A New Direction For Ghanaian Journalism 2

For the most part, accordingly, the epistemological opposition between diagnostic journalism and descriptive journalism subjects what should otherwise have been the critical flexibility of public conscience to gross emotional distortion by way of a methodology of information dissemination. The other major hindrance to improving the quality of Ghanaian journalism may stem from the manner in which most happenings in the body politic are forced to taste the bitter pill of politicization, beginning from the Fourth Republic. Thus it may be exceedingly difficult, nearly impossible if you like, to completely divest journalists and the reading public of their ingrained political blinkers. Nonetheless, our philosophical indictment of emotional emissaries of partisan politics extends to listenership (radio) and viewership (television). This established problem needs urgent redressing.

Alas, de-politicization of issues in the Ghanaian context has assumed an inflexible dimension of operational impossibility, a political question whose philosophic visibility remains somehow shrouded in the mystery of analytic shadows as a result of its seeming moral inconsequentiality to the integrity of the conscience of the national enterprise. Furthermore, over-politicization of issues may possibly explain why a journalist who, for all intents and purposes, extends fealty to incumbency arguably cannot, on purpose, dig out social and political truths for public digestion, very much as in a hypothetical case of an incumbent-friendly journalist assigned to unpuzzle the statistical controversy regarding the Ghanaian economy in the wake of the public impasse between the opposition and the incumbent. Politics, it seems, has become the bane of Ghana’s progress.

Political de-emphasis of issues must therefore give way to the unvoiced neutrality of scientific ratiocination as a precondition for practical remediation strategies to take hold. One such practical remediation strategy is universal statutory affirmation of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI). The Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) may have to accommodate explicit provisions for subpoena powers, where the courts acting through the agency of judgeship and the instruments of enforcement, can coerce government institutions and public officials to turn over data or vital information of general interest to the oversight of public inquiry. This statutory mandate must be executed with considerations duly given to priority national security and constitutional proscriptions. Surely the definitional boundaries of national security priorities must remain inviolate and strategically sacrosanct at all times.

Certainly, that having being said, a degree of mathematical technicality or statistical sophistication may be required for correct or proper adduction, precisely as in the special case of the controversy surrounding the statistical validation, or otherwise, of the Ghanaian economy through the epistemological prescription of diagnostic or prognostic journalism. A corollary of the preceding sentence says the political exercises of statutory affirmation and enforcement strategies alone are not adequate if official oversight institutions and their human clones lack the requisite technologies and scientific knowledge to fight corruption across all levels of social stratification. Yet any such technical difficulty need not, however, present itself as a hindrance to factual statistical representation of the Ghanaian economy on the part of a well-informed, conscientious journalist who possesses the requisite expertise of a multidisciplinary nature. We are not saying scientific rationalism is a foolproof methodology designed to resist human natural tendencies such as prejudice, ideological partisanship, and the like.

That was why we offered a proposition, however controversial, that journalists who lacked formal tutelage in jurisprudence, say, must demonstrate a degree of journalistic or intellectual restraint as they exercise jurisdiction over legal or constitutional niceties. This statement should not be taken to mean that a journalist who lacks formal tutelage in jurisprudence could not extend his inquiring horizon to other knowledge territories outside his immediate expertise. It means that he can usefully engage his limited inquiring horizon in constructive consultations with others who have the requisite skills to add to his limited inventory of legal knowledge. It also explains why owners of the journalism industry must be prepared to engage the critical responses a people’s collective action gives it. That makes journalism morally accountable to the conscience of a people in a given polity. Moreover, it is the discursive intercourse between journalism and the critical response of a reading public that gives the former a definition of institutional credibility.

However, it is tempting for journalists to underestimate journalism’s moral responsibilities to a people and, as a matter of fact, to deploy the tacit deception of public patronage as a pretext for manufacturing uncritical and mediocre works. Rather, journalism must seek to awaken man’s latent compunction in the service of humanism, more so because journalists’ self-serving alibis for mediocrity cannot stand the determined effort of a conscientious people’s critical oversight of journalistic shortcomings and failures. And talking of the politics of journalism, it is unfortunate, deeply disheartening, and emotionally alarming to accept what journalism is gradually turning into, especially in the Ghanaian context. The intellectual nonchalance of public psychology to be highly critical of media mediocrity is partly to blame for the ascendency of dialectic blankness in the dying, diseased soul of journalistic piety.

Instances where unauthorized recording of private conversations are made for invidious purposes, of which character assassination, derailing a potential political enemy’s aspirations, etc., readily come to mind, abound. Doctoring audiotapes and video images to spite opponents, political or otherwise, has constituted itself into an unbearable nuisance to the wellbeing of public psychology. This is the laughably creative realm of yellow or tabloid journalism, two instances of descriptive journalism! From the look of things, however, it appears Ghanaian journalism is gradually becoming the glamorous face of voyeurism, to wit, of public pornography. The vulgar lifestyles of copycat celebrities of the Western prototype have usurped the noble place of responsible journalism, of diagnostic journalism.

For the most part, this is exactly what Ghanaian journalism has become today, moral pornography in stiff partisan defense of the morally bankrupt elites. The “vertical” corruption of incumbency; the “horizontal” timidity of opposition politics as well as of public psychology in resisting social decay; the degrading specter of public sanitation; the inhumanity of witch camps, trokosi, religious excesses; the widening diameter of corruption at all levels of society; the threat to food insecurity; systemic decline in quality of life and standard of living; growing public antipathy toward the power of science, technology, or technocracy to solve problems as opposed to the growing divisive intolerance of religious demagoguery; disregard for rapidly aging infrastructure or the lack thereof; declining educational standard; environmental degradation; child slavery and juvenile delinquency; political ethnocentrism and ethnic nationalism, etc., are hardly given serious appraisal in the media.

Gossip, entertainment, and raunchy news items have taken over the noble niche of critical journalism probably as a result of their overwhelming staying and purchasing power! For instance, it becomes comically, even dangerously, tempting to draw a direct correlation between poor public sanitation and the high corruptibility of public psychology, those of public officials included. Then again, one wonders if all the oceans of dirt and mountains of garbage seen floating around the capital have anything to do with the dirty psychologies of corrupt politicians. It would have been intellectually and morally expedient if Ghanaian journalists could learn to paint a clear matrix of dialectic delineation among GDP, poor sanitation, and development. In other words, public health and GDP are marked out by a subtle, tenuous relationship. Of course that relationship is not always subtle or tenuous in the practical scheme of things. That relationship is sporadically statistically conspicuous.

Malaria, Ebola, and cholera, to mention but three, negatively impact Africa’s development since all three diseases kill and drive potential investors away. Productivity, inventiveness, personal growth, human capital, political stability, economic growth, human resources, labor, and investment priorities suffer operational distortions across development cycles. Significantly, we cannot divorce the negative implications of political corruption from either the actualities of political omnipresence or the actualities of moral omniscience in respect of GDP. More specifically, the implications for GDP are as much qualitative as quantitative. These are vital issues that public psychology cannot allow to escape journalists’ intellectual purlieus. Stated otherwise, there should be a way to link the wicked mindsets of Ghanaian politicians and the callous insouciance of public psychology to the outbreak of cholera and poor sanitation. This is not merely an instructional metaphor.

Actually, these assessments naturally lead to the national controversy that brewed between the Bank of Ghana/Ghana Statistical Service and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently. Of course, there are sufficient empirical instances to underscore the question of clandestine collaboration between the IMF/World Bank and the CIA (and other Western intelligence agencies) in exclusive protection of Western economic-political interests at the expense of their clients’ development. Many a non-Western government whose strategic geopolitical interests have stubbornly stood in the way of the encroachment of Western hegemony has seen the blinding curse of putschism or the sputum of destabilization thrown at them so long as it perpetuates Western interests (See Naomi Klein’s book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”).

The underlying principle here is that those governments that manage to represent or entertain Western interests against public objection fully enjoy Western patronage, paternalism, and protection and those that do not are declared political pariahs in the international community. Ex-President Bill Clinton’s formal apology to the people of Haiti testifies to our censure of external manipulation of Ghanaian internal affairs. The minimal attentional vista given to the national controversy in connection with the twin issues of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in the public space is typical of Ghanaian journalism. Let us put these extraneous issues aside and deal with questions of immediate import to our theoretical pontifications. Then, in that case who has been telling the truth, the Bank of Ghana/Ghana Statistical Service or the IMF/World Bank?

Regrettably, those handful conscientious journalists who are habituated to the political success of the national enterprise at any cost are willing to discuss the controversy, probably sparingly and grudgingly, but tend to look at it askew. Such non-partisan journalists who are willing to take on the challenge risk isolation from mainstream journalism. Besides, nonaligned journalism does not exist in the Ghanaian body politic. It hardly exists anywhere for that matter. Still, politicizing statistical data on a matter as important as GDP to score cheap political points is as insulting to investment confidence as Ebola, malaria, or cholera is to national security. Of course this view could not readily be made accessible to an untutored mind. The controversy has been soaked so deep in endless labyrinths of muddiness to an extent where its dialectic de-layering leads to the nebulous substance of onion, nothingness! In fact, the entire episode smacks of a Machiavellian exercise in paradoxical evasiveness, statistical sophistry, or lying in omission. Exclusionary detailing is what has become of Ghana’s democratic imperialism, the moral basis of the so-called political equalization.

It is high time Ghanaian journalists began seriously discussing the subtle and not-so-subtle correlation between patriotism and public morality on the one hand and on the other hand GDP, as the country’s economic and political health revolves around these germane questions. It is also why we have consistently argued for passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI). Already, we have noted that the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) should include provisioned enshrinement of subpoena powers from which judges will derive authority to invoke powers of the courts to summon records of enormous significance to the public interest. Evidently, such a legal instrument would, at least in theory, have constituted an appropriate response to effective resolution of the shameful mystery hovering over the statistical controversy. Last of all, the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) should make enough room for the courts, journalists, security services, and whistleblowers to establish close working relationships in the interest of national organization.

This calls for other institutional structures to be put in place. Accordingly, media houses should build strong editorial and research departments with varied expertise in digital forensics, forensic accounting, forensic interviewing, etc. The underlying reason for this proposition is enhancement of their investigational capacities for analytic depth and inclusive exposés. In that regard, Ghanaian journalism should not pander to a people’s shifting tastes and preferences in absolutism, a point already noted, just as a good reason to massage the ego of public psychology. Rather, Ghanaian journalism should originate from the deep recesses of a people’s unadulterated conscience. Even so, Ghanaian journalism should establish beneficial intercourse or operational exchanges with the international community. Ghanaian journalists can take a cue from Anas Aremeyaw Anas who has invested his radical journalistic approach with a new sense of internationality.

Probably, the running aura of globalization renders criminal syndication more attractive than before and, for that reason, it is not out of reason for public psychology to demand the unifying consciousness of international collaboration in thwarting it. Against this backdrop, Ghana’s news media should resist the temptation to operate along the lines of manufactured consent. Ghanaian journalists should resist sentient tendencies toward preaching to the choir. Responsible journalism should be scientific and critical. Our central argument is that journalism need not swap a fawning massage of public ego for emotional trinketry of compromised, gullible public patronage. Moreover, patronage seen in terms of volume sales and readership is required to keep the journalism business afloat and to dialogue with public conscience on matters pertinent to the latter’s internal organization and moral evolution.

We are hereby dealing with the authentic merit of critical patronage where journalism and public conscience constructively engage each other through a hopeful tenure of mutual critique. All is not well as it seems facilely. It is however the case that media relationship with readership patronage usually can come under varied manipulative threats from media buying, budgetary constraints, and insolvency. Media buying, for instance, whether in a newspaper, television, or radio, does potentially compromise such relationships because as it is the client(s) on whose behalf media or advertising agencies operate may actually be in cahoots with the leadership of political parties and other powerful elements in society to defraud public conscience, the poor, and other marginalized constituencies in the exclusive interest of their selfish desires. In such a compromised situation, therefore, owners and journalists of the media outlets with which the media buyers’ client(s) identify will have a hard time engaging in constructive critiquing or holding the political friends of the media buyers’ client(s) accountable for egregious national misdeeds.

Also, elaborate undercover marriage between politicians and owners of private wealth is public knowledge, which is not a phenomenon unique to the situation of Ghana’s political temperament. Pertinent examples abound all over the world. The firing of Dan Rather, Whoopi Goldberg, and Bill Maher through the Bush administration’s manipulative dealings with three powerful corporate media for which the three worked is illustrative. What were their crimes? Their constructive criticism of Bush’s foreign policy whose execution came across as double standard for the most part. In consequence, Ghanaian journalists should make it a point to see to it that the friction between public-order crimes and social conservatism is reduced to the barest minimum in the direction of social conservatism. As we implied before, public-order crimes and institutional weakness have a relationship with GDP and a country’s internal health. In the end GDP is simultaneously everything and not everything (See Prof. Lorenzo Fioramonti’s books “Gross Domestic Problem: The Politics Behind the World’s Most powerful Number”; see also Simon Kuznets’ paper “Uses and Abuses of National Income Measurements”).

Yet GDP cannot reliably predict the Lord Resistance Army’s, Al-Shabab’s, and Boko Haram’s next moves, for instance, though their aggregate terrorist activities have direct, either qualitative or quantitative, implications for GDP. Then again GDP can equally be abused for political ends (See Prof. Lorenze Fioramonti’s other book “How Numbers Rule the World: The Use and Abuse of Statistics in Global Politics”). Meanwhile, others, such as the Australian-based Austrian economist Frank Shostak, have described GDP as a vacuous construct with no practical relevance to the world. Yet, like temperature which does not absolutely tell us everything about the autogenic interaction between human anatomy and physiology, GDP (and GNP) surely leads to the homeostatic center of national economies. These are some of the critical issues that must be addressed by Ghanaian journalists in the midst of the statistical controversy. What are our journalists doing to prevent the wobbly soul of Ghana from further rot?

Let the world allow the moral junction of diagnostic journalism and the conscience of humanity to decide what is best for the public interest!

We shall return…

Francis Kwarteng

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