By Ifeoma Obi
Ghanaians are always doing things differently to build a perfect democracy and must be applauded. This is showing in their latest effort not to leave anything to chance as the country has started a sensitisation process to ensure that, the Presidential and Parliamentary elections next year is smooth. For this, other African countries can learn a lot.
With a year to go for the elections, the country’s National Peace Council (NPC) in collaboration with the Danish Embassy in Accra, have started the education of media house owners and journalists on the need to keep the peace. They are doing this side by side with another sensitisation programme with traditional rulers.
The workshops for journalists which have started in earnest, is being facilitated by two senior journalists, Emmanuel Dogbevi, managing editor of Ghana Business News and Francis Kokutse, former West Africa Correspondent for Indo Asian News Service.
When l caught up with Kokutse, a former African Concord and Africa Economic Digest Journalist in London, at the Kotoka International Airport, in Accra, where l had stopped over for a connecting flight to Burkina Faso, he said, “Ghana has always been a peaceful country and the NPC would want to keep it that way. The reason for the workshops is just to reinforce the need to maintain peace.”
On a previous visit to Ghana, l noticed that the media was “too free” with the airwaves, with talk shows discussing issues that would be regarded as seditious. But, in Ghana, it is like the authorities prefer a very vocal media to a culture of silence. Kokutse says, “we have had a history of culture of silence that, after the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution that ushered in the country’s fourth Republic, everybody wanted a free media.”
The media may be free but, listening to some radio stations would give you goose pimples. “That is why the NPC has stepped in. We have media houses that are owned by politicians who have employed untrained people to work for them, some of these people sometimes go overboard and it is the hope of the NPC that with a bit of training, they would help maintain the peace” he said.
With two workshops that have already have taken place, Dogbevi said, “we are not doing anything different from what the journalists already know. Our role in these workshops is just to remind them of what they must do properly. A proper journalist must keep to standards, as well as ensure that he or she checks facts before throwing stories out to the public.”
“We have however, introduced the journalists to Peace Journalism which is a new concept for some of them. The idea is to emphasise what the proponents of Peace Journalism say “encompasses stories that are useful, are human and raise the potential of looking at solutions, not at problems. This means that journalists must be sensitive to what they write so that they do not create a conflict situation,” Dogbevi said.
“What we are preaching through Peace Journalism is to make sure that next year, the journalists will be motivated to ensure that their stories help to create a peaceful atmosphere all over the country. In areas where, conflicts may show up, the journalists would be expected to get the people to accept peace,” he added.
This can only be achieved if the journalists remind themselves daily of the need to pay attention to details that would not inflame passion. The journalists would also need to check and cross-check their facts so that whatever they put across will be based on solid facts.
Kokutse says, “our desire is to make sure that Peace Journalism is given a chance. This is not to say that the country is in a conflict situation but, one must be very careful especially when you have a free media in operation, one mistake can create a problem.”
He said proponents of Peace Journalism define it as the use of “insights of conflict analysis and transformation to update the concepts of balance, fairness and accuracy in reporting. It also provides a new road map tracing the connections between journalists, their sources, the stories they cover and the consequences of their journalism, and builds an awareness of nonviolence and creativity into the practical job of everyday editing and reporting.”
For Dogbevi, “the workshops are stressing more on communication that generate conflicts and how to avoid them. In addition, the journalists are also being sensitised to see the need to avoid the use of intemperate language as well as giving them an insight into the types of sources that they would be dealing with during an election year.”
Those who have been preaching the Peace journalism concept have always stressed the importance of language, particularly avoiding language that victimizes, demonizes and imprecisely labels. Other key points include avoiding reporting about conflict as if it is a zero-sum game (one winner, one loser); reporting about common ground shared by parties involved in the conflict; avoiding reporting only the violent acts and “the horror”; and not reporting claims as though they are facts.
Kokutse says, he has become a new Apostle of Peace Journalism because it seeks to unite parties, rather than divide them, and eschews oversimplified “us versus them” and “good guy versus bad guys’ reporting.”
In addition, Peace reporters reject official propaganda, and instead seek facts from all sources and they do this in a balanced fashion by covering issues, suffering, peace proposals from all sides of a conflict.
It also gives voice to the voiceless, instead of just reporting for and about the elite and those in power and provide depth and context, rather than just superficial and sensational “blow by blow” accounts of violence and conflict.
Listening to Kokutse preach about Peace Journalism shows his passion for the new concept that stresses that journalists carefully choose and analyze the words they use, understanding that carelessly selected words are often inflammatory.
It is also not the words or the voices that Peace Journalists are worried about, they want to remind editors to thoughtfully select the images they use, “understanding that they can misrepresent an event, exacerbate an already dire situation, and re-victimize those who have suffered,” as those who are selling the new concept say.