Mahama Schools Journalists

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…Charges Practioners To Adhere To Professionalism

By Alfred Dogbey

President John Dramani Mahama, has tasked media practitioners to stick to the ethics and professionalism of journalism, in order to be “responsible independent media that assumes the critical role of watchdog for society, the public expects, indeed it demands, integrity and transparency”.

According to the President, “when it comes to the pursuit of information, the public demands, and deserves, to know: Whose interests are being met? Whose needs are being served?” warning that “the dangers that are posed by misinformation can be just as bad, if not worse, than the dangers that are posed by an absence of information”.

The President was speaking onWednesday, November 19, at the Accra International Conference Centre to mark 20years of independent media under the theme “Opening of a National Conference on Broadcasting Pluralism- Press Freedom & Democratic Governance in Ghana”.

He said, “There are some stations seemingly being operated only for the purpose of turning a profit for their owners. As a result, the individuals that are hired as journalists are often untrained, unqualified and, more often than not, grossly underpaid”.

“So much so that coverage of events is not based on what is most urgent or newsworthy but on which event organizer or individual will pay the most in “travel and transportation”, “T&T,” as it has come to be known”, he bemoaned.

“Likewise, he the lack of training and experience is often apparent in the articles and reports that are broadcast, some of which are riddled with grammatical and factual errors, as well as inconsistencies.

“It is not unusual for me to come upon a quotation, supposedly pulled from a speech that I have just delivered, which bears absolutely no resemblance to the actual words that came out of my mouth.

It is not unusual for me these days, especially when speaking on subject matters of a sensitive nature, to present the most straightforward, to the point, humourless speech possible.

I do this because those complexities and nuances of a good speech are so often lost in translation—misconstrued, misunderstood, taken literally rather than figuratively, and then reported as such, creating an entirely different item of news than the one that was being covered.

It is a growing problem in this country, one that is affecting the quality, as well as the veracity of the news and information we receive. We must start speaking about it honestly. Constructive criticism is not an attack on media freedom.

We must start to define the responsibilities that media men and women have to the public and to the profession. If our media is to count for anything beyond the borders of this country, our journalists must adhere to professional ethics, and those ethics must be held to an international standard.

Two decades ago, it was much easier to separate the different forms of media, specifically print media from broadcast media. With the numerous technological advances, that is no longer the case. And that explains among other things my decision to realign the Ministry of Information and Media Relations and the Ministry of Communications. Today, nearly every radio station also has a website, on which the various reports that have been aired are also posted. The Internet, and the many information platforms that it offers, from websites, to blogs, to social media, has created the need for a greater amount of information to be delivered at an even faster pace.

In an attempt to meet that need, what sometimes is abandoned at the wayside are basic principles and ethics of journalism, such as research, fact-checking and attribution. Information is picked from anywhere and just plunked into a story. Let me give you an example—a hypothetical example.

“Let’s say a Ghanaian is travelling abroad and is arrested. Let’s say it is a Ghanaian woman, and she is travelling to London and is arrested with a substantial amount of cocaine. This is hypothetical. This is all the basic information that everybody knows as fact. But the information is too skeletal.

It needs more meat to be a story. In good journalism what this means is that it needs to be carefully researched. Unless, of course, you are posting it on social media because there, no rules exist and all the lines are blurred. Fiction is often paraded as fact, and people can behave with impunity because they are virtually anonymous”.

“All of us, I am guessing, are familiar with the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” In these modern times, we might as well say, “the Internet is the mightiest of them all.”

President Mahama maintain “Our journalists must see themselves as actors on a global stage because whether or not they like it, whether or not they even choose it; that is exactly what they are. This is not our father’s journalism. The core priorities of the institution remain the same but the way of doing business, the means and methods, has changed dramatically”.

Government, he said, “since our return to constitutional democracy and the rule of law, has witnessed and, in recent times, welcomed the evolution and expansion of Ghana’s independent media.

Likewise, the media must also recognize that government has evolved and changed. Take, for instance, a governmental agency like the Bureau of National Investigation or, BNI, as it is called for short”.

There was a time when people used to say that the acronym stood for the Bureau of National Intimidation. But I guess times have changed.

This isn’t our father’s or your father’s BNI. Of course, the core priorities of the institution remain the same but the way of doing business, the means and the methods, has changed. But the media, based on its reporting, would have that institution remained locked in its past” he noted.

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