17 December 2012

Ghana: The Shameful Attacks On Innocent Journalists


BEFORE I begin to say my piece, I wish to congratulate the New Patriotic Party (NPP) leadership for having the grace and the courage to openly and unreservedly apologise for attacks on innocent journalists and their equipments by persons presumed to be members, supporters or sympathisers of that party.

The NPP could have taken the strictly legalistic position that not a single person belonging to the party had been identified as being one of the attackers.

Indeed, the condemnatory statement issued by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) talked of "attacks on their journalists in their line of duty by ALLEGED New Patriotic Party (NPP) supporters" (emphasis mine).

The NPP leadership could have legitimately said that it had not hired or urged anybody, whether supporters or not, to carry out the attacks.

The party could have claimed that the attacks might have been carried out by agents provocateurs sent by the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

Of course, such a position could have served to put the NPP leadership in a very bad light. The law of Probability would have been against them, making them look and sound ridiculous, while attracting opprobrium, not only among the media, but also among the public at large.

The honourable thing was for the party leadership to accept responsibility, the way the Abusuapanin, (the Family Head) takes responsibility for the misdeeds of a member.

The NPP leadership did not only write the unqualified apology, but also went so far as to send a delegation to JOY FM, METRO-TV and TV 3 to openly apologise.

On METRO TV's GOOD MORNING GHANA programme on Friday, December 14, 2012, Nana Akomea, the Director of Communications of the NPP Elections 2012 campaign, gave the hint that the party was to go beyond letters of apology and personal calls, to possible compensation for the attacks on the media people and their equipment. Much earlier on, JOY FM he had described the attacks as "deplorable."

Great! Still as a very ordinary but one privileged to be made honorary member of the GJA, I also show my revulsion by condemning the attack on the media personnel and their equipment.

The attack on JOY FM reporters and their equipment was particularly distressing and ironic. On METRO TV'S GOOD MORNING GHANA programme on Thursday, December 13, 2012, the one and only Abdul Malik Kwaku Baako reminded us that during the 2004 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, JOY FM called the election for then candidate J. A. Kufuor.

In other words, from the numbers available to it, JOY FM was convinced that Mr. Kufuor had won the election. At that time, the NPP did not protest. No one in the NPP thought that JOY FM was cooking up figures.

It should be of no consolation (repeat: NO consolation) to anyone that this is not the first time in this country that media people have been unjustifiably attacked, or that all over the world, journalists have faced, and continue to face attacks, often with fatal results.

I refuse to accept the notion that such attacks should be seen as some of the so-called occupational hazards of the profession. One can understand the hazards of a reporter reporting from the war front, or in a riotous action and getting hit by a missile. That could be described as a true occupational hazard.

However, it is unacceptable for the journalist to be assaulted when all that he is doing is to earn a living while bringing the news to us.

The reporter is more than the town or village crier of old. He does more than merely tell the village or towns folk what the chief and his elders have decided.

The reporter today is at once the legs, eyes and the ears of the community in which he operates, which, in this particular case, is the whole of Ghana and beyond.

Take the just-ended elections, for instance. On a 24-hour basis the newspapers, radio and television ensured that we, the citizenry, got to know what was happening. For some of us, I cannot imagine how we could have coped with the information vacuum that would have been created, if we did not have any media, or if the media had decided to impose a news blackout on the nation.

Individual reporters, both men and women, some of them nothing more than very young persons, told of the back-breaking labours, the constant travels, the sleepless days and nights, all in an effort to bring us news. There was absolutely no need for them to suffer the additional indignity of insults and physical assaults on their persons and psyche.

Something happens in William Shakespeare's play, JULIUS CEASAR, a play that can be accurately described as a study in crowd or mob behaviour.

There are two characters, both with the name 'Cinna'. One Cinna is of the conspirators who plot to kill Julius Caesar, while the other Cinna is a poet.

After Mark Anthony's incendiary speech, disguised as Caesar's funeral operation, the crowd become so inflamed and charged that they decide to go after the conspirators.

On the way, they meet Cinna the poet, and this is part of the exchanges between them and Cinna the poet:

3rd Plebian: Your name sir, truly?

Cinna: Truly, my name is Cinna

1st Plebian: Tear him to pieces; he's a conspirator!

Cinna: I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.

4th Plebian: Tear him for his bad verses; tear him for his bad verses.

Cinna: I am not Cinna the conspirator.

4th Plebian: It is no matter, his name is Cinna; pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going.

3rd Plebian: Tear him, tear him!

The crowd kills innocent Cinna the poet. Let it be a lesson to the NPP leadership or the leadership of any political party or group that when the passion of a crowd is roused to fever point, they can get out of control and destroy innocent lives and property.

It is good that the NPP has reportedly advised its supporters to gather at the National Headquarters if they have to. After all, the leadership of the party has decided to go to court in line with the Political Parties Code of Conduct, 2012. The 1992 Constitution also permits them to go to court.

Our journalists and the media houses they serve are not sacrosanct or infallible. They can be criticised if they ignore the ethics of the profession, or break the law, or go against the accepted norms of the society.

But we have no right to visit mayhem on them, merely because we do not like what they say, or do, or write.

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