Tue, 16 Mar 2010 Feature Article

On media irresponsibility

On media irresponsibility

“O ye, who believe if an unrighteous person brings you any news, investigate if fully, lest you harm a people in ignorance, and then you repent of what you did.” – THE HOLY QURAN.49:7

VICE PRESIDENT John Mahama is reported to have urged journalists to balance media freedom with responsibility, in order not to injure the reputation of people for no just cause. (See THE CHRONICLE. Friday, March 12, 2010. Page 13)

The DAILY GUIDE issue of Friday, March 12, 2010 also reports of the decision of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) to organise a workshop on ethics and professional standards for its members at the International Press Centre in Accra.

At the time when media irresponsibility threatens to get out of hand with the establishment of so many media houses, the injunction of The Holy Quran, the caution by the Vice President, and the decision of the GJA are worth paying attention to.

Articles 21 (1) of the1992 Constitution guarantee freedoms, including (a) “Freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media” and (b) “Freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom.”

Article 162 (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) makes specific provisions to guarantee the freedom and independence of the media.

However, as the Constitution makes clear, these freedoms and guarantees do not give media proprietors, editors, other journalists, those in academic, and other citizens, the licence to say or do what they like.

For example, Article 162 (6) states, “Any medium for the dissemination of information to the public which publishes a statement about or against any person shall be obliged to publish a rejoinder, if any, from the person in respect of whom the publication was made.”

Of course, publishing rejoinders is not the only limitation on the freedom of the media. The Constitution also permits the making of laws by the state to protect individuals from defamation.

Laws may also be passed to ensure law and order, public safety, public morality, national security, etc.

Even in the absence of these constitutional provisions, people in the media should allow common sense and morality to guide their conduct and utterances, especially, where such conduct or utterances are likely to injure the feelings of individuals or whole groups, in the matter of tribe, religion, profession, or other associations.

Unfortunately, there have been instances, even with the coming into being of the 1992 Constitution, in which people in the media have chosen to ignore the ethics of the profession, and the provisions in the Constitution.

Take the issue of a rejoinder. A newspaper puts a story on its front page as the lead news for the day. Headlines scream. An aggrieved person sends a rejoinder. The rejoinder is either ignored or tucked in an obscure corner of the paper, such that it is hardly seen.

It seems as if there are so-called journalists whose agenda is to destroy the character and reputations of certain persons in the society.

It does not matter to these journalists whether what they write in newspapers or say on air is the truth. Indeed, as long as they can cause maximum damage, they do not care whether they have facts to back the defamatory allegations or not. The suspicion is that some of these journalists are nothing more than mercenaries who are paid according to the amount of damage they cause their fellow human beings.

Then there are the suspected blackmailers, whose aim is not to expose a wrongdoer in the interest of the public, but to make money out of the “victim”.

Blackmail has been described as “moral murder,” and that is what it is. It can kill the victim as effectively, as if a knife has been plunged into him.

Some journalists look at the surface of the “evidence” and, straightaway, write or speak about it as if thorough investigations had been carried out.

Yet, at reputable journalism schools and reputable media houses, the injunction to journalists is to “check, check and check again,” before going to bed or the air. The pity of it all is that, sometimes, it is one group of journalists against other groups. Dog eating dog!!!

I draw a distinction between objectivity and fairness. The media person espousing a particular political cause need not be objective. After all, he will not be teaching mathematics that does not allow any room for subjective thinking. He is free to make value judgment.

What is expected of this journalist is fairness. Here, fairness is simply refraining from fabricating stories about opponents.

Fairness, again, is allowing the person written about to be heard in his own defence, instead of continuing to heap lies on him.

As the Vice President noted, injuring the reputation of a fellow human being for no just cause is as bad, if not worse, than killing him. It is sad to note that the practice of injuring people in their reputations has become the norm.

The decision of the GJA to organise a workshop on ethics and professional standards is in the right direction, especially when such experienced and knowledgeable media people like Dr. Audrey Gadzekpo, Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafo, and Mr. Edward Ameyigbor, will be among the resource persons.

My only regret is that only 30 persons will benefit from the workshop. One hopes that, ultimately, the GJA will organise similar workshops for larger numbers of practitioners for whom fairness, ethics and professional standards mean a great deal.

Though the media has its fair share of charlatans, blackmailers, fabricators of falsehood, unprofessional illiterate intruders, mercenaries out to make money at whatever cost, etc., we are also lucky to have a media that is vibrant, a media that takes its social responsibility very seriously, a media willing, and able to demonstrate that it is not second-rate in comparison with the media elsewhere.

Individuals and whole media houses have helped uncover the rot in society. They have brought to the attention of the public, children, adults, and institutions needing help.

In word, deed and pictures, they have informed, educated, and entertained us on a daily basis. For some of us, those in the media constitute our eyes, ears, and mouths. Without them, we will be ignorant, blind, deaf, and dumb.

Over the years, people in the media in this country have risked their liberty, their lives, and their livelihoods in fighting against tyranny and oppression.

Yes, we have had regrettable instances of sycophancy, betrayal, and cowardice. But, to me, the acts of courage and the display of selfishness have stood out like a beacon.

Still, irresponsibility should not be associated with the media.

Credit: I. K. Gyasi Chronicle/Ghana