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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


circumstances.





"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

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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

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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


received.





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

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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


stories.





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