By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The wordy warfare between the Ghana News Agency (GNA) and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) over the GNA’s news report (“IEA slams NPP for abuse of incumbency in Election 2008” filed on Sunday, August 14, 2011) could have been avoided had the IEA behaved responsibly. But it didn’t; hence, the intensification of the verbal tug-of-war that has spilled over and added fuel to the NDC-NPP rivalry.
The IEA’s conduct in this matter calls attention to one major problem that continues to frustrate genuine efforts by well-intentioned journalists to do their legitimate duties as members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. From the knee-jerk attempt that IEA officials made to refute the GNA’s report, one can tell that the IEA must have been taken unawares by the publication. Instead of deflecting the blow, however, the futile attempt rather exposed the IEA to contempt and raised doubts about its political neutrality. It clearly revealed the ignorance of whoever was behind that futile attempt to turn a true story into a lie for which the GNA should be blamed. The attempt also betrayed something pernicious about the IEA itself, raising the question: What at all is the IEA afraid of to warrant its rash attempt to hide documentary evidence and then turn round to blame the GNA for doing its legitimate duty? If, indeed, the IEA had nothing to hide, why would it want the whole world to disbelieve the GNA’s story even though it had been based on a report (“Election 2008,” dated 21 March 2009) that the IEA itself had posted on its official Web site? Why should the IEA create the impression that the GNA concocted that report and must be blamed for any credibility problem that it might create for the NPP? More importantly, why would the IEA surreptitiously remove that particular report from its Web site, where it had been long before the GNA gleaned ideas from it for that news report? Ignorance or treachery at its best? Or did the IEA’s big shots not know that once the material was published online, it would be cached and become a permanent record in cyberspace for easy access by anybody with the correct URL? I tried it, and came across that long original report. Here is the URL to that source: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Yif0MiFr3NQJ:www.ieagh.org/News---Events/Election-2008.aspx+Report+on+the+2008+General+Elections+in+Ghana+IEA&cd=5&hl=en&ct=clnk&client=ubuntu&source=www.google.com
Perhaps, the IEA officials who caused the item to be stealthily deleted just before the official attempt to refute the GNA story had something to hide. This attempt at deception is inimical to national our interests. Furthermore, it has a serious repercussion and is strong enough to shatter the IEA’s own credibility. It serves notice that the IEA has something sinister up its sleeves. I am not in the least surprised that the NDC has accused the IEA of being a lackey of the NPP.
Considering the quick reaction of Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey (NPP National Chairman) to the GNA’s report, all I can say is that he and his party might have been jolted by that report into making that desperate, pitiable move to save face. No one who saw what happened in Ghana before and during the 2008 elections will be tempted to agree with Obetsebi-Lamptey’s sorry attempt at damage control. His vitriolic outbursts only betrayed the disdain to which the GNA’s story exposed his party for abusing incumbency.
Perhaps, only he and those he was sp eaking for were the only people in Ghana who had eyes but couldn’t see what was happening in their own party as far as the substance of the IEA’s report was concerned. In effect, one only has to dismiss Obetsebi-Lamptey’s misplaced raving and ranting as the desperate acts of a power-hungry lot whose dream of returning to power is being threatened. These are the products of a political culture who know nothing but lies, more lies, and the most lies as their potent political tool.
Perhaps, the only cause one may have to question the rationale behind the GNA’s news report is its timing. Information available at the IEA’s Web site indicated that the original report (“Election 2008”) was dated 21 March 2009, meaning that the report had been released long before the GNA published it on August 14, 2011. Why did it take so long for the GNA to know about such a report? Or, considering the current jostling for the electorate’s attention, should we assume that the timing for the GNA’s news report didn’t work well for the NPP; hence, the party’s anger and apparent threat to the IEA? In any case, what has the IEA got to lose or gain by this GNA report? Is anybody in the IEA afraid of the repercussions to warrant the criminal removal of the original report from the IEA’s Web site and the reference to that missing link to justify the IEA’s claim that it neither wrote such a report nor had anything to do with it? Something is not adding up well to me.
Indeed, the behaviour of the IEA is reprehensible. Its nameless officials who quickly refuted the GNA’s news report with the delusion that once the IEA had already removed the original report from its Web site there would be no evidence to corner the IEA must bow their heads in shame.
By their unconscionable behaviour, they threatened the genuine efforts by journalists and the news media, generally, to do their legitimate duty of providing valuable news reports to help inform and educate the citizens. Of course, the citizens look up to them to play their watchdog and contribute their quota toward national development. This role cannot be performed satisfactorily if institutions that claim to be non-aligned think-tanks choose to frustrate efforts instead of complementing them with responsible behaviour. I commend the Management of the GNA for facing up to the IEA and for refusing to be browbeaten into accepting an unjustifiable blame for publishing that news item. The Acting General Manager, Boakye Boadi-Danquah, and his team deserve our support to help the GNA raise standards of journalism. Of particular interest to me is the resolute stance taken by the Editorial Conference (the highest authority on editorial matters at the GNA) to uphold the veracity and genuineness of the news item.
By so doing, the GNA has taken journalism a notch higher and thrown a huge challenge to all other news media to ensure that whatever they release is supportable by incontrovertible evidence. It is only then that those who want to play hide-and-seek with the media will have no room in which to manipulate the situation to cover their butts.
With their news items firmly grounded on such irrefutable evidence, the media will be disarming people and institutions featured in their news reports and preventing them from undermining journalists’ credibility with their usual worn-out refrain of “I have been misquoted.” For far too long, those in the media have been discredited at will by those who make utterances on the spur-of-the-moment only to turn round in a sober mood to shift the blame to journalists when the real impact of their misguided utterances hits them after the fact. Such occurrences have given Ghanaian journalists a bad name.
We are not talking about the problem of “inducements” (known to the journalists as “Soli”), which is another sordid aspect of the Ghanaian media scene; but problems created by people in responsible positions whose conduct adversely affects the image of journalism. Efforts to improve reportage in the country cannot succeed if such people in supposedly non-partisan institutions behave in a suspicious manner as those at the IEA have just done.
The persistent clamour for the Right to Information law to be enacted must not be undermined by characters whose conduct creates the impression that information will not be responsibly processed and disseminated to serve any good cause. Once those in authority have the slightest cause to suspect motives, they will not expedite action on this law; but we need that law as a safeguard against wanton abuse of official positions. The IEA must not set that bad example to frustrate anybody.
We must remind the IEA that as a supposedly non-partisan institution, it is expected to support genuine efforts to clean the political landscape and create a conducive environment for national development. If it has nothing to fear, it must not attempt to hide when authentic reports emanating from its own circles are processed as news items and published for the good of society.
It should be the same for all other organizations that claim to be non-partisan but whose officials’ public posturing, utterances, and activities clearly expose their clandestine political machinations. No one will do more harm to our national development efforts than those who hide behind so-called Non-Governmental Organizations to promote partisan political agenda, especially if such agenda work against the government of the day. The IEA has a hard road to travel in clawing back the credibility it has just lost.