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26.08.2005 General News

Journalists urged to regulate themselves

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Accra, Aug. 26, GNA - Kaye Whiteman, former Editor-in-Chief of the defunct West Africa magazine, has applauded the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law in Ghana, but called for a stiff dose of journalistic self-regulation to avoid civil libel actions

He welcomed the Freedom of Information and the Whistle Blower Bills, which gave the media greater freedoms as well as multiple media publications, but cautioned that civil libel actions with heavy fines could be used to check unbridled journalists, and to put presses out of operation.

Whiteman made the point in a lecture on the topic, " The Changing Face of African Journalism-Prospects and Challenges", which the Ghana Journalists' Association and Media Foundation for West Africa organised in Accra on Friday.

He said, "I gather there have been recent problems with civil libel actions with heavy fines, which can also be used to put presses out of action, but looking at some of the multitude of publications, there is clearly a need for stiff dose of self-regulation, or else, some one else is going to do it for you."

Whiteman, who has more than 40 years experience as journalist, said good legal advice and if possible good insurance policies were necessary in dealing with media troubles, but observed that " the more you are involved in cases, the higher your premiums, and the excesses you have to pay anyway."

He told the encounter dubbed "An Evening with Kaye Whiteman", which both veteran and young journalists attended that, despite all the leaps and bounds, some countries still have a difficult media situation, including conflicts that had not yet erupted into violence situations. Whiteman cited instances of the murder of Deyda Hydara, a senior Gambian journalist last December, but his assassins were never caught, and Nobert Zongo in Burkina Faso, who was also killed five years ago; and observed that in such cases, the violence tended to be anonymous rather than official.

The former Editor-in-Chief, now a media consultant identified technological change, in a rise of independent journalism, as a continent-wide phenomenon, as the first major change of media practice on the African continent.

He reminisced the 1960's when the itinerant journalists carried a battered typewriter, and communicated with his head office with difficulty, by telephone, through the use of telex machines and operators to the present day flourishing of FM stations alongside mobile phones, and other forms of modern broadcasting.

Whiteman said the creative challenges offered by the advancement in technology would continue to grow, and the content of the media would depend on how the political climate would evolve, and whether economic integration would happen and bring about a forward leap. He said given the advances in technology, there was the need for constant training, especially specialisation, in addition to the journalistic and language skills.

Whiteman also called for more reportage from Ghana on neighbouring French speaking West African countries.

Mr Isaac Andoh, Editor of the Standard, who moderated the encounter said, there was still harassment of journalists in some countries, stemming from unlimited use of press freedom, professional impropriety, and political undertones.

He called for commitment to professional ethics, more training in technological skills and specialisation.

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