Journalists in tipper truck and matters arising

 

Journalists in tipper truck and matters arising

On Sunday March 6, Ghana had a memorable 59th independence anniversary ceremony at the Black Star Square in Accra. Yes, it was memorable.

Our presidents dress was awesome and as usual, he eloquently delivered his address. Our two former presidents were there and so were leaders from opposition parties. For a moment, we forgot about whether or not the voters register is credible. For a moment, the NPP and NDC agreed on one thing a national ceremony to mark our independence anniversary. So it was memorable.

But there were other developments outside of Accra that made the 59th anniversary celebrations even more memorable. There were reports of a District Chief Executive who collapsed during a district level anniversary event while his colleague in another District got pupils collapsing with his long speech at a similar event. That is not all. Back in Accra, journalists who were at the national event had to get themselves into a big, white tipper truck with the help of a long, shaky stepladder in order to cover the event.

That is not the end. As part of their contribution to making the anniversary even more memorable, the Information Services Department (ISD), the official Public Relations department of government, is said to have served participants at the national event with a brochure full of typos and inaccuracies. Undoubtedly, officers at the ISD didnt want to be left out in the list of incidents that helpedto make the 59th independence anniversary very memorable.

The ISD had more embarrassment on offer even after the event. This they did by serving notice that they are not yet ready to be on the path of accuracies. The department issued a statement of apology for the errors in the anniversary brochure. As if by a grand design to commit an unending scene of comic embarrassment, the statement of apology from the ISD turned out to be an apology of a statement. The statement is also laden with errors. Its been errors to correct errors!

As the comedy continues, I hear staff of the ISD have indicated that the department was not responsible for the production of the error-laden brochure. Assuming it is true that the department did not produce the brochure, then why is it the Director of the ISD, Mr. Francis Kwarteng Arthur, who had to issue the apology statement in the name of the ISD?

This got me thinking whether Hon. Mahama Ayariga and his two deputies who had supervisory role over the ISD sometime ago, were not right when they claimed to have assigned a large part of the money that was allocated as Media Development Fund to the ISD for capacity building. May be Hon. Ayariga and his two deputies knew the potential the ISD had to cause grand collateral damage to brand Ghana, through incompetence.

Not surprisingly though, what is receiving the most attention and public discussion is not the several young patriots who collapsed at anniversary parades across the country. It is not the District Chief Executive who collapsed. It is not the epic failure of and the splendid embarrassment caused by our ISD. It is the incident about journalists who had to get into a big, white tipper truck to cover the event.

I read about the journalists in tipper truck incidentand saw the photos on social media. It looked awkward but not unexpected. It was awkward not because of the fact that the journalists had to be in a tipper truck, but because of the nature of the event in question a colourful national celebration with foreign dignitaries present.

So I ask: Could someone or people from government have made it possible for the journalists to cover the event in a more refined fashion? In a fashion befitting the status of a 59 year old country that brags about her achievements? My answer is yes, it was possible and it could have been done. I know there are highly competent people in government who could have done it. Because this was not the first time we were celebrating an independence anniversary. This was the 59th edition.

There is this other set of important questions that I dont have answers to: Was the use of the tipper truck for the purpose it served a planned thing? If so, who was responsible for that and what were the reasons? Was it a deliberate act to elevate the journalists to see the sort of things Presidential Staffer Sam George once said people neededelevation before they could see? Or it was to get the journalists out of the reach of the slapping hands of a soldier to avoid the recurrence of the military slapping spree that occurred at a similar event a few years back? These are important questions I dont have answers for.

People have also asked: Under the circumstance, should the journalists have accepted to get into the truck to enable them cover the event? My answer is: if that was the only means by which the journalists could effectively and diligently cover the event, then of course, yes, they had to. In fact, even if there were other options available to the journalists, they could have still opted for the tipper truck if that would give them much space and opportunity to do a better coverage of the event.

I say so because, in the first place, the journalists were there to do their job bringing the news to their audience, readers and viewers. That is their job. That is what they have offered to do and what they are paid to do. So, yes, we can blame the event organisers for the awkwardness of the scene. But we need to accept the fact that just likemany other fields of endeavour, journalism can be difficult, dangerous and embarrassing sometimes.

During the recent Ebola outbreak for example, several doctors and nurses died doing their job. They died trying to save lives. They knew about the extremely infectious and deadly nature of the disease, but they had to do their job and they did it. This was not a matter of all die be die.No, they died serving humanity and did so gallantly.

Similarly, so many journalists have died in the process of doing their job. There are journalists currently covering the war in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and many other parts of the world. They bring to us the photos, sounds and stories from the fields of gunfire, rocket attacks and bombardments by fighter jets. That is an uncomfortable assignment, it is risky and deadly, but someone has to it. And that someone is the journalist. This is just to buttress the point that journalism is not meant to be a rosy enterprise at all times.

What happened on Sunday also brings to the fore, the important issue of how journalists are treated. We have had the tendency of focusing on how journalists are treated by event organisers, newsmakers, the presidency, among others. There has been little or no focus on how journalists treat themselves and how they are treated by their media organisations. We cannot continue to blame people and institutions whose events we chose to cover.

We are in a country where several media organisations invest less or nothing to promote the welfare and safety of their journalists. Ironically, journalists themselves appear to fight less and less for their collective wellbeing and safety. This has to change if we are to make progress!!

Happy 59th independence anniversary


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