20.02.2006 Feature Article

“Fiddling With National Security.” A Rejoinder

“Fiddling With National Security.”  A Rejoinder
20.02.2006 LISTEN

The Chronicle has been one of the most respected Ghanaian papers for its investigative reporting and news coverage. It has good columnists and the best investigative reporters by Ghanaian standard. But, its news article on national security, on Friday, February 3rd, 2006, makes one wonders whether the paper still maintains its professionalism, reliability, and public accountability. One wonders if this reputable paper now engages in misleading news coverage or media miscues in its reporting. In its news article, “Fiddling with National Security,” the paper begins with a personal attack on Dr. Addo Kuffour without telling his readers exactly what the man has done to incur the displeasure of the junior army officers, and the paper. It is the most ridiculous and sloppy news article I have read so far from the paper. If people wonder for a moment about a paper's honesty, or motive in reporting, then that paper has lost its credibility.

There is nothing wrong about a paper reporting about the government's handling of important issues that concern all Ghanaians. This is the journalistic function of acting as a watch-dog on the government's activities, but it has to be done with the professionalism and neutrality it deserves. Journalists have an ethical obligation to their audiences and to those whose activities they report on to be as accurate as possible, and that failing to be accurate is professionally culpable.

In this news article, the paper moves from one accusation to another without providing any evidence to support them. The first goal of good editors and journalists is to inform their audiences. To do this, first, they have to do some research and conduct interviews. Second, they have to give the reader the details by expanding on the five Ws. And third, they have to include one or two quotes from the people they interview. Further, they have to remain objective, and never openly state their own opinions. Sadly, all these important qualities were missing in this news article.

The paper also alludes, “any student of intelligence can tell, that things have reached a boiling point among the most volatile and fluid wing of the armed forces - the junior ranks- among whom the incubus that dogged and haunted the better part of our nationhood, preyed on and rode to power. And they are giving us all the signals.” It is surprising to note the writer makes such a serious claim without telling his or her audiences why things have reached a boiling point. This is sloppy journalism indeed.

The paper also accuses other media establishments of hypocrisy in their coverage of the government activities, but here again; it does this without providing any evidence to buttress or to support its claim. The paper writes, “The largely hypocritical, praise-singing media studiously give him cover, quivering in obsequiousness. None of the relevant questions are being asked, and the whole nation is fooled into thinking that all is well with the defence establishment." What did these media organization write about, when, and why?

As Readers, we want stories that startle and engage us. Ghanaian editors and their news reporters have to understand that they have much power, because what they write can influence people's decisions, and help form or change public opinions about issues. But this power has to be balanced with responsibility of getting their fact right without insinuations and innuendos.

Editors and their news reporters are to check their stories by asking the questions: What is the news in this? Why should our readers care to read them? What questions will the readers have that I need to answer in my story? The story should address the basic facts of whom, what, when, where, why and how… the most relevant information. The news should in some sense tell readers how they can be affected by the situation, and give the general perspective that frames the background of the news. This is because Context helps readers to know whether something is normal or surprising. In the news article under consideration, “the chronicle,” could have provided a background of the issue, giving the evolution of the problem, the people involved, and the extent of the problem. Which group of the military considers the issue as a problem, and why?

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that Ghanaian journalists should be able to explain and justify their news stories especially where the stories are delicate or controversial, or have far-reaching consequences. They should consider their work as a contract between them and the public. They should make sure that competing views are balanced and are fairly reported. Further, they need to be sensitive to the people who are the subject of adverse news stories. These people should be allowed reasonable time to respond to the adverse information before they are published. Instead of resorting to sloppy and sensational writings that make the reader distracted and uncomfortable, I will pray the Ghanaian media to make truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability the hallmark of their work. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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