“I want to submit that as journalists, sometimes we turn to be too harsh on ourselves, unnecessarily too harsh on ourselves.
There have been many occasions when I listen to journalists speak; especially when they speak about the responsibility of the press and so on and I wonder whether they are talking about Ghana.
In this very room, some of the best in our profession, who could have practiced anywhere in the world as excellent journalists are here in this very room.
I mean, there is Alhaji Razak El Alawa, three times best journalist of the year and he still continues to write in the daily graphic and so on.
Never in his practice have I heard any irresponsibility of publishing any falsehood or whatever, never, throughout his profession.”
These words drew an applaud from the crowd as Mr Yaw Boadu Ayeboafoh of the Graphic communications Group spontaneously said, “let us clap for that.”
These were the opening words of Mr Kwesi Prat Jnr, Managing Editor of the Insight Newspaper at a GJA / UNESCO forum on “Freedom of Expression, Working Conditions of Journalists and Safety of Journalists.”
Mr Kwesi Pratt Jnr was making a presentation on the safety of journalists in Ghana, and was of the opinion that sometimes, journalists in the country are too harsh on themselves.
He also expressed worry at how the Ghanaian journalist has allowed political and religious colouring to divide the otherwise strong force that it ought to be.
According to the veteran, “when issues come up, instead of coming together to fight for our own as other professionals do, we are quick to make comments like he should have been beaten even more”
“There is no solidarity!” he shouted.
Mr Kwesi Pratt Jnr went on to acknowledge some of the best journalists the country has produced, he said “…..And then in this very room is my classmate, who started practicing journalism long before he graduated from the Ghana Institute of Journalism in 1974.
He has edited newspapers here and in London and so on and so forth, I am talking about Ebo Quansah, one of the best, and he is here”
He continued, “And then there are those who are not here like Kabral Blay Amihere. Excellent journalist by all standards.
And many more, there is this friend of mine, Francis Kokutse who writes for international journals, so why are we so harsh on ourselves.”
Mr Kwesi Pratt Jnr, who was obviously worried about how journalists castigate their own asked,
“Why are we creating the impression that when it comes to Ghanaian media, we are a bunch of irresponsible people, not interested in telling the truth and so on, there is a problem with our own perception of ourselves. We are not that bad!” he exclaimed.
He then went on to take a jive at the insistence on telling the truth.
He asked, “what is the truth? Is everybody’s truth the same?”
Obviously surprised at how people in recent times insist on truth, he used a little bit of history to educate participants, “ listen, not too long ago in our history, in the history of mankind, there were those who believed that the earth was flat and that if you went in the straight direction, and continued in that trajectory you would fall into an abyss, was that a lie?
Today, we know that the earth has never been flat.
But at the time when they believed what they believed, it was not a lie.
It was what information they had gathered on the basis of their experiences and so forth and so on, and they firmly believed that, that was the truth.
And it was the truth at the time, and those who challenged that believe were killed.
It was so bad, it was a death sentence for those who challenged that believe.”
Mr Kwesi Pratt Jnr, on safety of the journalist said, safety was not all about physical safety of the journalist.
He spoke about Psychological safety, and used his bitter experience in which he had to be on medication to stay healthy because a wild allegation was made against him.
This allegation almost costed him his life as he developed high blood pressure.
To conclude his presentation, he cautioned that, even though working conditions were not the best in some media houses, especially the private ones, one should not be quick to rule out the fact that the thousands of student journalists who passed out each year needed opportunities to practice.
Sometimes, these opportunities would come rather at a cost to the graduate since he would have to work without salary for sometime.
Using the history of the Daily Guide, he educated that, the paper did not start because “Kwaku Baako and co were looking for money, it started because there was an opening for people to fight for our democracy, and the paper was a machine to use to achieve that aim”
Mr Affail Monney, the President of the GJA, on his part, said freedom of expression was the oxygen of the journalism profession but it must go with responsibility.
He said journalism in Ghana had gone a long way from the darkest period of yester years when journalists were subjected to inhuman treatment to lay the foundation for the media system to operate today.
“I believe that as we exercise freedom, we should actualise responsibility and the two must go in tandem, otherwise journalists may spur chaos,” he said.
The GJA President said although the salaries and wages of media practitioners was nothing to write home about, it should not be the basis to blackmail and spread falsehood about others.
“In worst case scenario, some journalists are not even paid at all…but man, they say, must eat and survive so the survival instinct pushes people to do criminal acts by blackmailing, attacking and unjustifiably do all kinds of things to survive…there is no justification for these,” he said, and urged journalists to be law abiding.
Mr Monney commended UNESCO for supporting the GJA to organise the forum, which would expand the public space for discourse.
The forum was chaired by Dr Bonnah Koomson, the Chairman of the Disciplinary and Ethics Committee of the GJA.
The program drew representatives from the Medical Journalists Association of Ghana, (MJA-G) members of the Ghana Journalists Association and celebrated journalists such as Ebo Quansah and Alhaju Razak El Alawa.
Other dignitaries present were Mr Yaw Boadu Ayeboafoh, the General Manager of the Graphic Communications Group Limited.
Madam Mary Karimu, Deputy Director of Labour Research and Policy Institute, TUC who made a presentation on the working conditions of journalists.
The other national executives of the GJA were also present.