.

Finally, the northern regional based journalists thanked JHR dearly for the two-day workshop and said it has improved not only their knowledge but also their skills, and called for more of such workshops occasionally to upgrade their profession.



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