Opinions of Mon, 16 Nov 20151

An open letter to journalists and media houses

I take this opportunity to congratulate and commend journalists in Ghana for all these years of hard work even at the peril of your way lives in the discharge of your duties.

Unfortunately, many journalists and media houses I have admired over the years since graduating from the prestigious Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) in 1986, for unexplained reasons, which I am yet to come to terms with, have made up their minds or even vowed to either destroy or make individuals and institutions unpopular and ridiculed.

The news media or news industry is those elements of the mass media that focus on delivering news to the general public or a target public.

These include the print media (newspapers, news magazines), broadcast news (radio and television), and more recently the internet (online newspapers, news blogs, etc).

My dear colleagues, it is significant to note that by covering news, politics, weather, sports, entertainment and vital events, the daily media shape the dominant cultural, social and political picture of society.

Beyond the media networks, independent news sources have evolved to report on events which escape attention or underlie the major stories in recent years, the blogosphere has taken reporting a step further, mining closer to experience and perception of individual citizens.

An exponentially growing phenomenon, the blogosphere can be abuzz with news that is overlooked by the press and TV networks. Apropos of this was Robert F. Kennedy Jnr’s 11,000-word Rolling Stone article; apropos of the 2004 United States presidential elections, published June 1, 2006. By June 8, there had been no mainstream coverage of the documented allegations by President John F. Kennedy’s nephew.

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On June 9, this sub-story was covered by a Seattle Post Intelligencer article.

Similarly, media coverage during the 2008 Mumbai attacks highlighted the use of new media and internet social networking tools, including Twitter and Flickr, in spreading information about the attack observing that internet coverage was often ahead of more traditional media sources. In response, traditional media outlets included such coverage in their reports.

However, several outlets were criticised as they did not check for the reliability and verifiability of the information. Some public opinion research companies have found that a majority or plurality of people in various countries distrust the news media. (Karen Daneisha, Bruce Parott-1997; Politics, Power and the East Europe P. 164; Frank Newport-2012, The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 2011-page 335.)

Court of Public Opinion

My dear brothers and sisters in the media, we are all aware that trying cases in the court of public opinion refers to using the news media to influence public support for one side or the other in a court case.

This can result in persons outside the justice system (i.e. people other than judge or jury) taking action for or against a party.

For instance, the reputation of a party may be greatly damaged even if he wins the case.

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But let us be candid in this regard: are we not damaging the reputation of individuals and organisations, especially ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) by some of our banner headlines and so-called top stories?

Journalism

Dear colleagues, we all know from our tutorials at the various schools of journalism and communication that journalism is gathering, processing and dissemination of news and information related to news, to an audience.

The method of inquiring for news, the literary style which is used to disseminate it, and the activity (professional or not) of journalism.

In a democratic society, access to free information plays a central role in creating a system of checks and balances, and in distributing power equally among governments, businesses, individuals, and other social entities.

As journalists or media people, we should not be told or reminded that access to verifiable information gathered by independent media sources, which adhere to journalistic standards, can be of service to ordinary citizens, by empowering them with the tools they need in order to participate in the political process.

Professional and ethical standards while various existing codes have some differences, most share common elements, including the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability – as they apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.

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To be honest and sincere with ourselves, are we all adhering to these common elements of professional and ethical standards, especially in our day-to-day encounters with MDAs in particular and individuals in general?

Legal Status

Governments widely vary policies and practices towards journalists, which control what they can research and write and what press organisation can publish.

Some governments guarantee the freedom of the press, with Ghana as a good example whilst other nations severely restrict what journalists can research or publish.

So for us in Ghana, we must count ourselves lucky and therefore do our best within some glaring constraints to at least adhere to the basic principles of good journalism.

Elements

Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel proposed several guidelines for journalists in their book ‘The Elements of Journalism’ (Harcup 2009, p.3). They posited that because journalism’s first loyalty is to the citizenry, journalists are obliged to tell the truth and must serve as independent monitor of powerful individuals and institutions within society.

The essence of journalism to them is to provide citizens with reliable information through the discipline of verification.

Finally, my dear colleagues, please adhere strictly to the professional ethics and standards; do not fail to uphold the codes, be abreast with the legal status (freedom of the press and media law), and the right to protect confidentiality sources.

For those of us serving in the MDAs, we are there for you and under no circumstance should you hesitate to contact us for any information of public interest.

Columnist: Dan Osman

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