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14.07.2004 General News

Journalists to demonstrate against Ghana gov't internationally?

By Jolinda Osei-Asibeh
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Following the Press release by the UK based Chartered Institute of Journalists, the oldest association of journalists in the world on June 26, international journalists are contemplating embarking on a demonstration in various countries against the Ghanaian government for the poor treatment of journalists at West Africa magazine.

West Africa magazine is owned by Graphic Communications of Ghana, a state-owned company.

Graphic Group subsequently sold a minority stake to Media Africa Group, a company which is controlled by Israelis with no media experience. The Israeli connection in West Africa magazine has led to various interpretations as to why such a company would be involved in an institution as big as West Africa magazine.

However, since media Africa Group was assigned the management control of Afrimedia International Limited, the UK subsidiary of Graphic Group which publishes West Africa magazine, Graphic Group have shamefully blamed the problem on their partners, who, it is obvious have no interest in paying for the debts of the company. Bankruptcy seems the most likely option now.

"Staff have not been paid, sacked or made redundant; they have just been left in limbo. The management company are no where to be seen and all communications are ignored," said Institute of Journalists General Secretary, Dominic Cooper. "Passing the buck of responsibility is unacceptable. It is time for Graphic Communications and the Government of Ghana to make every effort to bring about a credible resolution to this matter by paying all outstanding staff salaries and compensation. The High Commissioner conceded at the meeting that the Graphic group has an ethical responsibility in this whole affair. They should take that responsibility seriously. For now, we continue to hope that there will be no need for us to seek redress through the courts."

This shameful act, which has now become an international embarrassment for the Ghanaian government has triggered debate especially on the internet, where discussion groups of journalists are looking at possible options of bringing the state-owned company to order.

International Journalists through their various networks have been debating this issue since last Thursday when the press release went out. The truth is that there are no kind words for the government of Ghana.

One contributor wrote: "What about this for a headline- 'Third World working conditions in a British firm?'. These Third World countries are trying to export their poor business practices to the first world, the very things that have retarded their growth and development. It is really unfair, a complete disregard for the rule of law. They should pay our colleagues their outstanding monies. We should not give up the fight". One editor responded: "This will even be so good for my paper. We are still following up the story and have made a few contacts. It is shameful that a state organisation is involved in this heinous act".

The topic that attracted the most attention was the discussion on a possible demonstration in the UK and other countries by journalists at Ghanaian embassies and foreign affairs ministries.

"This is a very good idea. We should involve the International Federation of Journalists in this matter. They should circulate our concerns to all the members. I think the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) will welcome such an idea. This is a good idea", one contributor said. "Spot on", was the response by another contributor.

Most contributors were very sympathetic of the plight of the journalists caught up in this matter, with others sharing their own experiences.

The sense of frustration could be seen in most of the emails. "This Ghanaian government is enjoying the benefit of the past regime but wants to take the credit for it. What have they achieved? Nothing. Really zero. It is just one embarrassment after another. Now they are not even looking at the poor treatment of employees by a state-owned outfit. The South African government is very critical about state-owned companies who do not comport themselves well outside in their conduct of business. The Ghanaian government can learn from this. It is shameful, and the government must pay up".

Writing from Banjul, Issaka Yahya contributing said: "Here in The Gambia, we cannot believe what is happening. Some people were shocked to learn that Rawlings was behaving this way since he is seen as a real hero. But when they got to know that Rawlings has handed over and is no longer in power, they were not surprised. The current administration in Ghana, whoever that is, must help to address this situation"

The sooner this situation is dealt with the better. The government must sit up and help address this problem. It is not pleasant reading some of the issues raised by this discussion group which is dominated mostly by European journalists.

A stitch in time......