Wednesday, November 9, 2011


By Mawutodzi Abissath
You may keep in mind this weird but wisdom- impregnated Ewe proverb which says: “You don’t notice the value of buttocks until you grow a boil over there.”
Journalism is such a tricky profession or vocation or occupation or trade (whichever is applicable) that sometimes, some practitioners themselves do not know what it is that they are practicing. Journalism has no definition. Everybody is free to interpret it to suit their whims and caprices.
Journalism is a multi-faceted profession that seems to be simple but complicated; delicate but rough; difficult but easy; sweet but bitter; humble but tough; debasing but glamorous; monotonous but exiting; peaceful but warlike and hateful but loving and affectionate etc.
Journalism seems to be the only profession that is taken for granted in our part of the globe. In Ghana for instance, some people think that once they can speak, read and write some kind of English langue they are qualified to appoint themselves as editors-in-chief and practice journalism as they please. Of course, legal or medical professions do not lend themselves to that pleasure.
But one basic difference between a journalist and a doctor is that, when the latter makes a mistake, it is buried. On the contrary, when a journalist commits an error, the whole world will see it at once. Thus, journalism is a transparent profession as against medicine. For instance, if after a surgical operation a reckless doctor forgets the tools in the patient’s stomach and the unfortunate happens. You will have no choice but to pick up your dead relative for burial. Period! But if a journalist misspells the name of the President, it is there for all to see.
Journalism is also a profession or trade that can be learned on the job. In other words, one does not necessarily have to go to journalism school to practice it. And history is replete with some of the best and outstanding journalists who have never seen the colour of journalism classroom before in their lives. But they are practitioners in their own right.
One typical example one can cite here is the famous columnist of the Ghanaian Times Mr. Cameron Dodu. Even Komla Dumoh, the baritone-voice-Ghanaian-born broadcaster of BBC world news fame. These are just a couple of excellent Ghanaian journalism practitioners who might have not formally learned the trade in a classroom but on the job and they can, in all fairness, be described as icon of the profession in the true sense of the word. There is a saying that if your friend is more handsome than you, you better accept it and praise him.
I have cited these personalities to drive home a point that journalism is a unique profession in its own class that must not be compared with any other profession on this planet of professionalism. But that is exactly where the danger lies. Because it is a unique profession where one does not necessarily have to go into a classroom or a laboratory to be tutored how it must be practiced, if care is not taken the practitioner may find himself or herself on the wrong side of the law of defamation, or contempt of court or plagiarism.
This article is not meant to teach journalists how to do their jobs. But there is a popular saying in the Ghanaian society that because “wearers of batakali or smock are too many, one cannot tell the genuine Islamic practitioners from the fake ones.” Because there are many so-called journalists in Ghana today, it is difficult to distinguish genuine practitioners from the quack ones or swindlers. This calls for caution on the part of both practitioners and the consumers.
It is therefore, imperative for journalists themselves to embark on what may be termed as peer review mechanism. It pays to indulge in some kind of self-examination from time to time. In fact, if journalists are bold and courageous enough to be the first to criticize themselves whenever they go wrong, they will not feel offended when the public criticizes them. After all, journalists, like any professionals, can err and do err so what is the big deal. Journalists should never pretend to be angels with the holier than thou attitude. Journalists will gain more public confidence and command more respect if they condemn themselves in no uncertain terms when they hit below the belt. That is what I mean by indulging in peer review mechanism.
Since 1992, Ghana has conducted four successful general elections where a ruling government has lost power and peacefully handed the administration of the country to the opposition. Again, the table has turned and the ruling opposition in power has also lost power and handed over to the previous government in opposition. Thus, after 16 years of democratic practice, Ghana has become the icon of democracy in Africa. But it is too early for Ghana to be democratically complacent. The U K or USA democracies have been running for hundreds of years and must not be compared with democracy in Africa for now.
Nevertheless, if there is any single institution that has contributed in no small measure for this success story of democracy in the country, it is the Ghanaian media. For example, during the 1992 elections when the then opposition parties boycotted the presidential elections and there was no opposition in parliament, it took the Ghanaian media to single-handedly play the role of opposition to balance what was then described as rubber-stamp parliament.
Now, this author wishes to commend Ghanaian journalists for the role they have played in the success story of democratic practice in this country so far. He also humbly appeals to them not to do anything to destroy that which they themselves have helped to build over the years. Let journalists pause for a moment. Let them take three deep breaths; relax and see themselves in November 2012.
As the electioneering campaigns are at their pick, politicians will be at each other’s throat. Ghanaian politicians can do everything and anything under the sun, except to turn a man into a woman. Where will the journalist stand in this scheme of political “azonto dance?”
For Ghana to have very peaceful and successful elections once again, the journalist must practice journalism of love. What is journalism of love then? As the term implies, journalism of love is simply journalism of love. This is the type of journalism whereby the practitioner does not engage in hatred, viciousness, mischief, unnecessary sensationalism, and journalism of insult.
Journalism of love is the practice in which the practitioner will only write or talk about others as he or she will like others to write or talk about him or her. Journalism of love is the practice where the practitioner will endeavour not to deliberately fabricate, or concoct falsehood to tarnish the reputation of anybody regardless of their socio-economic, political and cultural status.
Journalism of love is the practice in which the practitioner will not pick pen and paper only to write a story knowing full well that, that which he or she is writing is not the truth. That he is writing to play one politician again the other. Or he is writing because one politician has influenced him in one way or another to do so to satisfy his whims and caprices.
Journalism of love is the practice whereby the practitioner will not mount a microphone in a radio or television studio and start castigating, agitating or provoking one ethnicity against the other. Or stoke up religious charcoal or firewood to set ablaze the tent of peaceful co-existence.
Journalism of love is the practice whereby the broadcaster will not go into a studio only to embark on a phone-in-calls exercise by asking his callers to demonize one particular political party for no apparent reasons. Or give the opportunity to party members of one political party to verbally assault other party members who are not present in the studio to defend themselves.
Journalism of love is a practice where the practitioner will create an equal platform for all politicians to educate and inform the electorate about their programmes for development; and for which reason they must be voted into power. In fact, the practitioner must even go further to encourage the politicians not only to say what they will do but how they will do it and the concrete impact their programmes and projects will have on living standards of the people .
Journalism of love is nothing new under the sun. All that has been said here can be summarized in one paragraph with this recommendation thus: “All media practitioners in Ghana are kindly requested to obtain a copy of Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) Code of Ethics and endeavour to put into practical application, the spirit and letter of its contents from Article 1 to Article 17.”a And that is practicing Journalism of Love as we enter election year 2012. Period!
The writer is Deputy Director/Head of ICT at the Information Services Department

Saturday, November 5, 2011

ECOWAS Science Journalists To Champion Africa’s Development Agenda

By Mawutodzi Abissath (Back from Abuja, Nigeria)

The significance of the philosophy of SANKOFA in Ghanaian folklore is more profound than the mere notion of going back to pick or fetch what one may have forgotten.
Indeed, the SANKOFA concept admonishes that if you forget something and you remember it, it is no crime to go back for it. But the caveat is when you go back to fetch that which you might have forgotten, you should not remain rooted in your seemingly comfort zone alone , but to turn back and continue with your intended journey.
Today, some modern sociologists are trying to debunk the notion that the media is the fourth estate of the realm after, the executive, legislature and the judiciary. In fact, some of these ‘latter-day- sociological-gurus’ have “nickodemously” downgrade the media from the fourth position to the ninth on the scale of 1-10 where 1 is the highest and 10 the lowest. They are entitled to their imaginations.
This author recalls vividly that in 1994, after the Rwanda’s genocide episode, the then Former UN Under Secretary for Peace-keeping, Mr. Kofi Annan, issued a statement in May the following year, in commemoration of the International Press Day and called on journalists worldwide to practice what he termed as “Preventive Journalism.”
Dr. Kofi Annan who later became the first black African UN Secretary General in 1997, reasoned that if Rwanda journalists had practiced Preventive Journalism the unfortunate genocide that traumatized the conscience of the world could have been avoided. This shows how powerful the media was considered by such an international man of global wisdom.
But the object of this piece is not to eulogize the media or vilify those sociologists who think the media is of no consequence to societal evolution as far as socio-economic, political and cultural advancement of mankind is concerned.
The purpose is to alert the suffering masses of the West African sub-region that their regional political body – Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has identified journalists in general and science journalists in particular as a force to reckon with when it comes to the development of the entire African Continent.
This writer wonders why it took ECOWAS almost 40 years of its existence to discover journalists as being one of the best partners in development for the prosperity of the continent. But as it is commonly agreed in principle, too late is better than never. The French will put it this way: “Mieux vaut tard que jamais!” Of course, some previous military governments had their own notion about the media. Thus some media practitioners were treated more as common criminals than development agents on our wealthy but poor continent.
Did you know that on 17 and 18 October, 2011, in the magnificent capital city of Abuja, Nigeria, ECOWAS made history that could be described as innovative in the development strategy of the African Continent? On those two memorable days, ECOWAS, in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Scientific, Technical and Research Commission (STRC) of the African Union Commission (AUC), organized a Science Communication Training Workshop for some selected journalists from the sub-region.
The workshop brought face to face forty (40) top-notch managers of communication training institutions, high level representatives of AU, ECOWAS, UNESCO and ECA, scientists and journalists for this innovative brain-storming event of capacity building. The workshop was under a broad theme of “Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development”
Without exaggeration, one can characterize delegates of the training workshop as ‘Commanders-in-Chief’ of development communication, who called for an emergency session to plot strategies to launch an attack on problems confronting Africa’s development. The strategy sought to deploy journalists as the first infantry battalions, who were armed with Science, Technology and Innovation as weapons to move onto the battle field. It was fireworks all the way! Intellectual and academic debates ensued.
Deliberations were frank amidst heated but friendly arguments of give and take. People spoke their minds freely without looking over their shoulders. Naturally, no genuine forum of journalists can flourish without some kinds of controversy. As a matter of fact, there was one topic on “Reporting on Controversies – Ethics in reporting science controversies”
Like other speakers, the resource person from Ghana expressed his views with passion. His area was to focus on the Ghanaian Experience as far as the deployment of ICT tools for development was concerned. With all humility, his presentation was one of those acclaimed.
He felt rather disappointed that Africa was crawling instead of flying on the developmental plane on this planet of science and technology. He could not fathom why Africa should be wallowing in abject poverty with all the resources at its command.
When he was challenged by a Professor from Nigeria that it was not totally correct to create the impression that Africa was not developing, he agreed with the view that something was being done. But he reminded the learned Professor of the natural resources such as gold, diamond, bauxite, uranium, oil and gas etc, with which the Continent was endowed.
He opined that if half of those resources were to be allocated to some other countries like, Singapore, Israel and others, the Continent would have been feeding, clothing and sheltering the entire world with ease.
At the end of it all, a comprehensive pack of recommendations were drawn up and adopted. An African Network of Science Journalists was launched and a ten-member (10) Steering Committee set up to ensure the implementation of the adopted recommendations.
Mr. Thierry Amoussougbo, Regional Advisor, ICT, Science and Technology Division of ECA, who chaired this gamut of ceremony of drafting, reading, adoption, nomination and inauguration of the steering committee, told members to live up to expectation.
Dr. Fackson Banda Programme Specialist Communication Development Division of Communication and Information Sector of UNESCO assisted Mr. Amoussougbo with his expertise in drafting of the recommendations. He did not mince his words at all when he told the Committee members in the face to “stop talking and work and work, and work,” he stressed.
Among other things, the recommendations were premised on the fact that, “Science, technology and innovation have served as the foundations of social and economic well-being since the beginning of human civilization.”
That Africa cannot meet its healthcare, water, infrastructure, education, employment needs, develop industries and overcome economic challenges without significant investment in science, technology and innovation.
That poor relationship which exists between scientists, research institutions and journalists tends to affect effective communication; adding that only effectively communicated knowledge could benefit individuals with the power and skills to put that knowledge in practical application.
Participants took special note of the tremendous efforts UNESCO is making in building science journalism capacity on the African continent. As to whether Ghana is taking advantage of these efforts is yet to be verified.
As part of the workshop programme, some of the representatives of the UNESCO Reference Centres of Excellence were given the opportunity to brief participants on activities of their respective countries. These countries included Niger, Guinea, Senegal, Burkina-Faso and Nigeria.
Workshop participants also commended the efforts made by ECOWS, ECA, UNDP, AU and other individuals and organizations for the realization of the programme. This workshop happened to be the first of its kind. Resources were limited and the organization had not been easy at all.
It is the noble intention of the organizers to extend this training programme to journalists of other sub-regions such as Eastern, Central, Southern and Northern Africa to galvanize science journalists to champion the development agenda of Africa by making science and technology information available, affordable and accessible to all.
First batch of journalists who benefited from the training workshop were drawn from Benin, Burkina-Faso, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal as well as African Federation of Science Journalists, (AFSJ), USECO, ECA, ECOWAS and AU.
This writer will like to take the opportunity to call on Ghanaian journalists to embrace science reporting to enable them to benefit from the capacity building package UNESC has in store for media practitioners on the Continent. There is a need for ICT journalists in particular and science journalists in general to come together to form a solid national body and join the continental professional organization. It has been observed that apart from Nigeria, only French speaking countries are taking advantage of the science related training opportunities available.
It is also suggested that in future, some African millionaires like Moh Ibrahim and former African Heads of State like H.E. President Olusegu Obasanjor should be approached for sponsorships to supplement the efforts of ECOWAS for the advancement of the sub-region.
I have no doubt that some African industrialists and corporate bodies would be willing to support. ECOWAS has good intentions but its financial base needs to be strengthened in order to support journalists to champion the course of Africa’s Development Agenda.

Group Photograph of Participants at the Abuja Workshop
The Writer is Deputy Director/Head of ICT at ISD