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Opinions of Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Columnist: Daily Guide Network

The plight of Ghana’s journalists


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In the traditional Ghanaian society, the gong-gong beater is the most disrespected and an object of ridicule and public fun. He is very often not very well fed, poorly clothed and in many instances, takes solace and succor in alcohol as a faithful companion.

However, when he has a message from the Chiefdom or any prominent citizen of the community for the general citizenry, he almost always takes the community hostage. He is the major source of information for the rich, the affluent, the poor and the afflicted in whatever form. His message can also put the whole community on edge depending on the message and the source of the message.

As soon as the sound of the gong-gong rends the air and disturbs the tranquility, or better still disturbs the ecstasies of the community, everything almost comes to a halt. The rich, the poor, the old as well as the young, the Prince and Princesses, the slaves and the downtrodden momentarily focus their attention on the gong-gong beater. Children gather around him as he delivers his message to the community from whichever source. The children shout in ecstasies once again either in respect of the message or as a way of making the gong-gong beater an object of mockery. The adults discuss the message at various levels and act accordingly.

The plight of the Ghanaian journalist is no different from the traditional gong-gong beater who is only relevant when he has some information for the community, no matter the nature of the information. As soon as the information is received, digested and assimilated or discarded, the journalist is of no importance any longer to the society. When I decided to carry my ambition of becoming a journalist along in life, one thing scared me even as I respected journalists. Some of those I saw and admired, looked unkempt in terms of their dressing, poor in their outlook, and uninspiring as far as their future was concerned.

When I eventually went through my education and training and started mingling with them, I understood why my senior colleagues looked so miserable. Those were the days when the prominent media houses were the State Owned Media, namely, The Daily Graphic, The Ghanaian Times, Ghana News Agency and the almighty Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). I dare say to the chagrin of modern day young journalists that any journalist who has not had any practical attachment with the above media houses has lost a great deal of professionalism and ethics in the practice of the craft.

Sadly, public officials have not allowed these professionals to practice their craft as best as they should, they interfere in their work, use, misuse and abuse them for their political gains. The docility by the journalists themselves also added to their woes since the adage of ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ was allowed to hold sway and reduced them to the level of the village gong-gong beater, only relevant when he has a message from the powerful to tell the community. Indeed the village gong-gong beater also carries the message of the poor as well as the victims of injustices, but he hardly uses the same medium to address his own poor circumstances and living conditions.

The risk of being in the entourage of a President each time the President is on official duty cannot be underestimated. Who cares about the safety of the journalist? What types of insurance are available to the journalists in the risky business of searching for news of public interest even when the person about whom such news is being sought, is so powerful and capable of harming the journalist?

What type of conditions of service is available to journalists in this country? Even as the accident of journalists at the Presidency was so fresh, Stan Dogbe who is a journalist at the Presidency and in charge of the media, seized a recording gadget of a GBC reporter and broke it into pieces at the 37 Military Hospital because he suspected that the young journalist had recorded the Minister for Communication. His employers, GBC is mum about this mistreatment of its staff. Media houses cannot even protect their own, ao GBC.

Who cares about how the journalists get to their sources of news and how they get back to the Newsrooms to ensure they are not overtaken by time and avoid the staleness of news? I remember those days, when both Senior and Junior reporters were crammed into one rickety vehicle on a daily basis to be dropped at various points of assignments throughout Accra. How they got back to the offices of GBC, Graphic Corporation, Ghanaian Times and the GNA was left to them.

Today, the media landscape is dominated by privately owned Print and Broadcast facilities, which has changed the sources of information and the styles of presentation of the information. What remains constant however is the working conditions and Conditions of Service of journalists even if they had them in the past. Even though the blossoming of the private media houses has opened up opportunities for the citizenry to fully participate in the national discourse, conditions of service in many of these media houses do not exist. In fact many of the young people who show up at various public functions to gather news for their organizations are not even paid.

Those who receive anything that can be described as salaries are unsure when the next salary was going to come. They survive on ‘SOLI’, and in the process further reduce their self-esteem in the face of the public. I worked for two major newspapers, privately owned and never had SSNIT contributions towards my old age. That is how bad it is.

There have been several occasions in this country when journalists have suffered undue assaults from some sections of the public in the performance of their duties. What do the employers do to protect them against future threats on their lives? And so it has come to pass that even at the highest level of this nation’s leadership, the journalist cannot be protected. While hangers on at the Presidency with no constitutionally assigned roles in the scheme of things who go by the titles ‘Presidential Aids’ have access to the most luxurious of facilities for doing jobs that can be dispensed with, the journalist whose jobs are so crucial to the development of this country are still treated with disdain.

Who chose the ‘trotro’ which perhaps had the inscriptions ‘Asem beba dabi’ for the journalists on their way back to Accra? I have heard the excuse that the original vehicle which took the journalists assigned to the Presidency had been assigned to some work at the time the journalists were about leaving back to Accra. Who chose that vehicle for that assignment and why only that vehicle? Could the Volta Regional Coordinating Council not provide a vehicle for whatever assignment during the function? Or was the only vehicle available the one that conveyed the journalists from Accra? Could the District Assembly not provide a vehicle for whatever purpose?

So this young journalist, full of promises for the future had to lose his life in serving the nation at the highest level of his calling. There was no protection for him, just as many of those before him were exposed to poverty and so many inhuman conditions of life. What are the conditions of life of Christian Aggrey of Ghanaian Times, James Cromwell of GTV, what was the life of the late Sam Clegg of Graphic Corporation, does anyone remember the brilliant late Gariba Bawa of GBC Radio, and again Daily Graphic’s E.K.T. Deletsa, also of blessed memory? Very hardworking journalists who served this nation but died so poor.

What has changed for the journalists of today and who is telling their story? To my colleagues, my simple message is ‘ if you do not say you are, no one will say thou art’. Rise up and fight for your rights with the same vigour with which you fight for other oppressed people. My condolences to the family of Samuel Nuamah and a speedy recovery to the injured. And to Stan Dogbe whose new found position has made him a Monarch of all he surveys, time will tell.

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