They came back from their hunting expedition, yet again, with apparently horrifying tales of near torture.
“They seized my phone,” said one.
“Some threw blows at me which I had to retreat,” narrated another.
It was a narrative told by journalists who had gone to the various branches of the embattled gold dealership company, Menzgold, to report on affairs and proceedings after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of Ghana instructed the company to immediately shut down for violation of the law.
This daily ritual of journalists nosing around for news was not taken lightly by some customers and staff of Menzgold, we were told, hence, ‘pouncing’ on the journalists who went to the headquarters and other branches of the company.
This wave of attacks on journalists, in any jurisdiction, across the globe, must be condemned and abhorred. Journalism is not a crime! The public and persons who come under the radar of journalists must understand that getting to get information, on a subject, does not warrant beatings and assaults.
As I write this piece, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein has been detained by Egypt’s government for over 636 days. His crime? Mahmoud is accused of “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state’s reputation.”
On Monday, September 3, 2018, a Myanmar court gave a seven-year sentence to Reuter’s reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for breaching a law on state secrets. This was when they reported of the massacre of Rohingya men. These kind of attacks on the media and journalists are certainly not the best of news anyone would want to listen to or read. Each one of us must resist this calculated attempt at muzzling of journalists.
Whereas fighting for journalists and the media is commendable, I personally feel like strings of hair being pulled from my nostrils whenever I have to argue in favour of the Ghanaian journalist and his/her media. At times, we deserve the public’s uproar at us.
Until I joined the media as a journalist, I thought hypocrites were only found in the church. But hey, right in the Ghanaian media is an avalanche of pretentious acts on the side of both employers and employees.
If Menzgold is haunted by the Securities and Exchange Commission for flouting our laws, I sincerely think majority of our media houses do not have the moral right to send its journalists to report on such. These are media houses that some, I can say without the fear of contradiction, pay reporters below minimum wage. These are media houses that even do not pay some of its workers [capitalizing on such journalists’ quest for job to abuse them]. Again, these are media houses that suppress free flow of information when it affects them.
If my memory serves me right, last year, news went rife that a section of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) was on fire. I later learnt it was its stores specifically. When I got to the entrance of GBC to report on the development, together with other journalists from other media houses, there was a directive indicating we will not be allowed to report on the fire.
This made some journalists suspect arson. GBC, for example, reflects in most media houses I know in this country called Ghana. Writing on his Facebook wall, on September 14, 2018, renowned journalist with Ghana Television [GTV] Abdul Hayi Moomen said: “The problems at TV Africa, are not limited to TV Africa alone. The only difference is that they have sold their sickness to the world. Our elders say, “he who sells his sickness, will find a cure.” There are a lot sicker media houses. But they have chosen to live on several doses of tramadol.”
TV Africa had laid off some of its workers and a leaked letter of termination of employees’ contract went viral on social media. We have had some media houses laying of some of its staff and failed to capture that in their treatment of the issue of the recent massive job losses in the country. These media houses, I monitored, mentioned every single company in the country that had laid off workers, backing their stories with infographics. If you are a journalist working on such a story and you include your own media house, which had equally laid off workers, you are assured of the reaction that follows.
Where would you place this in the context of press freedom? What about in the context of right to information?
So, if Menzgold’s staff and customers ‘attacked’ journalists, it is not news. The media that ought to be professional in the free flow of information becomes mute over such when the ball is in their court.
The sad part of the narrative is that journalists that go all length to get justice for others being abused are themselves silent when they are equally being abused.
Abdul Hayi Moomen in his media lamentation adds that: “The instinct for survival chases many unpaid, underpaid, underemployed and unemployed journalists to create a new salary scheme called ‘soli’ [monies event organisers pay journalists for covering their programmes].”
One day, my Facebook Messenger buzzed. It was a message from one of my lecturers at the Ghana Institute of Journalism.
“Why does it appear you are against press freedom?” asked my lecturer.
I took time to explain to him my position on an issue that related with journalists and press freedom. He was satisfied with my explanations. The truth hurts but it is about time we told ourselves the hard truth. Most media houses are gleefully abusing their journalists directly or indirectly while these same journalists pose to the outside world that everything is so fine with them.
Let’s stop the hypocrisy of treading the line of saints yet in our cupboards are skeletons of pungent odor. As Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba would say, “I am not a Jewish prophet and not claim to be one but I can say that this attitude of ours will lead us nowhere”.
Mark Anim Yirenkyi, a Seventh-day Adventist gospel musician, in one of his songs, Ԑyɛ Adom Bi, admonishes that: “It is better for a man to die than to live without conscience.”
Let our employers live with the conscience that they cannot continue to make money at the expense of people who break their backs to make their businesses succeed. And let our journalists be bold to speak truth to power for merely condemning an outside attack on us to endure an excruciating one within our workplaces beats imagination.
By Solomon Mensah
The writer is a broadcast journalist with Media General (TV3/3FM). Views expressed here are solely his and do not, in anyway, reflect the editorial policy of his organisation.