The Journalist, The Politician And The Black Bag

The average bloke is no better or worse than the average bloke if you see what I mean. Put another way, we are all good and bad in varying degrees. The consolation is that there is always ample room in between for the exercise of personal integrity.

Yet if you wrote the political history of Ghana forward and backwards through time and space a thousand times over, you would find the very same tales of intrigue, dishonesty, and multiple standards thrown up again and again in this unrelenting war between the good guys and the bad guys.

Who are the good guys and the bad guys? Hey, I just told you who they are! They have got us {Ghanaians} well and truly trapped in their war to establish their true identities and rendered us involuntary participants in a very bizarre, high speed circus:

The relationship between Ghanaian journalists and politicians is a good example: A ruling government assures us that its predecessors had kept a list of collaborators in the media on an illegal payroll to conceal the truth about its actions and inactions, while working mainly through media-facilitated propaganda to entrench itself in power.
A new government comes along and the old government now in opposition, which had itself been accused of paying bribes to a select group of powerful journalists, now, turns the guns of accusation on the new government and says the new government is paying hefty bribes to journalists!

I recall how Jerry Rawlings went up to Ouagadougou to address a meeting of the International Catholic Union of the Press. He gave the journalists a short lecture on the sacredness of journalism as a guard dog of Truth and how corruption among journalists in turn corrupts the truth.

Then Rawlings pulled a fat cat out of nowhere: In his own country Ghana he told them, a corrupt administration had paid an unnamed journalist a regular stipend of US$ 10,000 to defend the administration’s misdeeds.

One view was that the former Ghanaian president is given to making undomesticated allegations he often fails to substantiate and that this was clearly one of them. A converse one was that having been head of state for two decades, the man has had access to information the rest of us may not have access to, and that in this case, he very well must have known what he was talking about.

Then came media reports that the National Security establishment, had during its headship by former security Chief Francis Poku, kept some unnamed journalists on a monthly take.

When the late Professor JEA Mills took office as president, allegations were let fly to the effect that revenues from a petroleum tax imposed on Ghanaians had been used to pay bribes to journalists through the Ministry of Information during the Kufuor administration.

Soon, all too soon, there were allegations about the use of public money amounting to ¢169, 000 by an official at the Ministry of information, to buy hampers for journalists and motivate media houses to educate the public on the a national budget statement Mills’s Minister of Finance had presented to parliament.

The allegations of corruption in the media or rather of government corruption of sections of the media have refused to go away in spite of the lack of concrete evidence. A very highly placed individual, did remark to me a few years ago, that “some of your colleagues are making good money.” I doubt if he was referring to journalists’ wages.

President Mahama’s administration has not been spared the accusations. Not long ago his Chief of Staff Julius Debrah, was accused of inviting journalists to Flagstaff House for an informal forum of sorts, where he allegedly distributed fat envelops with indeterminate contents to the journalists.

Former National security Chief Colonel Gbevlo- Lartey vowed to discontinue the practice of paying bribes to journalists. That must have made shady politicians prance about in ecstatic joy:

With the kind of intelligence information on its files and with journalists on its payroll, the national security establishment could easily wreak havoc on the public image and political careers of political foes of every government.

What about the opposition parties? Do they pay bribes to journalists to wreak havoc on incumbent governments and try to drive them from office come at the next election? It has been argued by some, that the question is misplaced because even if they did, it would be party money and not public cash the opposition would be spending. A counter argument here is that the source of any money that may be used to bribe journalists notwithstanding, the practice of journalism gets corrupted.

Unverified claims have it that Journalists are given cash bribes in black polythene bags and the bags have come symbolize corruption in the hallowed corridors of journalism in Ghana.

Journalists who apply for international journalism fellowships are usually required to write several essays for critical reviews by a selection panel.

The portfolio of essays will usually include one in which the applicant is asked to explain what personal values have shaped his/her career as a journalist. I reckon the panels always look out for applicants who omit or appear to place very little value on professional honesty, fairness, objectivity, truth and a commitment to the public good.

It is not practicable to expect angels and saints or other higher beings in the media who do no wrong. The reference here is to journalists who in spite of their imperfections as fallible beings, will at least make a very conscious effort to stick to fairness and balance! With the black polythene bag sometimes on discreet offer, that can be tough, but journalists can always give perseverance the good old try.