Who is a journalist?

Have you noticed the difficulty with which some TV news/current affairs hosts struggle to ask relevant questions during interviews? Some people I must say are merely on TV because they proved that they can read, they have a nice face but not necessarily because they have proven to have an understanding of issues and can ask smart questions that are relevant to the news or discussion at hand. When the President called journalists as lazy, he was taken to the cleaners by journalists. But truth be told, there are way too many people pretending to be journalists. Some have managed to earn for themselves opportunities on various media platforms where they have helped to misinform an already largely illiterate populace and to further ensure that the many good things the media could have been used for does not happen.

Communication theorists have propounded the Agenda Setting theory which basically suggests that the media sets the agenda for society. Even without venturing into issues of theory it does not take too much to notice the sort of impact the media makes in our daily lives. It is therefore worrying when an important arm of our lives like the media is handled by people who seem oblivious of the sort of impact they make in our lives. Truth hurts, but truth also stands.

Yes, journalism does not belong to that group of professions where one can call himself a professional only after writing certain examinations or being declared so by the relevant professional body. You surely can’t be a doctor unless you spend 7 years or so in University plus medical school and the Medical Council licenses you to practice. I am yet to meet a lawyer who didn’t attend Law School. Chartered Accountants go through their ACCE, and we all know what nurses, mechanics, teachers, etc go through.

We certainly cannot say same for journalists. One does not need to go through Journalism School to be a journalist in Ghana. Indeed when I began practicing journalism with Radio Univers when I was in Legon, I hadn’t gone through any official training. What we had then was a case where our seniors tutored us on the job and I was honoured to have learned a lot from the likes of Nana Tawia Okyir, Clement Akapame, Bernard Avle, Saint Doe Tamakloe, and Alhaji Abubar Siddique the station manager at the time. Certainly on the job training does help but it does not necessarily equate to obtaining the relevant qualification and indeed training to become a journalist. I later sought proper training but by that time I had obtained enough experience to make the training a mere case of paper work.

I personally did not think that a formal training is a prerequisite for becoming a journalist, especially when one has gone through some level of tertiary education and has succeeded in opening the mind a bit to understand issues of politics, economics, society and the things that interests them. However I am getting a change of mind largely because a paper qualification without the application of one’s common sense does not necessarily equate to the potential to excel as a journalist. I have engaged SHS, and even JHS leavers who have engaged me in deeper intellectual discussions than I have seen some journalists with training from any of the journalism schools ask in news bulletins and during interviews. I recently heard a newspaper review host read portions of a story from a newspaper and then ask her panel, ‘comments?’. It is a good style especially when you have at different points asked some other questions to indicate that you have a grasp of the issues at hand. But when a host clearly displays ignorance of issues and just reads what another person has crafted then really, what have we got on our hands here?

I think we have somewhat moved away from the days when people landed in certain jobs because they could not get their preferred jobs. People now choose to practice journalism. But the question is why do they choose journalism? Is it because they want to hear themselves read on radio? Or is it because they want to be seen on TV reading big big English they don’t understand?

The Ghana Journalists Association cannot play that role of ensuring that we have the right sort of training for those who want to practice journalism. The GJA is just like any association where people who want to join do so, but no one is mandated to do so. It is not like the Dental and Medical Council or the Ghana Legal Council. The onus then lie with media houses and media owners to ensure that the right caliber of persons with the right trainings are employed. For all the stations I worked with before venturing into corporate communications, there was always a training plan or refresher course throughout the year, even at Radio Univers which is a community station and basically serves as a first point of experience for many of us.

Ghana’s biggest and most reputable journalism school, GIJ, cannot boast of an FM station that will give its student that first hand training and on the job feel of interviews, etc before they graduate. I am told none of the other schools has this. So then products of these schools get their first feel of that practical job when they start work. A few of them are fast learners and grasp their fingers around this fast. Others never learn. Some stations too do not really care about the quality of material they use.

When the President said that morning show producers do a lazy job he was not too far from the truth. It is ok to do analysis based on newspapers but it certainly should not be what is done every weekday by so many stations. My new friend Kwame Sefa Kayi’s programme does that a lot. But what Kwami does which is admirable is that he regularly picks on various societal topics and dedicates a lot of time with relevant folks to discuss them. When he does that, it is often very thorough. Bernard Avle in CITI FM and Kojo Oppong Nkrumah at Joy FM have often stayed on a programme where they pick topics daily that are not necessarily in newspapers and tear them apart to enlighten us.

I know some of these guys personally and I know they are deep. Same goes for several others in the print media. But I am afraid there are a lot more of them who should not be allowed to speak into a microphone or speak before TV cameras. They embarrass the profession.

The media should take the lead in forcing change. We know that our politicians have come to love and fear the media. These politicians have largely reneged on their duties to effect positive change in our country. The media should force them to go back to that duty.
Ghana deserves better!

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