Ghana’s Unrepentant Ugly Face (2)

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Mon, 13 Oct 2014 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

Now, given also that journalism represents the ear and eye of public psychology, what niche has the national conscience carved out for journalism’s full phenotypic expression in the body politic? We can look at this question via the lens of economic democracy. Simply, economic democracy grants each voice in a collective enterprise equal representation of decisional belongingness in the overall exercise of policy strategies tailored to their economic empowerment. Most significantly, political rights and economic rights are necessary partners in any corporate endeavor directed at social equalization, especially as the question has to do with possibilities of economic democracy to level access to the playing field of opportunities, a moral lack in the schematic unfolding of Ghana’s democratic capitalism. 

Thus, Ghanaian journalism should be structured in a way as to make it beholden to the practical potentiation of economic rights and political rights in advancing the cause of humanism, of social justice. On the other hand fruition of this objective requires the theoretical agency of an “invisible hand.” This “invisible hand,” so-called, may assume the fossilized form of the Freedom to Information Bill (FOI), say, which has the potential, among other things, to bring journalism and public psychology in a partnering context of social justice. This “invisible hand,” sadly, exists in a state of taphonomic quandary in Ghana’s hibernating parliament! On the other hand, popular demands for parliament to pass the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) justifiably generate a suite of thoughtful standing queries, such as: How many laws does Ghana need to fight corruption? Are there not enough laws on the books already? What does Ghana stand to gain from passing so many laws that no one seems to benefit from except her corrupt political elites?

Others have also asked: What can the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) actually achieve where all the preexisting body of laws and the security apparatus have woefully failed? Who is going to enforce this law? How is this law going to be enforced? Bob Marley invariably sums up these sentiments thus: “How many rivers do we have to cross before we can talk to the boss?” Those are intelligent and legitimate questions nonetheless. How much is known about this Bill? What we do know about this particular Bill regards its potentiating appeal to the abeyant conscience of the average citizen, calling on him to play an important role in the collective fight against public corruption. This ennobling imposition de-centralizes the moral fight against corruption, thus taking some of the herculean burden off the crumbling shoulders of the office of the presidency and of parliamentary deliberative encumbrances. 

That makes perfect sense. The office of the presidency and the public chambers of parliament are already saddled with other heavy responsibilities and therefore the two cannot sufficiently take on this additional task all by themselves. Moreover, the office of the presidency is neither an instance of institutional pantheism nor an instance of institutional omniscience. The simple reason is that the office of the presidency cannot be everywhere at the same time. What's more, the office of the presidency identifies with a particularity of purpose through constitutional affirmation, which is none other than effective protection of the public interest against conscious erosion by enemies of the people as well as of the state. It may well prove to be the case that the Bill places strict statutory cleavage between incumbency and conflict of interest. Yet incumbent failure to fight corruption frontally would eventually come back to haunt it at the ballot box. 

This view is not certain, however. Generally, the behavior of the mindset of the Ghanaian electorate and the psychology of voting patterns do not markedly detract from our projective pessimism. Indeed doing otherwise, ignoring the canker of corruption, surely reflects negatively on the moral character of incumbency. Constitutionally-mandated access to information, increased media literacy, and increased political conscientization of the masses are important keys to unlocking the esoteric mind of corruption, Ghana’s unrepentant ugly face. Granted, journalism therefore shares a limitless space with political engineering and social engineering in the exclusivity of public consciousness. And both social engineering and political engineering must seek to turn their positive attributes over to the moral agency of public psychology in advancing the cause of national progress. Responsible journalism could help instill compunction in individuals to seek the face of “truth” vital to the interest of national organization. 

It makes sense then to propose a consanguineous link between journalism and the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) on an explanatory platform of theoretic validation. Theoretic attestation is not the issue. Practical considerations are. The latter includes issues of enforcement, protection of whistleblowers, size of financial rewards to whistleblowers, public trust in institutions to adhere to statutory mandates enshrined in the Bill, and so forth. The winner-takes-all political syndrome stands between theoretic attestation and practical expression of the Bill. Regrettably it does not help national organization when the “winner-takes-all’ political syndrome undermines equitable distribution of justice, of which the Bill at least symbolizes in its theoretic pretensions. It also does not help the cause of fairness, either, when media organs are indebted to partisan political patronage, when journalists are always primed to do the bidding of their paymasters, etc., at the expense of national consensus. This is the more reason why Ghanaian educational institutions should inculcate the virtues of critical reading in students in high hopes of students’ attaining heights of critical independence upon reading. 

The Bill has to pass for Ghanaians to know how serious politicians are in truly fighting corruption. But the Bill cannot stand alone. It requires the accommodating consciences of the people and availability of other social instruments for material expression. Generally speaking, technical and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) education is likely to contribute to the moral discourse on fighting corruption. Information technology should be accessible to the general public. The irony is that ICT itself can be part of the flowing consciousness of political corruption. In other words ICT cannot be the primary source of corruption, rather a possible facilitator of corruption of whatever hue. The human mind or human psychology is. Passage of the Bill may require Ghanaian experts in the field of forensic investigation. We specifically have in mind individuals who have mastered the fields of forensic intelligence, digital forensics, forensic dactyloscopy, and forensic accounting. 

The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), the military, and the police service may have to provide the loci for investigational study of these disciplines. This should provide Ghana with the requisite amount of human capital she needs in order to meet the various challenges posed to public safety by the protean faces of corruption. This puts the Bureau of National Investigations, the police service, and the Freedom of Information Bill in the same cosmic soup of institutional readiness. There is no question that Ghana has to purchase state-of-the-art technologies for the program to become successful. We are of the view that science is as much relevant to the fight against corruption as moral philosophy. In fact, the reason we bring up science is to enhance human capacity for understanding the depths of the human condition and for unearthing “truth” where it is concealed. 

Of course “truth” can be dissembled although it cannot be hidden or concealed. Truth behaves much like human predilection for freedom. Moreover, good science, human psychology, and nature can admirably act in concert to bait out “truth” for the convenience of community. But the paths to “truth” are torturous and tortuous. What is more, behind the twin pillars of perspective and context always lurks the kernel of “truth.” Tactically perspective and context can be likened to “laminae,” the many-storied layers of an onion, and further, without the onion’s having a clear definition of a “core,” which, in other words, we may refer to simply as “truth.” Getting to an onion’s “core” can be quite frustrating given its chemical personality as a lachrymatory agent. Onion as a lachrymatory agent burns the eye if exposed to its lachrymatory agents. This is when “truth” hurts the wobbly conscience, the public eye, of those in the body politic who are fiercely opposed to the moral sovereignty of “truth.” 

We identify “truth” with the moral economy of a written document such as the Freedom of Information Bill, because “truth” derives from consensus, compromise, or public concordance. As well, public affirmation of the Bill through the preponderating disposition of parliamentary acceptation is all that is required to give moral freedom to “truth” to operate as it should in the public space. Ghanaian journalists must do well to understand the architectural design of an “onion” and are, thus, called upon by their own conscience to sell “truth” to the people at all times by divesting themselves of invading qualms. Let us point out that the onion metaphor, like the search or quest for “truth,” does not lay claim to absolutes as the unraveling of an onion’s multiple layers demonstrably make for an interesting case of the onion’s shifting personality (See Prabeen Singh’s “The Many Layered Onion Symbolized Eternal Life Egypt”). 

Put differently, “truth” is not absolute but eternal. “There need not be any substance at the core, any more than in an onion,” writes Wole Soyinka. Interestingly, Soyinka’s gnomic remark makes “truth” look as though it is a receding rut of glistering mirage yet within a blind person’s snatching horizon. He is not wrong though. Neither are we. After all, what is the Bill sitting in parliament for? The Freedom of Information Bill, public outrage, and muckraking can help put this consciousness of snatching at “the mirage of truth” on a path of enduring reality. A just public outrage, for instance, can raise the moralizing temperature of public conscience to the point of compelling a sleeping government to come to terms with its expanding portfolios of shortcomings and, accordingly, putting corrective measures in place to redress grievances. A just public outrage should call the fiduciary integrity of a government into question when that government remains stubbornly insouciant in the face of mounting pressure to set things right. 

Also, the Freedom of Information Bill provides a point of interactive contact for journalism and public psychology to educate the world about happenings in Ghana. This imposed arrangement has serious implications for Ghana’s external relations as well as for her internal political dynamics. Goodwill, diplomacy, and statecraft also join at the philosophical hip of national progression in the constitutional affirmation of the Freedom of Information Bill. Indeed that road to social justice, responsible journalism, and corruption eradication is a long, nearly forbidding, and dangerously tortuous one. It may mean, however, that conscientious journalists would have to learn it the hard way, through systemic acquaintance of the general public with the lachrymatory agent of an “onion,” the “truth,” that we are the architects of our destruction, that the National Service Secretarial corruption scandal could as well have translated into schools, hospitals and scholarships for poor promising students, that corruption is gradually destroying the moral fiber of the country, and that bad leadership is progressively putting the future of the country’s youth in irreversible jeopardy. 

That means journalists have the obligation to uphold the ethics of their profession including evaluating issues from multiple angles, presenting facts without the contaminating influences of ideological biases as well as prosecuting cases from the stance of longitudinal inquiry, in which case, for instance, the Bureau of National Investigations’ sleuthing methodology does not predictably begin and end with the sitting government. And, finally, the media should not convict suspects before they are formally charged and dragged either before the fury of the law or before the compassionate accommodation of the law. We should then have to add that allegations are not proven truths. Neither are they constituted of concrete and steel. At best an allegation has the consistency of a parboiled egg. At worst, an allegation reeks of rotten egg! In fact an allegation behaves not so much like a jot of zygote, a fertilized egg, as of a drop of Cowper’s fluid. Why? Because a drop of Cowper’s fluid may not possess the same degree of generative power nature imbues a zygote with. 

The easy tendency to convict suspects in the court of public opinion in the media through deliberate twisting and falsification of facts poses one of the greatest challenges to the advancement of the journalism trade. After all, it is only the law that has a final say as to the potential of an allegation to assume a corrective sense of jurisprudential verity in the company of the witness of direct or circumstantial evidence. A trained journalist is not necessarily qualified to interpret the law for public consumption on a case pending before a sitting judge and possibly in tandem with an impaneled jury, unless, of course, the journalist has formal jurisdiction do so after having acquired a body of legal knowledge through proper training in jurisprudence and has also acquired all the requisite certifications to back his expertise when called upon to do so by the public. A journalist duty is to merely report what a judge, a defense lawyer, and a prosecutor say in connection with a pending case. That is if a gag order is not already in place forbidding disclosure of internal court proceedings to the public. 

It may therefore be more prudent if media houses send out journalists who are also trained as lawyers to fish for news items with legal connotations. Thus, we propose that collaborative journalism and civic journalism and citizen journalism should be permitted in the public space to dampen some of the major divisive tendencies of journalistic individualism. Ghanaian journalism schools can consider the spectrum of journalistic rubrics available today, labeled variously as analytic journalism, computational journalism, data journalism, gonzo journalism, citizen journalism, and scientific journalism, as part of the general trend of improving journalism and bringing an aura of scientific objectivity to reporting. The aura of scientific objectivity includes accuracy, reproducibility, and verifiability. Unfortunately many journalistic writings do not meet these criteria. Ghana needs to make improvements in this area. Successful improvements in news reporting may make the marriage of the Freedom of Information Bill with journalism a workable one.

Our journalists should be sufficiently trained in and equipped with analytic tools of the scientific method, epidemiology, technology, epistemology, liberation ideology, cultural psychology, science journalism, political activism, economic theories, cultural theory, liberation theology, technocratic principles, post-colonial theories, and so on, because journalists everywhere these days require a generalist approach to an understanding of the world, a global village, so-called. We should do well as a matter of emphasis to say there is nothing particularly wrong for a journalist to come up with a reportage that is slanted toward the political philosophy of his choice, when this journalistic expression is done in scientific openness and clear language, and among other things, does not contravene internal party regulations and national constitutional conventions, for, after all, we all come to the marketplace of ideas with our lumbering baggage of autogenic idiosyncrasies that inform our worldviews. We should not expect less from journalists. In another light the staggering challenges journalism faces today is not one of irresponsible journalism per se, which we shall here refer to as investigate journalism exactly as practiced by the likes of Anas Aremeyaw Anas, but rather of tabloid or yellow journalism. 

Anas’s unconventional approach to information gathering is one of a kind and deserving of inclusion in the curricula of Ghana’s journalism schools. Having said that, our misgivings about the state of Ghana’s journalism today do not tell the entire story. However, there is more room for improvement as there is no perfect journalism anywhere, with the lingering shadow of human fallibility permeating the institutional cracks of journalism as usual. It is sad when some unscrupulous journalists clothe their tabloid journalism in such a manner as to pass for scientific or investigative reporting, a practice that must not be encouraged or countenanced by Ghana’s media houses or journalism schools. This primary concern of ours goes to the heart of the electronic media as well. Again, this is not an instance of resorting to the problematic of moral equalization, far from it. Our reservations merely point to the fact we need to begin to learn taking comprehensive inventory of every government that potentially has or has had a role, direct or indirect, in the National Service Secretariat scandal. 

That way, Ghanaians will have an inclusive appreciation of the magnitude of the scandal and a correspondingly larger vista of remediation strategies to contain the malignant spread of corruption in the body politic. This requires passage of the Freedom of Information Bill. Finally, we need to learn to teach each other skills necessary to make life worth living and to put us beyond the reach of material enslavement, for material enslavement is probably the true mother of every manifestation of corruption. Cultivating the virtue of patience and postponing instant gratification through hard work may undermine corruption to influence us and may make material aggrandizement an unnecessary project. 

Let us then share one of Benjamin Franklin’s life-transforming anecdotes together: “Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day. Thus, if you teach a poor young man to shave himself, and keep his razor in order, you may contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving him a thousand guineas. The money may be soon spent, the regret only remaining of having foolishly consumed it; but in the other case, he escapes the frequent vexation of waiting for barbers, and of their sometimes dirty fingers, offensive breaths, and dull razors; he shaves when most convenient to him, and enjoys daily the pleasure of its being done with a good wisdom.”

We shall return…

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis