Monday, February 12, 2007 was another bad day for the Ghanaian media. On that day, an FM radio station in Ho carried a story to the effect that a number of pupils had died in some parts of the Volta Region after receiving dewormers under the mass school deworming exercise.
The story, based on rumours, caused so much anguish and anxiety that within minutes the streets of Ho were choked with parents scampering to see their children to ensure their safety.
The parents went to the schools and whisked their children away to hospitals for medical check-ups, compelling the authorities to close down the schools.
Some legal and communication experts have noted that in the name of media freedom, one cannot just shout “fire” in a crowded meeting place and escape punishment for whatever happens to the people as they try to flee from the “fire”.
What it means, therefore, is that an onerous responsibility is placed on the heads of media organisations for each item that they carry.
That is why they must verify and cross-check all the stories they carry so that the people will be better informed.
We are happy that the relevant authorities acted quickly to deny the baseless rumour and confirm the efficacy of the drugs administered.
How can the media play any meaningful role in chronicling the history of our people and nation if we delight in putting out unverified stories without bothering about the possible impact of such stories on the people?
This is imperative because in the case of death, especially of pupils after an official medical treatment, there are multiple sources for verifying the truth or otherwise, instead of relying on rumour.
Indeed, if there had been any death, parents, school authorities and the health authorities were all available. The FM station could have called on any of these bodies to confirm the story before putting it out.
We must be professional enough and uphold the code of ethics of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA). We have to ensure that reporting becomes “a meticulous and accurate reconstruction of facts”.
The other day in Accra a number of FM stations tried to outdo one another in reporting a rumour about a man and a woman who had got entangled after having sex. Thousands of people followed the lead to wherever the stations said the couple had been sent.
There was also the reported rumour that a 'kayayei' had turned into a fowl after being touched by a man believed to be a Nigerian. Thousands trooped to the police station to catch a glimpse.
In all these, the stories were not true. They were mere rumours broadcast by radio stations which claimed to be providing accurate, unbiased and authentic information.
We need to learn from Gabriel Garica Marquez that “the notion that the best news is not always the news that is obtained first but very often is the news that is best presented” means something to us.