In the enormous amount of years that I have spent as a journalist in Ghana, I can count the number of times I’ve heard a journalist stand up in public and discuss the problems and challenges that face his or her profession.
General admonitions about in plenty: “Do not do this! Do not do that!” But when it comes to serious analysis based on the nitty-gritty of real life, the young journalist is at the mercy of his own resources. Usually.
This is due, mainly, to (I believe) the hackneyed idea that if one dissects one’s profession before the eyes of the prying public, three results would occur. First, the “mystique” that allegedly pertains to the profession, would be removed or diminished; (2) that one would thereby betray one’s “trade secrets” (such as they are, and thereby hand over, to the “competition”, important information that it could use to challenge one’s position in the media market and (3) that by shining a torch on the profession, one would be handing to its “enemies” (especially those in other professions, such as law and in particular, politics) a stick with which to beat journalists.
Let’s take the first reason – the “mystique” argument – as our launch pad. There is nothing mysterious about journalism, in my opinion. In fact, like medicine, there are always plenty of “bodies” lying around, waiting to be used to provide students (in particular0 and inexperienced doctors, what ailments a body can be affected by, and how not to allow the body to end up on the morgue slab. Newspapers, magazine, radio and television programmes, especially news broadcasts, offer a fodder of malpractices (especially) which can afflict the journalistic profession.
Off the top of my head, the greatest malpractices to avoid are (a) deliberate lying (meant to influence or deceive the public) from political, social or mercenary motives. Here, there is absolutely no excuse; any journalist who indulges in such malpractices is a criminal and should be exposed and kicked out of the profession. Such exposure and “ostracism”, however, seldom occur here, because Ghanaian journalists have swallowed the corrupt notion, imported wholesale from Britain (in particular) that “dog does not bite dog”. The notion has been disowned by many modern British journalists., and organs like Private Eye magazine, regularly take journalists to task for being untruthful, or corrupt, or both.
In Britain, the BBC is also very good at holding journalists up to account. I remember a programme called “What The Papers Say” that usually examined dubious publications or broadcasts, and exposed the untruths in them. In the US, TV programmes like The Daily Show mercilesslylampoon journalists who allow their political biases to lead them up paths laid for them by habitual media manipulators like Donald Trump.
(b) Inadvertent lying (usually resorted to in order to sell ideas or merchandise). The journalist who commits this malpractice may not be a mercenary, or a habitual liar, but allows himself or herself to accept without question, the word of a politician or public relations official, who resorts to deception and other tricks of his trade, to get the journalist to place a point of view before the public.
It must be pointed out that the journalist who is thus used to deceive the gullible public is just as guilty of malpractice as the one who deliberately writes or broadcasts lies, because although his offence may arise out of sheer laziness (such as being unable or unwilling to carry out independent research to verify or demolish the “snake oil” being sold to the public through him) his naivetyproduces a result that is just as harmful as that of the unscrupulous liar.
The implications of this “battle” between deliberate lies and lies that result from ignorance or gullibility is captured in a rather witty ditty written by a writer called Humbert Wolfe in 1930):
“You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
Thank God! the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do unbribed,
There’s no occasion to!”
Change the word, “British” to “Ghanaian” and you will understand why there is so much nonsense on video and other social media outlets, propagating the nonsense peddled constanly by false prophets; or the near- sadistic inanities uttered by politicians against one another; and the pornographic “revelations” about the sex lives of alleged celebrities, made by self-advertising whores.
Why are these vices not so often publicly debated in Ghana? I think it’s not just the “dog don’t eat dog” mentality as well as a guilty conscience on the part of media practitioners. Perhaps, too, it’s an unwillingness on the part if practising journalists to dwell on the malpractices of a profession that affords to them, a popularity and even respect that they know they don;t really deserve.
What would I not have given to hear a public lecture by guys like Kwame Kesse-Adu of The Pioneer; K Y Attoh of the same paper; and their editor, Sam Arthur? These guys went into Preventive Detention between 1959 and 1966. What did their fellow prisoners think of them and their output?
Henry Thompson) formerly of of Drum Magazine) also could have had much to say when he came out of detention. Moses Danquah (formerly of the Daily Graphic) and Henry Ofori (of the Daily Graphicand Drum) could equally have left us unique material about their relationships with Governments. As could Eric Heymann and T D Bsaffoe, the stars of the Guinea Press of Nkrumah days.
Indeed, tension between the state-financed media and those appointed to ensure that the public, who are the real owners of the media, obtain an independent assessment of life in the country (through the performance of those at the top of our media affairs) will continue to exist, to a greater or lesser degree, through the years, I think. The privately-owned media are not exempt from this tension, I daresay.
No doubt a very good step forward has been taken, with the establishment of the National Media Commission. But it’s only one step: it’s up to the Commission to visibly produce independent-minded editors, who will, in turn, nurture independent-minded reporters, columnists and contributors, who would deliberately CREATE a virile, scholarly, public opinion forums in their papers. “Have you seen that letter/article/editorial in today’s paper?” should be the word on the lips of readers every day, every week, every month. As should the discussions in the electronic media. The current “social media caller” system is execrable.
Every country gets the media it deserves. If members of the public read articles or hears discussions on the electronic media that seem to them to be one-sided or based on misinformation and they do not take the trouble to protest; if they do not PERSIST in making their point of view heard (despite being ignored by the opinion column editors, as is usually the case with “controversial” contributions from “outside”); if the knowledgeable people in the society (SUCH AS SCIENTISTS, HISTORIANS AND SOCIOLOGISTS) contemptuously dismiss misinformation in the media as stemming from ignorance and YET REFUSE to write or phone in THEMSELVES to correct the misinformation, nothing will ever change.
Yes – we ought to be in it TOGETHER.
By CAMERON DUODU