Cash for Coverage: Ghana's Media Elite Are on Consignment
At the core of journalistic professionalism are the ethics of honesty, integrity, non-partisanship and objectivity. In Ghana, it appears that those ethics have been brushed aside in order that the most elite of the country’s journalists may benefit from the ruling NDC government’s goal of fostering a culture of generosity with news outlets.
That’s what they are calling bribes in the annals of politics these days: “A culture of generosity.”
Like all evil times, there is always a remnant of men and women who possess enough strength of character and honor to expose rot, even when that decay swaddles those whom they call comrades. Had it not been for the bravery of Ato-Kwamena Dadzie who has been credited with breaking this news, none of us would have ever known that the Chief of Staff called 100 senior journalists to Flagstaff House for a meeting, and then shelled out a total of GHC100K to these individuals at its conclusion.
When we think of media collusion and bribery involving powerful entities like the government or multinational conglomerates, we often imagine huge sums of money passing between hands in dimly lit rooms. At the other end of the spectrum, a terrified and conflicted journalists may take a bride in an attempt head off a bodily threat or harm to his/her loved-ones. Not so in this case. Greed was the only factor at play here.
It’s common knowledge that media professionals are sometimes pressured to either kill a story or slant it in a way that benefits the rich, powerful and/or famous. It is the masses who are either lulled into forgetting the undesirable or cajoled into eagerly consume fables presented as fact. This was never the goal of journalism. The code of ethics journalists are bound to compels them to serve in the public’s interests, not those of the powerful few. Usually, a journalist – a senior and seasoned one at that – who has studied his/her craft and perfected it over time would balk at the idea of betraying that hard won trust. It takes years to build the reputation as a trusted news source, and that investment is not something a true journalist would throw away for a pittance…unless that journalist was part of the Soli 100 in Accra this week. The term “soli” is short for “solidarity”. In the simplest terms, it is ‘Cash for Coverage’. It is immoral, unethical, and it does not serve the public interest.
This is how pathetic the situation with our most trusted reporters is. About a month ago, I gushed about the designer bag I had purchased from F&W Style. The embossed leather accessory cost me $315, after tax. At the time, I felt it was a good investment. However, had I known that for a mere $15 more – or 45 more minutes of paid work at my part time job – I too could be the proud owner of a Senior Ghanaian Journalist’s fealty, I might have saved my money and picked up a journo on the way home. One never knows when one will need to bend the will of the public in your favor, so it’s always good to have a “respected” journalist in your pocket, isn’t it? That’s what every journalist who took the NDC’s money this week did: sold their honor for the price of a handbag.
The identities of the journalists who took the bribes have been kept very hushed, with some reportedly threatening any colleague with “brimstone” if their names are leaked to the public. Now, what have these men and women got to hide, if their actions were so honorable and do not betray any ethics? What is there to fear? I am curious as to what “brimstone” might look like, but I have a general idea.
It is no secret that the media landscape in Ghana is dominated by male chauvinists who are highly invested in preserving a culture of patriarchy. It is also no secret that many women in media have had to compromise themselves morally in order to advance their careers. Some have had to turn blind eyes to practices that violate ethical codes. These women are frequently bullied on the workforce and in social spaces. I myself witnessed this (albeit on a moderate scale) when Gary Al Smith and I had the following interaction on Twitter:
This exchange was in response to my most recent vlog on online harassment, of which Mr. Smith was one of my subjects. Notice how I referred to “people” in my comment. Notice how he then includes the twitter handle of Ama Agyemang Asante (a female broadcaster), identifying her as the sender of those texts. This tweet went out to Gary Smith’s 14,000 followers, some of whom are mutual colleagues of the two media professionals. Do you think she went unscathed by this, as vindictive as Ghana’s media corps have proven itself to be? Furthermore, is this the type of individual (Gary Smith, I mean) who you would want at the helm of sensitive information in an international news organization…one who would publicly name a colleague in a private texts that YOU sent and put her at risk for a potential vicious backlash? I have never worked a day as a journalist, but even I know from 101 that you don’t reveal sources. I am ashamed for this man and for his uncontrollable impulses. This was cyber-bullying at its least refined. He knew exactly what he was doing when he pulled that move, and if he claims he didn’t, mores the pity. It reveals an acute lack of self and professional awareness. This gender based hostility just one aspect of the type of unprofessionalism that is rampant in Ghana’s media and further fueled by an atmosphere that politicizes everything. Only God knows what the journalists who took this bribe would stop at to keep up their facades of decency while attempting to hurt those who they feel “betrayed” by.
I am amazed at how the government located GHC100,000 to extend as a gesture of “generosity” to the media during a time when the country finds itself under IMF scrutiny. Is there a line item in the austerity budget for such “generosity” that we were not told about? What about the cripples and the homeless? Can they expect some fruit from this new culture of goodwill? Some who have benefited from this blatant criminality or see the sum as “minimal in the grand scheme of things” are attempting to normalize this corruption by diminishing it. Well, little acorns grow into mighty oaks. It is not the $330 received that is of utmost importance: it is the potential long term benefits to an incumbent government in a campaign year that are. How many favorable stories (or unreported calamities) is $330 worth?
Our eternal gratitude goes to Ato-Kwamena Dadzie for revealing this scourge. Those few journalists who refused to prostitute themselves in broad daylight also have our admiration. The rest only deserve our disgust and scorn… and they have it.