For asking a question deemed “stupid” at the police CID headquarters, Latif Iddris of Joy News was unjustifiably subjected to severe beatings by the Ghanaian Police.
As expected, the Media Foundation for West Africa condemned in strongest terms this dastardly act. Others voices denouncing the act include Mr Ken Ashigbey, the CEO of the Telecoms Chamber and John Peter Amewu, Lands and Natural Resources Minister. The president of the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) Mr Affail Monney, in calling for a probe, stated that an attack on one amounts to an attack on all.
Why should violence be the medium to settle disputes and more so why anybody should be assaulted in his line of duty? I particularly feel his pain because journalism comes very close to my heart. My mum retired from journalism and I boast of a sister (Eunice Attakora Manu) who is well saturated in journalism. The list would be endless if I decide to enlist my friends and loved ones in the media. As a pseudo-journalist myself (because I am a columnist in the Weekly Mirror), I also condemn in no uncertain terms this barbaric act. My heart missed a beat when I heard him on Joy FM recounting his ordeal. To the extent of suffering skull fractures, he surely must have received it from the policemen. The scars of the physical effects will disappear with time but the emotional scar certainly would outlive that. Nobody deserves to be assaulted - be it physical, emotional or of whatever form.
Realisation of the long-lasting effect of our actions particularly emotional scars must inform the actions of everybody – including journalists! I have witnessed first-hand emotional scars some close friends of mine have suffered at the hands of unruly journalists. One such was a former president of the Ghana Medical Association, Dr Emmanuel Adom Winful of blessed memory. This illustrious son of the land, a paediatrician who rejected riches from affluent countries to serve his people was maligned beyond compare by ruthless journalists from TV3. In response to a question on how many have died as a result of a strike action by doctors during his presidency, he cautioned the media not to attribute any recorded death to the strike because mortalities are recorded daily even when doctors are fully working. The vitriolic attacks he suffered was occasioned by Joojo Cobbinah (now with Joy FM) and his cohorts at TV3 who criminally edited his statement out with a phrase of “people die anyway” as his response to that question. Undoubtedly, he carried that emotional scar to his grave.
Personally, I have tried unsuccessfully to overcome an emotional scar. Again, it was a fabrication by Joojo Cobbinah during the same period. In a clear case of taking two unrelated images and joining them to make a story, Joojo Cobbinah captured me throwing my hands in frustration at their persistent harassment for interviews and then joined it to a video of a cameraman running to create the impression that I was chasing after the cameraman. As to why any journalist worth his sort would do such a thing still baffles me. What was the motivation? Was it sensationalism? Was it sheer wickedness? Was it a policy of the TV station then? Interestingly, this is the same TV station that fired a staff because she photo-shopped herself into a picture at Old Trafford but supervised fabrication of artfully contrived lies against people protesting an injustice of the system. I see it purely as a criminal act.
I have watched, in embarrassed silence, a Joy News reportage by Adelaide Arthur, interviewing mothers seeking medical treatment for their children at Children’s Hospital, Accra. I watched as mothers vented their frustration on how long they have waited. I watched as a mother tore into shred the doctors there, created the impression that the doctors were only interested in their salaries. One mother even disputed the well-known association of dirt and diarrhoea diseases, doing so with an impassive face to hide her contempt for the health workers who break their backs to serve them. I also watched the dramatization of a mother threatening to leave the facility in disgust.
Conspicuously downplayed was the fact that there was a doctor seeing patients as all that drama was playing out, a doctor who was yet to have lunch in his quest to attend to patients. A doctor who works far in excess of the number of hours he is paid for without compensation. Also conspicuously missing was an attempt to talk to the doctor or authorities to bring balance to the story. The reporter did not say anything about attempts to reach authorities. She may never know the emotional scars that lopsided reportage may have on those striving very hard to deliver healthcare under very trying circumstances. She may never know of how low that reportage has sunk the morale of the few health workers (both doctors and Physician assistants) breaking their backs as it were. Of course, the reporter will never ask why health workers including doctors are staying at home in the face of this serious shortage.
I listened to a news report by Joy FM again on how a nurse raped a tourist in the hospital. Again no balance was brought to the story. I only woke up this morning to hear another side to the story, the denial that she was raped. Eyewitnesses are giving contrasting account disputing the said rape entirely. Somewhere in there is the truth which must be carefully unraveled. So why was Joy FM in a hurry to put half cooked stories out there? The icing on the cake was heard this morning on Joy FM, a story by guess who? Joojo Cobbinah! A story about how a baby was denied oxygen leading to his death because parents couldn't pay their medical bills. Again, the mother was given time to air her unchallenged version and nothing was heard from the hospital or the doctor. Gleaning from the reportage, the baby was transfused, has been on admission for three weeks and has been referred to Korle Bu and the Doctor stops oxygen because parents owe? Again, whatever happened to balance - an ethical pillar in journalism?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect our journalists to be neutral. There are certain situations that being neutral amounts to being a sharer of the injustice - perceived or real. But I expect our journalist to be fair. Being fair means hearing the other side out. Being fair includes avoiding dramatization and sensationalism. Being fair certainly frowns on fabrication and being fair amounts to asking the right questions devoid of prejudices and preferences.
I share the pain of Latif Iddris. I still believe that nobody should be assaulted in their line of duty and certainly not our journalists. I only wish that our journalists share the well-known saying that “it is better for 100 guilty men to go free than one innocent man jailed.” I wish that the swift condemnations from well-meaning individuals and foundations is applied to a journalist who dabbles in unethical journalism as well. Let us also remember that assault is not only of physical nature. Let us also recognize the strength of a pen and not use it to destroy people. Let’s be fair! Let's be mindful of emotional scars which are more painful and long lasting that physical scars.
Dr Frank Owusu-Sekyere
A member of Ghana Medical Association