Ghanaians, reporter and the point of reference matter

Journalists Ghana Reporters File photo

Sun, 14 Apr 2019 Source: Isaac Ato Mensah

My mentor has diagnosed the Ghanaian situation well – ‘They have no point of reference’, he says.

It has taken me many years to realise that quite often, the Ghanaian will speak or act without any point of reference.

And when challenged (s)he will become obnoxious, petty and aggressive…..again without any reference to the substance of the issue under discussion.

These days, it has become a signature characteristic in the nation’s mad race to the bottom.

My newsroom training session at Pre-Vas TV, Teshie First Junction in Accra, is free of charge and open to all.

There must be a sustained effort to raise standards; to lead from darkness to light.

There were rumours that some media wannabes had lambasted our training methods saying that when it comes to Twi news and especially translations from English into local languages, it is not about what you can write but what you can say.

Then last Friday, the 14 of December came another training day and my challengers/ critics walked in for a “ghana style reconciliation meeting”.

With the meeting amicably concluded, I scheduled them for a presentation.

‘Where are your scripts?’, I ask.

‘The anchor will read the announcer intro and we will say the voice over’, they say.

‘You will say it from what and where?’, I ask.

‘It’s in our heads’, comes the reply.

Please let me give you sixty seconds to laugh, cry, pity the new abyss and uhmmm……..

OK, let us continue if you are ready.

I took my time and explained to the training session that even a judge so learned in the law cannot be surprised in court by an astute lawyer raising some matter of legal doctrine.

In the same vein, you cannot surprise your opponent by introducing another contention to the matter.

And in criminal cases, you cannot surprise an accused person with an offence.

If you do, there shall most likely be an adjournment for a prepared response.

I took my time to explain how the lawyers will state their clients pleadings on paper and make it available to all parties.

‘And when the judge calls out, “Yes, counsel”, you have to speak to what you have submitted’ I explained.

‘If you want to introduce a new element into the case, you beg leave of the court and if the other party does not challenge your procedure, then you may be allowed to go off on an unexpected tangent’, I added.

Even then, the opposite lawyers may ask for a date to respond to your new argument.

In short, we are talking procedural matters here.

Indeed, the whole court case is decided based on what? Prior points of reference recorded in the big heavy books that the lawyers carry and the judges have in their studies or offices.

If lawyers do this all the time, then you an untrained media wannabe in a country with a literacy rate of 15 per cent (34 per cent for all Ghanaian languages including English) should observe this international best practice.

‘If you do not change your thinking about reading and writing, but continue to act like you do now, then no government appointee or business leader will take you seriously’, I emphasised to the trainees.

As a reporter speaking live from some location, or an anchor lady in the studio, please be informed, respectfully that those Twi radio and TV station pioneers you are imitating, studied translation at the Bureau of Ghana Languages for many years and practised afterwards in obscurity.

In any case, whatever you want to say extempore, you have to admit you are only copying them.

If you admit that honestly, then we can ask the meaningful question, ‘Based on what reason are you copying them?’.

Now we also hear that every media house has its own house style. Granted.

What is it based on? Have they been able to produce any documentation – written or otherwise – to back their in house style?

Does the word “style” not suggest there is some foundation which is common to all from which you can then vary?

Let us make this simple; there are various reference points for speakers and writers in the media.

The Missouri Group, Oxford University Press and many media research organisations have produced writing and speaking manuals for journalists.

‘It is sad that the people who created the first library in the world (Alexandria, Egypt) will have this attitude’, my mentor observes. ‘It means they do not respect their own tradition.’

But the journalists are not alone in this new low.

The recent reversals in major decisions made at the University of Education Winneba (UEW), and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) are an indication that perhaps some generalisation that Ghanaians have no reference point for decision making will provoke the right debate.

If our universities are this poor on procedural matters, then what do you do with a letter sent to you from some organisation with attorneys or lawyers in their fold, which letter has no point of reference?

Apparently, even titles in Ghana have no point of reference. No need to give examples unless absolutely necessary.

It is hard living in Ghana. ‘Before you know, you have become a “bad person”!’

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Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah