Feature Article of Sunday, 28 March 2010

Columnist: Twumasi, Patrick

Who Is A Professional? Is Journalism A Profession?

According to Cutlip Centre and Broom, in their book ‘Effective Public relations’ a leading Public relations Practitioner is said to have told students of Ball state University’Public relations will never reach the status of a profession as long as people can get into the field and prosper without having completed a fairly rigorous course of study in the field’. How professional is Journalism in Ghana?

The Macmillan English dictionary, for advanced Learners, the international student edition defines Profession as a job that you need special skills and qualifications to do, especially one with high social status.

It is well known additionally, established professions require extended periods of training to learn the knowledge and skills needed to practice, plus the completion of qualifying or board exams; generally the more rigorous the training, the more complex the knowledge, the higher the professional status. This is founded on the fact that, professional higher education introduces aspiring practitioners to the body of theory, research, and skills on which the profession is based.

Again, Macmillan English dictionary, defines professional as the acquisition of special skills and qualifications relating to work. Hence, William Goode stipulates, professional as, specialized educational preparation to acquire unique knowledge and skills based on a body of theory developed through research. Also, it leads to recognition by the community of a unique and, essential service. As well, autonomy in practice and acceptance of personal responsibility by practitioners. Adding, codes of ethics and standards of performance enforced by a self governing association of colleagues. All these should be crowned with, internship and course work focusing on tactical implementation.

Besides, continuing education is of great relevance to the building of a professional status. To this scholars like Centre, Cutlip and Broom claims, professions require continuing education to keep practitioners current in theory and skills. Equally concerning is the fact that, continuing education also demonstrates commitment to the life time of learning needed to provide clients current and competent service. This is part of any professions implicit contract with society. Again, practitioners are kept up to date on research developments that expand the body of knowledge through continuing education. However, many practitioners do no believe in value of basic research, but believe experience is enough to guide their activity. In actual fact, many Journalists have stopped learning after school. Hence, some unprofessional, unethical practices exhibited most often.

Beyond the spin, a sign of advancement toward professional status, however, is the increasing demand for research and critical examination of the conventional wisdom guiding the practice.

The institutions that produce the professionals many have advocated license and issuing of accreditation. In the field of Public relations, a pioneer counselor Edward L. Bernays advocated licensing of public relations practitioners. Hence, in 1953, he rightfully argued, ‘In the entire history of professions licensing standards and criteria and finally codes of ethics in public conduct have been necessary. . . to exclude those who are not properly qualified’ What has the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA), done over the years to do away with encroachers and charlatans within the domain of Journalism. Article 162, clause 1, 2, and 3, of the 1992 constitution, spells out the freedom and responsibilities of the media. But, this article does not, prohibits the professional association from licensing and accrediting of their members or those who wish to profess before such people begins to practice as Journalist. Therefore, fifty years after Edward Bernays, had called for licensing Public relations practitioners, he thumped the same drum, stating ‘We must get the two words Public relations defined by laws with licensing and registration of practitioners, as is the case with Lawyers, medical doctors and other professionals. Today the term ‘Public relations’ is in the Public domain and anyone €“ many without training, education, or ethical behaviour - is welcome to use it to describe what he or she professes to do. In a country such as Ghana, where anyone as Edward Bernays claimed in respect to Public relations, uses the prestige of Journalism to polarize society, attempts to guard the profession can not be under emphased. Those practicing should be concern, in order not to cast a slur on the noble profession, Journalism. These fervent efforts by Bernays were all attempts to bring sanity into the parameters of Public relations practice. An example worth citing, involves four young men, who had pretended they were Journalist to covering a programme at Alisa Hotel in Accra. They were later identified as imposters, who came for their parochial gains. They were held to pay $31 US dollars, been the buffet they had taken. All these brings to the fore, whether Journalism is a profession, as Edward Bernays called for protection of the Public relations profession as that of Law and Medicine. How is Journalism protected from untrained, unethical and unqualified people from practicing in Ghana?

In the United States of America, licensing raises three basic constitutional issues; the right of freedom of expression, the right of the states to regulate occupations and the right of individuals to pursue occupations without unjustified state interference. What posses challenge to interference in the freedom of expression is highly justified, as in the case of the United States, it is equally relevant with the professionals? Licensure must be justified on the grounds that it is crucial to the well €“ being and preservation of society. The period of our national development, we need responsible Journalism that is devoid of personal attacks. For the reason, what has happened in recent times is nothing to drum home, the case of Top radio, a private FM station in Accra, and Nana Adarkwa Baafi a New Patriotic Party discussant who had alleged that, the fire that razed the Former President, Jerry John Rawlings residence was his own doing. This hightend tension for some few days. In a continent where radio discussion resulted in genocide in Rwanda, we do not have the privilege to throw caution to the air.

The above stated requirement describes what a profession is, and who is a professional? Hence, the query is, does Journalism fit into it? Yes. But relatively how is Journalism seen in Ghana, does it pass for and accept all the prescription of what a profession is?

In spite of the aforementioned, it is also prescribed that, professional organisation or associations€™ growth is of altermost importance. Since, it reflects the serious efforts being made by many practitioners to surround the function with status and to advance its competence. How effective has, the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) been to sanction recalcitrant members, such as Mr. Ebenezer Ato Sam, (Baby Ansaba). And resolve issues such as the allegations of bribery by Alhaji A. B. A. Fuseni.

Additionally, the growth of memberships of several specialised national organizations and associations attest to the fields growing sense of common interests developing esprit de corps and professionalism. The Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) has the uphill task of proving the true nature of Journalism in Ghana. This is summed up by Marjorie Brown, ‘Each (Profession) exists because it attempts to answer certain related questions which are significant problems in the society. Therefore, Journalism as a profession answers an important problem in the Ghanaian society. How well Journalist has act as such or are aware of this? After all, if everyone can call his or herself a professional, without the proper training and qualification the term loses its meaning.

The great question mark still remains, is Journalism a profession, and who is a professional Journalists? Has Journalism in Ghana attained the above stated professional status, or we are struggling to achieve this?

Finally, the real professional has a sense of history. He does not live in the past, nor entirely in the present. He sees the future as part of the past and of the present. He does not live in blinders. Adding, Dr. Brown says the ‘quality of our workmanship as professional persons in any practical situation are determined by the quality of thinking which is used in meeting that particular situation’.

PATRICK TWUMASI (0209045931)