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11.12.2009 General News

Shame On Journalists

By Daily Graphic
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There is an Akan saying that, se kro mo foo a ewo etia ne etia nnka a, na eno nkyere se abontensofoo emefa nkodi, meaning, if the people in a community are in rivalry, that does not mean that a stranger must benefit from their differences.

The media are the main stakeholders as far as the National Media Commission (NMC) is concerned.

However, since its inception in 1993, all the chairmen of the NMC have been lawyers. Thankfully for the first time, a thoroughbred journalist and nominee of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Mr Kabral Blay-Amihere gets elected as chairman and the attack is from some journalists.

The expectation generally of the average journalist should be jubilation and satisfaction, but no. Some journalists have described this open display of public confidence in the Ghanaian journalist, as a betrayal and conspiracy to deny the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government under Prof. John Evans Atta Mills, the due control of the NMC.

How sad. It is not only unfortunate but very destructive of media freedom. In the first place, it is difficult to visualise the advantages that a government would derive from the chairmanship of the NMC, except perhaps the monthly allowance, which is one of the poorest even by public service standards.

The Constitution is clear under Article 173 that “subject to Article 167 of this Constitution the National Media Commission shall not exercise any control or direction over the professional functions of a person engaged in the production of newspapers or other means of communication”.

Article 167 defines the functions of the NMC and indeed, media commissions or press councils are merely courts of honour. In our specific case, the High Court has held that the NMC cannot compel witnesses to appear before it.

So, the NMC functions more on trust and mutual respect. Therefore, if anybody thinks that the NMC must of necessity be controlled by the government, either the person does not understand or appreciate the role of the NMC or that the person does not have faith in media freedom.

Both situations are dysfunctional to democracy and constitutionalism. Any perception that the chairman of the NMC is a committed and loyal proxy for the government would render the NMC useless.

It is only when the chairman of the NMC is seen to be independent and interested in the objective pursuit of media freedom and responsibility that the nation would derive something meaningful from the institution.

The other unintended impression that Rev Dr Fred Deegbe could be an NDC sympathiser since he lost to Kabral, is even more dangerous as that man of God is very principled and has at all times presented himself as a nationalist, more interested and concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of Ghanaians than the political party in power.

The tendency among Ghanaian journalists to denounce and betray one another for partisan considerations whether political, religious, social, economic, cultural or ethnic defies the situation where blind solidarity is demonstrated once those associated with us are involved.

There is this unhealthy and unprincipled act where journalists working for the state media are perceived to be sycophants and that it is only those working for the private media who are capable of giving meaning to media freedom. Conversely, many in the state media assume erroneously that unprofessionalism and unethical behaviours are synonymous with those in private practice.

But as our people say, there is a Mensah in every house. There are professionally committed and dedicated journalists in both public and private practice as much as there are charlatans across the divide.

It is equally not true that it is only those who work for the private media who practise independent journalism, there are sycophants as well.

In 1993, under a constitutional dispensation, when the military authorities arrested and detained a journalist, Nkansah Daaduam, there were some journalists who felt it served him right.

They failed to appreciate the fact that it was unconstitutional for the military to have arrested any Ghanaian at a time that we were under a constitutional democracy.

It is, therefore, a shame or blot on all journalists that at a time that one of us has been elevated to the high office of chairman of the NMC, the sixth since the birth of the NMC in 1993 and the first journalist to be so honoured, some journalists have rather wished otherwise, thus undermining the confidence the people have in our journalists.

Thus, as Andrew Belsey and Ruth Chadwick note, “as for journalists, they as the humorous rhyme reminds us, do not even need to be bribed to behave unethically”. That is the sad part and shame on us all who claim to be journalists.

“Yet journalism remains an honourable profession, because it has an honourable aim, the circulation of information, including news, comments and opinion. This is an honourable aim because the health of a community depends on it”.

Ghanaians of goodwill and those who want the NMC to impact qualitatively on national life, including the Editors Forum, have recognised and appreciated the honour done journalism with the election of Kabral Blay-Amihere as the chairman of the NMC. To be recognised by one’s peers and professional colleagues is a greater honour.

We do not need to forget about the observation in the Good Book about prophets and honour from their own communities.

That is why I wish to congratulate Kabral for winning honour among his own, even if those in the fringes see his election as a political betrayal. The good people of this country wish him well and success.

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