If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. | Unknown (as quoted by QuoteGarden.com)
Concerns over media coverage of events across the globe, especially those bordering on wars, or the threat of wars, has deepened as many, including myself, express misgivings over what really the media's role is.
To begin with, let me outline my perspective on Journalism. To quote myself: “What we refer to as the truth is only an approximation of the absolute truth. No one knows what is true, or no one is willing to tell it. So all we will ever have are facts that point us to a particular conclusion, giving as an approximate idea of what we may consider as the truth. The truth – the absolute truth – shall always remain a mystery”.
The logic is I may not have been there when it happened, that reporter may not have been there, and that lawyer may not have been there and, most definitely, that Judge or Juror was not present during the reported incident. All who claim were witnesses are therefore required to prove so, and give an account of what they may have witnessed. The possible causes of errors here is the use of subjective descriptions which may lead to uncertainty about the absolute truth. Therefore, all we would ever have is the APPROXIMATE TRUTH.
For instance, one may report of another person punching him in the face. The other, in defence, might say he only patted him. Some truth may be established from here – there was some form of contact between the two. Whether that was a punch or a pat may be left to the judgement of every individual observer.
You could agree with me, therefore, that if the media has anything to do with the truth, it is to do with the approximate truth. The trick here is to get as close as possible to the absolute truth. I believe the only way to achieve this, is by not just reporting fact, but by reporting them OBJECTIVELY.
If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.' " | Lyndon B. Johnson (as quoted by QuoteGarden.com)
Many a times, some may confuse facts with objectivity. A report may be factual, but not necessarily objective. For a report to be objective it has to be factual; all claims made must be verifiable, and verified as valid. Objective reports make use of absolutes instead of subjective description, which may be highly opinionated. For instance '10 feet' may be preferred instead of 'too high', 'water is at my knee level' is prescribed instead of 'horrific flood' or 'terrifying weather'. The idea is to give an absolute idea of what is happening instead of, as many reports may do lately, spilling out opinions on what the reporter THINKS is happening.
The idea is to leave all judgment out for the listener/reader/viewer. As a result words such as 'beautiful', 'a lot of', 'big' or 'small' etc. cannot be used in an objective report. At worse, their use should be as minimized as possible. They are rather replaced with a more absolute description such as 'long nose with red lips', 'an estimate 30000', 'about the size of a mercedez benz' etc.
Objective reports seek to give a three-dimensional understanding of the situation. Hence, reports that tend to concentrate more on a single angle, no matter how factual they are, cannot be said to be objective. At least there should be an opportunity for a contrasting viewpoint on the subject. Where this cannot be done, the Journalist owes it a responsibility to unequivocally state so, giving reasons.
When reports are one sided, I call them PROPAGANDA – propagating an agenda – and not Journalism. Advertising is another form of propaganda that tends to make things look good. None of these would be objective as it defeats their very mission. Journalists, therefore, are advised to stay away from propaganda in their reports.
The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” | Thomas Jefferson (as quoted by QuoteGarden.com)
Possible Errors in Journalism Today
More often than not, I get the impression that the auhor of a report I am reading assumes someone may be right in their course and has to be supported, or that someone may be wrong and has to be denounced. This may lead to the report concentrating more on one side than the other, or not telling the other side at all.
Using a practical example of the Muammar Al Qathafi incident in Libya, I got the impression that western media assumed a position where Qathafi had to be ousted at all cost. This, from my own observation, led to a pure propaganda reportage that sought to satisfy the opinions of some Journalists. Why none of these media houses ever bothered to find out what Qathafi's response to the otherwise unsubstantiated allegations were, and why all these reports concentrated only on anti Qathafi rallies and protests, is anyone's guess. The point here is that the reports were one-sided and served certain interests instead of the TRUTH.
While western democracy has its advantages, it has equally, or probably more disadvantages. It took my reading of the Green Book by Muammar Al Qathafi to understand why this man may have led the nation for this long. While I may not necessasrily agree with every point he raised in his Green book, I think most, if not all, western perspectives may be misleading. I have read at least two different reports from two different, well-known western media outlets and the impression created was that it was was some book that talked crap. This is where I challenge people to challenge what the media tells them. Instead of falling for this obvious media hoax, I went ahead to search for, download and read the Green Book myself.
Some quotes from the Green Book:
"...True democracy exists only through the direct participation of the people, and not through the activity of their representatives. Parliaments have been a legal barrier between the people and the exercise of authority, excluding the masses from meaningful politics and monopolizing sovereignty in their place. People are left with only a facade of democracy, manifested in long queues to cast their election ballots."
"...Moreover, since the system of elected parliaments is based on propaganda to win votes, it is a demagogic system in the real sense of the word. Votes can be bought and falsified. Poor people are unable to compete in the election campaigns, and the result is that only the rich get elected. Assemblies constituted by appointment or hereditary succession do not fall under any form of democracy."
"...To do so, the opposition must minimize the government's achievements and cast doubt on its plans, even though those plans may be beneficial to the society. Consequently, the interests and programs of the society become the victims of the parties' struggle for power. Such struggle is, therefore, politically, socially, and economically destructive to the society, despite the fact that it creates political activity."
Al Qaddafi's philosophies are based on how he thinks Direct Participatory Democracy can be attained. He not only criticises Western democracy, he provides a solution in what he calls the Third Universal Theory, and went ahead to put his theories into practice. He was largely successful, except for the lies, biases and exaggerations the propagandists who call themselves Journalists have managed to spread about him.
Apparently, that is how the people of Libya have been governed since 1975 when it was reportedly first published. In fact, I found his assessment of western democracy more intellectual, and I realised most of us may have been misled for this long. What this man did was challenge a system we were all brought up to serve unwittingly, institute his own system, and in the years that he led Libya it was one of the most successful nations on the continent, in all sense.
I have followed some non-western media channels and freelance Journalists, who reported pro-Qathafi rallies in and around Tripoli with as much as an estimated 1.7 million in attendance on 1st July, 2011, alone (watch the testimony of a British Journalist), amidst reports of NATO's bombardment of key civilian areas resulting in casualties. Putting the two together gave me a balanced understanding of the situation. The point here is that the average Homo Sapien has the tendency to be corrupted by our socio-cultural orientation leading us to assume that one thing may be right against the other. Hence, there is the need to understand issues from multiple angles.
If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” | Malcolm X (as quoted by QuoteGarden.com)
The second error I believe most Journalists may commit, to the defeat of the TRUTH, is the assumption that something has to be official to be true. Some Journalists are so into this they may not allow counter-official positions on any issue on their platforms.
Take the official 9/11 (World Trade Center collapse) report, for instance. The Chairman and Vice Chairman (Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, respectively) of the 9/11 commission have reportedly raised concerns over how some officials may have intentionally obscured information in spite of their repeatedly asking for them: “When the press reported that, in 2002 and maybe at other times, the C.I.A. had recorded hundreds of hours of interrogations of at least two Qaeda detainees, we went back to check our records. We found that we did ask, repeatedly, for the kind of information that would have been contained in such videotapes.”
As far as I am concerned, not much attention has been paid to this, and the over 15000 people, including Architects and Engineers who have petitioned online questioning the official report and asking to have the 9/11 attacks independently re-investigated. According to some Engineers, only explosives could have brought down the buildings. The mainstream media may have ignored these in favour of the official story – that an Al Qaeda led by an Osama bin Ladin most, if not all, Americans, as a matter of fact, have never met or seen, was responsible for the attacks. (Check out the 9/11 commission report)
Whenever brave people challenge official reports they are branded as 'Conspiracy Theorists'. However, if the truth is left to the mercy of officialdom, I believe mankind is doomed. Sometimes, just sometimes, the officials are the culprits.
As reported by PsychCentral.com, “Scientists at the University of Leeds believe they may have found why humans flock like sheep and birds, subconsciously following a minority of individuals. Researchers discovered that it takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd's direction – and that the other 95 per cent follow without realizing it.”
This leads me to my next point: the media seem to always move en masse (maybe that is why they are called the 'mass media'). Not long ago, in the Ghanaian media, it was about cocaine that may have 'turned' into baking soda. Suddenly the media's attention has almost completely drifted away from that incident, though official investigations are still ongoing, to an alleged Woyome scandal. The last time I checked, it was all about Asamoah Gyan's penalty misses.
My fear is that most of the time we never go back to the incidents we left behind. Kofi Wayo used to say that Ghanaians forget too early, too easily.
On 1st May, 2011, mainstream western media reports suggested that Muammar Al Qathafi's home had been targeted in a NATO air strike, reportedly killing one of his sons and three grandchildren. Within a space of about 2 hours, the mainstream media reported Barack Obama's announcement of the 'killing of Osama bin Ladin by US Navy Seals'.
That's it? All it takes is an announcement from an official, and it's news? No questions asked, no evidence provided? Are we not making a mockery of the TRUTH we are all supposed to be serving? Up to today, most media houses still refer to 'the killing of Osama bin Ladin' instead of 'the announcement of the killing of Osama bin Ladin'.
Many, like me, believe this announcement by Barack Obama was calculated to swerve the world's attention from possible crimes by NATO when they reportedly bombarded a residential area. Within minutes after this announcement, many forgot about the whole NATO bombardment incident, and a possible sympathy for Al Qathafi's family turned into discussions on the might of the USA over a reported killing of bin Ladin. This is how easily the media may be manipulated, knowingly or unknowingly.
Identifying when the media may playing on your intelligence
Identifying an objective media report is a challenge for today's discerning minds. Unfortunately, many people have the tendency to absorb what they are told, as long as it comes from the media. This has led to the shaping, or misshaping, of mindsets and perceptions by media reports.
Whenever reports are one-sided, be sure to 'listen with one ear'. Such reports may be geared towards redirecting your thinking rather than actually informing you. In most of these cases, the media tend to do the judgment and by the time the news reaches you, there is no derivation of your own to make from the story.
Some media reports establish statements of facts without actually quoting source(s). Remember, a fact has to be verifiable, and verified as valid. If this is done, every statement of fact would have a source. If for any reason the source cannot be named, the Journalist has a responsibility to state so, giving reasons. For instance you may hear a report as: 'Since the killing of Osama bin Ladin,…'. I believe a more objective report would state this as 'Since Obama's announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Ladin,…'. The difference is that the latter, more objective report has a named source, Obama, while the former does not. This absolves the media of all responsibility should it be established that the source may have lied, and establishes credibility since the source is known and verifiable.
Some rather smart media houses may tend to play with your intelligence by quoting a source for every statement of fact, but these sources are rather too generic and not verifiable. For instance 'Officials say', 'Eyewitnesses say' or 'Analysts say'. If, after reading the entire report, there is no mention of who these officials or analysts or eyewitnesses are, then you know there may be an attempt to exaggerate the facts, or misinform you.
Furthermore, when reports use too many subjective statements and opinions instead of objective absolutes, you know there may be an attempt to misinform you.
Local Ghanaian Media and International News Reports
Why is there so little attention to the Occupy movement in the USA and across Europe, for instance, in the Ghana's media? Probably because we are waiting for a western media report on the matter before our dear local media houses report them.
The unpleasant truth is that most media houses in the country rely fully on western news sources for foreign news. This has led largely to most Ghanaians adopting a western viewpoint on International issues, even when it concerns the African Continent.
Most, if not all, media houses in the country have not a single reporter outside the four walls of the country. Yet some media houses are able to report Foreign News even without quoting sources, breaking the very copyright rules they are supposed to be protecting (Remember, according to Ghana's copyright law, moral rights are not alienable.)
Some media houses have a rip-and-read habit which I find cankerous and detrimental to the growth of objective reporting in the country.
According Prof. Kwame Karikari of the Media Foundation for West Africa, as cited in a TV3 report, most western media seem to be interested only in 'reports of hopelessness' when it comes to Africa. Jareth Merz, maker of 'An African Election', admits in an interview with Metro TV's Paul Adom Okyere that some western media he got in touch with was not interested in the documentary, opining that they were not interested in stories of success in Africa.
While this may be true, our non-willingness to compete on the global stage may play a large role in the misconception foreigners may have about us. By not competing we are only allowing others to tell our story the way they deem fit.
Instead of competing, we rather wait to be awarded by the very people we are supposed to be competing with. Sub-consciously, we are accepting that they should always be better than us.
In a 1997 research (Neocolonialism and the GhanaianMedia: An In-Depth Look at International News Coverage in Ghanaian Newspapers, Television and Radio), Shelby Bond writes, “When interviewing Daily Graphic reporter Kobby Asmah about his experiences as a journalist in Rwanda immediately following the 1994 Rwanda genocide, he pointed out that it was not until after he went to Rwanda to report the crisis that he realized how much Ghanaian troops had done both during and after the genocide… This example demonstrates the greatest threat of the Ghanaian media's dependence on international news distributors. By depending on foreign sources for international news, the Ghanaian media thereby had no option but to accept the way the coverage is fashioned.”
I believe by creating a perception about us and 'selling' it to us and the rest of the world, the West goes a long way to keep the rest of us submissive to them. The image created is that of constant war, poverty and hunger, as though there is no story of success to tell. While most of these reports may be factual, they lack objectivity.
In the USA, for instance, hunger is described as 'food insecurity' while poverty is replaced with 'low income' by the media. The scale of hunger or poverty may be minimal in percentages, but significant due to the population of the USA (over 300million). I have observed that most of their media use percentages instead of real numbers.
According to Buddha, “All that we are is as a result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become”. This is corroborated by the teachings of Yahshua (Jesus) when he talks about faith: “I assure you, even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”
By being fed with a perception of poverty, hunger and all the negatives, Africa brings up young ones who tend to lack belief in ourselves. It is therefore little wonder that the average African may accept anything as long as it is not African.
Africans are the most confused race on this planet! They will be anything other than themselves and that is like spitting on the God that created you. They will speak any language other than their own, they will wear any hair style other than their own, they will worship any God other than their own, they will go to any temple other than their own, [and] they will wear any clothes other than their own. They simply hate themselves or were made to hate themselves, any which way they do hate themselves. - Arch Eri'kigwe Eyutchae
Imagine what damage western media would make about Iran if there was no Press TV, or about Russia if there was no Russia Today. By building and maintaining a strong global media, these two countries have managed to tell their side of the story to the rest of the world, independent of western media reports.
I believe the solution, in the long term, is for our government to invest in and ensure the growth of at least the state-owned media to globally competitive standards.
In the short term, I think our local media can help all of us and themselves by researching wider, and bringing all of us reports that reflect a wider range of sources and viewpoints instead of allowing few western media sources to monopolise the international news scene in the country.
If enough research is done, especially with the proliferation of the internet, our local media would be surprised the sort of exclusives they would have right from their offices, especially regarding document releases and statements. The Occupy movements have websites, for instance, and they are all over social networks.
The last yet very important point I would like to make is that the movie industry, as part of the mass media, play a very important role in shaping perception. I hope to see Ghanaian movies which show responsible policemen who know basic arrest procedures. I hope to see a Ghanaian movie in which someone says 'I love Ghana', or is willing to die for the country.
I, at least, have a perception about US policemen for instance, that they are disciplined and do not take bribes. I have come to realize that though I have never personally had an encounter with a policeman from the US, I have come to have this perception from constant exposure to disciplined policemen in their movies. People, generally, may not be disciplined in our own country, but do we have to be disciplined before we can show movies of disciplined characters? Or does a movie have to necessarily reflect the real world?
Let us put our vision – a responsible state with law-abiding citizens and selfless leaders – in our movies, in a way that does not affect the overall storyline of the movies, though. Let the corrupt official watch a 'colleague' in a movie doing the exact opposite of the wrongs he may be engaged in during work daily. The more this official watches such a movie, the more his sub-conscious mind is trained and tuned towards what he sees in the movie. He is most likely to eventually end up acting as professional as he sees his 'colleagues' do in the movies he watch. At least, we would have our children having a certain positive perception they would grow up to eventually emulate.
Perception matters, and the earlier we begin creating and marketing our own, the better it would be for all of us, as citizens of the sovereign republic of Ghana, and Africa as a whole.
THERE IS A WAR ON YOUR MIND; ONLY YOU CAN FREE YOURSELF!!!
N ATTA KUSI ADUSEI
A Broadcast Journalist & Internet Entrepreneur