Opinions Wed, 3 Jun 2015

The wayward press

By Agnes Ansah

I was nearing home when I heard people babbling in a kind of excitement. Their voices were tense and feverish, tinged with awe like people watching human sacrifice.

Like a dog that was not sure a bone was mentioned, I pricked up my ears to hark the direction of the voices. It was from the internet café opposite my house.

Knots of guys had surrounded one desktop computer when I got there. On that computer was a video of a popular Ghanaian fashion icon and a lady caressing.

“)kwasia b3n na )y3 saa ade3 Wei” said one guy listlessly. Meaning who was the fool that did this. The comment stung me like a scorpion. My tongue was biting like the edge of a circumcision blade ready to “circumcise” this guy. How dare he insult the very profession I am aiming to join very soon? However I realized that I could not match up to his strength should a fight break so I quickly walked out. But as I walked home the truth about the media’s conduct hit me like a heavy blow.

For some time now the Ghanaian media has thrown caution to the wind .They are engaging in acts which raises ethical issues.Infact these acts contradict every journalism book I have read since I stepped foot on Ghana Institute of Journalism(GIJ) campus.

Just recently, the internet was flooded with pictures of an alleged rape involving a female presenter in the Western region. Though the pictures were already on the internet, I expected the media to follow the Ghana Journalist Association’s (GJA) code of ethics and act accordingly but they used the pictures like an agile cat pouncing on an unsuspected mouse. Well some might say they are not members of GJA but believe me those 17 articles differentiates a professional journalist from a citizen journalist.

Prior to the afore mentioned incidents, a famous celebrity was alleged to have defiled a girl of age 19.Any journalist who has read the code of ethics would have considered article 14 before putting a pen to paper to produce anything. This article states that ‘journalists should avoid identifying victims of sexual assault”. But some media houses went to the extent of uploading videos online thereby embarrassing her more. Therefore I wasn’t surprised the lady in question decided not to be a witness in her own case or were you?

Unlike those days where a select few owned and managed media houses and ensured that whatever was put out there was the truth,for fear of having their press houses confiscated or editors having the painful ‘luxury’ of fleeing to other countries in a refuse dump, for fear of losing their lives, caution has now been thrown to the wind. This comes as no surprise as the media has become so proliferated.

One major problem is the lack of discipline of verification in some media content. We are constantly being fed with half-baked stories or half-truths and untruth. Even to the extent of pronouncing people dead in headlines and editorials without any in-depth investigation whatsoever. A typical incident is that of Theophilus Tagoe popularly known in entertainment circles as “Castro” who the media propagated to be dead, the very moment he was declared missing. Like a game to a hunter, the media is always ready to pounce on any piece of information albeit non-factual.

Should we go back to those days of the criminal libel law, sanity would probably be brought into the Ghanaian press .Fortunately; we can’t go back to those antagonistic days of old, thanks to democracy. An imported system of Government we keep abusing. A Sage of old states that when a new saying gets to the land of strangers, they lose their heads over it. We have probably lost our heads to the freedom we enjoy in this dispensation. Loose tongues are wagging in the name of free speech, and the media is the worst culprit in all of these.

Article 162 clause 3 of the 1992 constitution states that “there shall be no impediment to the establishment of private press or media; and in particular, there shall be no law requiring any person to obtain a license as a prerequisite to the establishment or operation of a newspaper, journal or the media for mass communication or information”.

Now with a little room, a console and a studio ‘B’a media house can be established, hence the genesis of being flooded with all sorts of comments. Maybe if that portion of the constitution gets amended,media house would think twice when they are finally set to operate.

The situation however is not all gloomy as there are some journalists like Manasseh Azure Awuni, Bernard Avle, Kwame Sefa-kai and Kojo Yankson who strictly adhere to the ethos of the profession, but the bigger question is, are they doing enough to safeguard the integrity of journalism? Or is it a case of protecting a kinsman in trouble?

This is a clarion call to all journalists to attach a sense of responsibility in reporting since they owe citizens that loyalty. It is important that we warn the hen against wandering into the bush after the fox has been chased away.

I don’t have a voice that reaches as far as Manasseh’s or other well-known journalists but I hope that journalists in this country will call themselves to order and confront each other about the irresponsible and choking nature of the media in Ghana.

The writer is a student journalist at the Ghana Institute of Journalism.


Columnist: Ansah, Agnes