By Mawutodzi Abissath
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