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Opinions Sat, 24 May 2014

Looking beyond the illusory lies of Fauster atta mensah

The ease with which the self-styled Ghanaian-born scientist and Nobel Laureate, Fauster Atta Mensah, wormed his way into the Ghanaian public view, hoodwinked the whole nation about his illusionary achievements and attributes, and even earned recognition from the Ghana Government on its website leaves a great deal to be desired. I will argue in this piece that the problem is not really about the man Fauster Atta Mensah; rather, the incident is a poor reflection on the state of our national institutions and the caliber of human resources that are manning these institutions.

While social media is brimming over with contumelies and condemnations for the young man, I think beyond the perdition and the derision, we need to turn inward for a moment and ask ourselves some important but fundamental questions. The answers to these questions will inform us about the state of our national institutions and the caliber of human resources that are manning these institutions.

I argued somewhere recently that the educational institutions of a society, be they formal or informal, remain the cultural and intellectual nerve center of that society. The educational institutions remain the control center of society because it is the educational institutions that produce the physicians, communicators, engineers, lawyers, and virtually the myriad of professionals who lineup the industries and the institutions of nations and societies. The performance and output of industries and institutions of any society are, therefore, simply a reflection of the educational institutions that produce the individuals who work in these institutions and industries. If the educational institutions do shoddily, it won’t take long before their shoddy work catches up with the society. If they do an excellent job, that also will reflect in the performance and output of the industries and institutions of the society.

With that said, I am tempted to ask the following questions: (i) What are the duties of a journalist who is preparing to conduct a live interview, or just any form of interview, with a person of interest? (ii) Are interviews meant to simply walk interviewees through their narratives or they are unique opportunities for interviewers to interrogate, problematize, and challenge some assertions, opinions, and views of the interviewee? (iii) What sort of training are our journalists receiving in their institutions of training?

As an organizing principle in journalism, one cannot simply sit in the rocker and serve as a conduit for interviewees to pipe their stories. The onus is on the interviewer to investigate the interviewee, read about them, double-check the facts generated from reading about them from a second, third, or even a fourth source. At no time in the history of journalism is this requirement more critical than in our time. With the availability of and the workings of the Internet, a simple google search will generate expansive information on any individual who is engaged in any meaningful activity anywhere in the world. The works of professors, students, government officials and just anyone is scattered all over the Internet. For Nobel Laureates, their life’s work must even speak volumes of them. A mere google of the name Wole Soyinka will reveal so much about the man that a journalist will even have a difficult time crystalizing or synthesizing his interview questions.

The ease with which Fauster Atta Mensah bamboozled the gullible Abdul Hayi Moomen and for that matter the people of Ghana and its leaders should be a wakeup call to both journalists and the institutions that train them. The Internet has become an indispensable tool in researching individuals in preparation for interviews (Please follow the link to this article that highlights the research process in the age of the Internet: http://thenewsaboutthenews.blogspot.com/2011/02/checking-ethical-component-of-story.html). If even high school and college students are using google to generate as much information as possible on their instructors and professors—so they know who they are—before deciding to register for their classes, what excuse will a journalist working for a national TV have for failing to do due diligence by researching on his interviewee before airing his lies to a whole nation?

For our political institutions—the Ghana Government and the African Union—who hastily recognized and awarded this charlatan, we can understand their situation. In the case of the NDC government, after squandering the goodwill of the people of Ghana, especially with the never-ending cycle of corruption and bad news, one good news from a self-acclaimed Nobel Laureate would have brightened its website and deflect some of the pressure from the unabating negative press. This is not to say that the government’s communication team can be exonerated from this glaring fuax pas. If Moomen is culpable for lack of professionalism, the NDC government communication team is doubly culpable!

Similarly, the African Union must have been looking for a success story to shine its website. But as it has turned out to be, it has brought opprobrium upon itself and its staff who failed to do due diligence. I hope some vital lessons are learned from this disgraceful incident.

Let’s turn inward and ask ourselves where we have gone wrong. Let’s not reduce this simply to a matter of jokes on the Internet. As I write, I am aware of teachers with fake certificates who are entrusted with the lives of students; I am also aware of quack doctors who are toying with the lives of gullible Ghanaians. The point is that our institutions and the individuals who are mandated to man these institutions have failed us.

Prosper Yao Tsikata

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao