General News Wed, 6 Nov 2002

When is a rumour a story?

Over the past several weeks, the Ghanaian public has been asking the

country's journalists a pertinent question - "Should rumors be published

in the media?" The question stems from the events caused by a

publication in a pro-government private newspaper, the Accra Daily Mail,

that a senior journalist had received 125,000 dollars in suspicious


"When is a rumor a story and when is story a rumor?" one curious public

official asked. "Should journalists public rumors? Should they publish

material, which they are still investigating?" he continued. The

hullabaloo started when the Accra Daily Mail, in a front-page story,

claimed, "the senior echelons of the Ghanaian media were awash with

rumors concerning a senior member who has been exposed by a close

associate." The story claimed that the person, who "is not generally

known for solvency, has recently been discovered by a close associate to

be in possession of 125,000 dollars in cash."

According to the newspaper, a senior journalist "recently gave the wife

of a close associate a box to keep. The associate was not at home then.

On his return, his wife pointed at the box and said Mr. X said she

should give it to him for safe keeping.

"A little later, he was overcome by curiosity and decided to peek into

the box to make sure what the content was. To his amazement and shock,

he saw wads of dollars staring at him. Inexorably, as if hypnotized, he

set about counting the money. He counted 125,000 in mostly 100 dollar

notes." When the friend came to claim the box, and he was asked whom

the money was for, he explained that someone was investing in his business.

The executives of the Ghana Journalists Association were not amused by

the story. They asked their Ethics Committee to get down to work and

clear the air. But in as much as they have tried to get the Editor of

the newspaper, Haruna Attah to clear the air, they have drawn a blank.

The Editor said he could not attend a first meeting to face the Ethics

Committee. When he eventually came, he said he could not disclose the

names of the persons involved. He would do that only if the committee

Ethics Committee would regard the disclosures as confidential and would

not pursue the information given. It said its investigations were still

continuing. The Committee refused to accept the condition pointing out

that an Ethics Committee operated on its ability to act on information


For its conclusion, the Committee said the matter of the 125,000 dollars

remains a rumor. It, however, advised Attah that in the interest of the

public and of the profession of journalism, he should come out as soon

as possible with an acceptable conclusion to end the speculations on the

story. The speculations have turned into an explosive media war between

senior journalists. Kwesi Pratt, a fiery socialist politician who is

editor of the "Weekly Insight," has publicly written to Attah to name

the name as callers into a phone-in radio programs, and had mentioned

his name as the one who has received the money. "To end the assault on

my reputation, I request that you either publish the name of the senior

journalist involved or state publicly that I am not the journalist your

newspaper refers to." Attah would not budge. He made matters more

confusing when he again published that the money was not meant to invest

in business but "to propel his stature in a political party."

Members of the public have been uncomfortable with the style of

journalism in the country where innocent people have been attacked and

their reputation soiled, only for the stories to be found to be untrue.

The National Media Commission said it is happy that more and more

members of the public have been using their mediation committee to

resolve differences with the media, but that is also a cold admission

that more and more people are being hurt by the publication of unchecked


The National Reform Party in a communiqu? released this week must have

spoken for many people when it said the media was "going through a

period of self-discovery and turmoil..." The Party noted, "Many

ordinary citizens are worried that our media are becoming increasingly

irrelevant to our development process. The core concern appears to be

that the media increasingly reflect the mostly political concerns and

views of only a small section of society." It is a concern that in the

service of these narrow interests, factual reporting is giving way to

ideological "propaganda."

Many people have said the Ghanaian media is boring. Although there are

many publications and radio stations, the slant is terribly skewed

towards politics, and in the politics, it is the publication of rumors

whose objectives one can only guess.

Clearly, the Ghana Journalists Association and its Ethics Committee have

work to do, not only on the 125,000-dollar rumor story, but other

reports in a similar vein.

Source: AA/Corrections by McKinley High