It’s important that as journalists we do not settle on unethical methods in the discharge of our work that help us to create a buzz around an issue but it ends up calling for more debate about what the ethics of the job says.
I believe the eradication of corruption in our society rests on the shoulders of every Ghanaian but we must ensure that in doing that we don’t cause others to stumble. I am an avid fan of investigative journalism but I loathe the crude and mercenary tactics employed by some practitioners to get their daily bread.
In the wake of Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ latest expose on the Ghana Football Association (GFA), some friends have asked if I would sanction the deployment of spy cameras and the use of entrapment. My reservations against these methods of investigation are rooted in personal principle and ethics of journalism.
It is important to state that a majority of our state institutions are engaged in some questionable deals that must be exposed to the citizenry, but we must not cause anyone to sin to achieve our purpose. Investigations that have had some resonance in the world are the ones the investigators deployed conventional investigative methods such as meticulous documentation, first-hand interviews and observations leading to an unimpeachable evidence.
This type of investigation is what the Columbia Journalism School has described as, “evidence of a qualitatively new, unimpeachable kind.”
Shockingly, some journalists in Ghana, including Anas have fallen for sting journalism which is a passive substitute for meticulous reporting. I see the use of entrapment in an investigation as morally and ethically wrong. If an undercover investigator pretends to be a sponsor of football matches and uses this to keep surveillance on known corrupt match officials, then he has done nothing wrong in reporting what he has seen and heard. But when he uses his position to invite and encourage others to commit a crime rather than just observe, this is entrapment which is crude and immoral, methinks.
One defence mechanism advanced by investigative journalists is that their adoption of subterfuge is in the public interest. But I can cite several outstanding works done by some journalists using the conventional ethical method. Let us not be overzealous to the extent of blurring the moral lines and seeking headlines. After the screaming headlines and fiery discussions in the media, what else? We must not accept sting journalism as a normal journalism practice to bring out the truth.
Seeking the truth is a noble and honourable thing to do and I congratulate every Ghanaian, including colleague journalists who are doing just that. But we must not entice and entrap potential criminals into becoming real ones for the express reason of naming and shaming.
Veteran journalist Kweku Baako told Samson Lardy Anyenini on Joy FM’s Newsfile programme last Saturday he would fall for anything if he was trapped with a pretty lady who has good “assets.” This is the position of the man who helped in training Anas.
“I have weaknesses there…if it’s a woman who comes and is beautiful and has assets, I may fall for it [trap]…and I am being honest,” he said.
So let us be honest, if Anas were to dangle any price before the-so-called righteous in our society [you can name some you know], trust me they will sin that very instant. “…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” says the Lord’s Prayer.
My unassailable position on this matter is that, when you attempt or help to initiate any criminal or immoral behaviour, you have become material cooperators in that very evil. You are as guilty as the one you are accusing. In one of Anas' investigative piece involving an abortion doctor near Madina, questions have been asked whether he would have allowed the ladies involved to go ahead to sleep with the doctor if they were related to him. We must know that intentions alone do not make a moral act permissible in our society.
Author Aidan White was apt when he wrote in 2008 that, “Fierce competition and a lack of regulation have created a dangerously competitive environment in which ethical and professional standards have been sidelined. In broadcasting, for instance, where 40 television news channels compete for viewers…, sting journalism – some might call it voyeurism and entrapment – has come to dominate the news mix.”
While it is honourable for us to discuss the content of Anas’ latest expose, we must know that it is necessary to talk about the methods some of the journalists adopt in their line of work. This debate is both necessary and honourable thing to do in this country just like any other.
A measuring rod of ethics is needed to discern the morality of any action even if the intention and the ends are considered good.
As a journalist, I want to encourage Anas to be bold in the discharge of his work but I equally deplore sting journalism, which may create a buzz around any issue. However, its logic is not rooted in an in-depth examination of facts and figures.
I’m just rambling.