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Journalists and Politicians.

The golden days of journalism may be far gone. Gone were the days when journalists write objectively and write generally what can be perceived as the truth. Of course, when it came to the state-owned media only a few brave ones like Madam Elizabeth Ohene could be bold enough to call the chamber-pot by its real name and dissented against the coup that was to stop all coups, calling it a wrongful act in the first place, when the other ranks in the Ghana Armed Forces took over the running of affairs of this country, with a few officers leading them.

And it came to pass that wrongful act, less than two years and four months after that military junta handed over to constitutional rule the military came back with the same ex-airman in the driving seat. He promised his new regime was going to be short, in that it was going to be a temporal one or provisional, as the English will summarise it. So if the constitutional duration of a government was four years, then a provisional one should be between one to years. This transitional period was longer than the nine years of the entire First Republic.

Elizabeth Ohene was the lone voice from the inky fraternity at that time, but soon the likes of Kugblenu, Tommy Thompson, Eben Quarcoo and the then Rev. Fr. Charles Palmer-Buckle spoke out in their writings about the dangers the nation faced with Jerry John Rawlings in power. Fr. Palmer-Buckle was, indeed, a true Christian, since his life was replaced with a sacrificial lamb in the person of Bro. Charles Kukah, who was murdered by assassins thinking he was Palmer-Buckle.

Those were the days when there was a law which stated that the truth cannot necessarily set you free. The Criminal Libel law came to replace the False Report Law, which was operational in the First Republic, where people risked, at least, five years jail without trial for saying or writing anything bad about the president and his government. Even if it is the truth, do not say or write it.

Even with the Criminal Libel Law in operation, some journalists could not hold back the truth and they paid for it. Kofi Coomson, Kwaku Baako Junior, Haruna Atta, Barnabas Akrong, Mr. George Naykene and Mensah-Bonsu were among seasoned journalists who were incarcerated for seeking the truth and nothing else. Kofi, Kwaku and Haruna were sent to be co-tenants of jailed hardened criminals for only advising the government to debunk a story making rounds in international cycles that the then National Democratic Congress (NDC) government used diplomatic bags to export hard drugs, or something about the First Lady owning a gold refinery and jewellery shop in Switzerland, or both.

Barnabas Akrong, Editor and Publisher of the Believers Newspaper, wanted the truth about the monies collected from tax dodgers and deposited in Account 48 by Rawlings' Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), but have never been sighted after the junta handed over to the Limann' administration. Barnabas only wanted to know, and he was jailed.

Mensah-Bonsu only pointed out to some unpardonable typographical errors in a judgment of one of the justices sitting on the case in which the New Patriotic Party (NPP) wanted to halt the recognition of the December 31 Revolution, which overthrew a constitutional government. It was in this case that a lady judge, Bamford-Addo, told us that in criminal libel cases, the truth was irrelevant. Mensah-Bonsu was jailed, and the erring judge was elevated to the position of Chief Justice.

One thing that flowed in common with all these brave journalists was that no one uttered a word of insult, no matter how harsh their statements may be. Even with the Criminal Libel Law in place, they risked their lives to present the truth to the public and we were made to know of things that concerned us.

Then in July 2001, the new administration under the NPP's John Agyekum Kufuor repealed this law to enable journalists to come out with the truth, without fear or favour. The state had earlier made a point in court that it was no longer interested in continuing the case against Kofi Coomson, Kwaku Baako and Haruna Atta.

With a new leash of life in journalism, all manner of practitioners sprung up. The cat was not around so the mice could come out to play. Instead of coming out with humility and decency to project what they had for us, now-a-days journalists try to create the impression that they are untouchable and above the law. They can provoke their target and insult or issue threats and get away with murder, because there is no Criminal Libel Law to incarcerate them.

They set traps and lure politicians and administrators in, then bombard them with questions and statements that could surely make them snap out in anger. When that happens, the journalists will act vulnerably and cry to the world for protection, because freedom of speech has been trampled upon.

However, the journalists never err, as even in criminal situations like the alleged raping of a female student by a senior journalist in a Kumasi hotel. It seemed the entire family of the inky fraternity rose up and made sure their colleague got out of it. Someone, against all ethics of journalism, published the name of the victim, and the case was closed. It is okay for a Ghanaian journalist to engage in criminality to protect his or her interests or the interests of other colleagues, but the politician, the administrator, the civil servant and all others do not have that right.

When Haruna Atta came out that bribery was rampant among journalists, his colleagues descended on him to retract that statement. Haruna stood his ground, and with evidence coming out later, the matter was killed in the media.

The professionalism of a typical Ghanaian journalist has always been called to question, but do they care? Some, in conducting interviews, ask questions that one may wonder whether they know what they are talking about, or, excuse me to say, whether they, indeed, went to journalism school.

The other day, one fine reporter descended on Minister Atta-Akyea, insisting that the Minister should accept that he was not in control of his ministry, and is liable for the illegal act his former Chief Director did, before leaving office. The Chief Director had written directly to his counterpart in the Finance Ministry to pay a company more than what was on paper. Such a letter, which should have been issued from the desk of the Minister to his colleague, never took that course. Minister Akyea-Mensah never sighted it, and got to know of what his former Chief Director did after the officer had gone on retirement. This, he explained in detail to the reporter, but the man stubbornly insisted that the Minister accept the blame. It is like a headmaster of a school asked why he did not wake a student from sleep to go and pee, a course of action which would have prevented him from wetting his bed?

It is quite clear that journalists are at war against politicians and their lot. It does not matter which government is in power, the Ghanaian journalists will zoom in to attack anything the politician does, whether good or bad.

So it was not surprising when Madam Cecilia Dapaah, Minister of Sanitation, came into the limelight for all the wrong reasons. She was at a meeting when a call came from a journalist, this time an intern, maybe demanding that she stops the meeting and respond to her questions. I am not too sure what actually happened, but hearing what the media is saying Auntie Cecilia said was a shock to me. She is someone I know, and she is very affable and ready to assist, and she considers the youth as her own children. She will not do anything to harm anyone's ambitions, let alone a young lady aspiring to be a journalist.

So who is to blame? Readers, some journalists in Ghana want to believe that they are the ones to set the agenda for the government, and so whenever they call, all meetings must be suspended, even cabinet meetings, and prompt attention must be given to them. If that happens, then the minister is doing the right thing, but if they are denied access, then the minister is arrogant, rude and not fit to do the job, because he/she is wasting the tax payers' money.

The Multimedia Group from which the intern works should have been professional enough to have assisted her by making her sit in the interview with the minister. No intern should be given sensitive assignments, and that is the nature of the game. A medical officer on internship is not allowed to administer medicines or do surgery without the presence and strict supervision of an experienced doctor. In government, a deputy minister is limited in his or her duties and responsibilities in the ministry, and the minister has got limitations in governance affairs.

Journalists should never think they are above the law and can do what they like, especially as they claim they are there to keep governments on their toes. They must first assess themselves and act professionally.

The growing wretchedness within this so-called Fourth Realm of the State can erupt into very serious conflicts someday, if not checked. With the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, journalists believe they have arrived and they know it all, and even if they err, it is the politicians' fault and not theirs.

We need to do something to put these unsavoury conducts in check. We cannot bring back the Criminal Libel Law; but it looks like the Kufuor administration was in too much of a hurry to bring in sanity and absolute justice. Now, without the law, which made uncouth journalists zip up their lips and pocket their pens, we have mere reporters now snapping their fingers and beckoning ministers of state to sit down and answer questions. Can you imagine? To the journalists in Ghana, I quote William Thoms: 'Be careful how you live, because you might be the only Bible someone reads.' Take heed and straighten your path, because how you conduct yourselves today could be replayed to you in later years. When Rwanda went up in smoke, nobody remembers the journalist who lit the fire, it was the politicians who got the blame. If Ghana is to descend on that road, guess what, it will not be the careless journalists who will be blamed, it will be the innocent politicians.
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Publication:Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra, Ghana)
Date:Aug 1, 2019
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