One definition of ‘psychological warfare’ is “actions intended to reduce an opponent’s morale”, and it seems to be part of the arsenal of security services against journalists.
At least that has been my observation.
An immediate effect of the well publicised ‘invitation to Burma Camp’, Army Headquarters, in 1989, was that it made some associates afraid to be seen working with me, even in an unrelated activity.
Those who were behind the malicious flood of media announcements, that I and fellow BBC correspondent Ben Ephson, should report at Burma Camp on October 9, 1989, certainly didn’t succeed in intimidating us.
Still, regrettably, they did succeed in scaring away some of the people assisting in the production of a weekly newspaper of which I was the editor, The Monitor.
Co-founded with my colleague, Mr. Ken Bediako, the Monitor was barely a month old when the Burma Camp ‘invitation’ came.
We were shocked when immediately after the Burma Camp ‘invitation’ the typesetters and the printers, deserted us.
This, naturally, affected our morale, though we made other arrangements.
It was a setback and of course it compounded our difficulties.
Little wonder that the pacesetting Monitor which, was a broadsheet and also the first independent paper to publish eight pages as opposed to the then norm of four pages, collapsed after a few months.
Later, on reflection, in view of the totally wrong picture of me described in the letter handed to us as Ben and I were leaving Burma Camp after the October 9, 1989 ‘meeting’, I decided that there was the need to set the record straight in writing.
I had shown proof to the Senior Army Officer that the word they objected to, “several”, had not featured in my report for the BBC, but had been rather used by the presenter in London.
Nevertheless, I felt I couldn’t afford to have such a negative, damaging and false image of me filed away in some governmental records.
Thus I replied the Burma Camp letter, explaining my side of the story, and the need to clear my name.
November 10, 1989, saw me back at Burma Camp with my response, addressed to the Senior Officer.
I also sent a copy through a trusted messenger to the then Secretary for Information, Mr. Kofi Totobi Quakyi.
Fast forward to 2021, and the Citi FM trauma of May 11, which has prompted this Memory Lane narration of the 1989 ‘invitation’ to Burma Camp.
Notably, some four weeks after the Citi FM journalist Caleb Kudah incident, his arrest, alleged torture by some National Security operatives and the ‘Rambo style’ storming of their premises continue to generate discussion.
Fortunately, such confrontations don’t happen often in Ghana, but even once is one too many because state security and the media are supposed to complement each other.
Unfortunately, the over-enthusiasm of some security operatives inexplicably leads them to see journalists not as collaborators, but as enemies whose wings must be clipped.
Significantly, not all the confrontations make headline news.
Many are not dramatic; more aimed at inflicting emotional distress.
As I mentioned earlier, there were even instances when state security officers dropped hints to my relatives and friends that they should let me know that I was “being watched”.
At one time, a boyfriend who was in Government employment, was advised by a concerned friend of his who had links to state security, to stay away from me if he wanted to progress in his career.
What they were looking for, necessitating “watching” me, I never could tell because I wasn’t engaged in any sinister or unpatriotic activity that I needed to hide.
How pitiful that the perennially scarce state resources, taxpayers’ money (including mine!), were reportedly being used to spy needlessly on somebody like me!
Obviously, the family and friends so contacted found it highly disturbing.
I recall that one relative was so alarmed by this whispering campaign of intimidation, the psychological warfare, that he didn’t even want to risk coming to my house to tell me, he sent someone else to come and alert me, to tell me to be careful.
That to me was even worse than the attempted character assassination.
It was extremely troubling that a relative was too scared to be seen coming to my house.
Two things that I found very striking about the Citi FM case was, firstly, the solidarity shown by many civil society organisations and individuals, through statements condemning the treatment of Mr. Kudah and especially the invasion of the Citi FM premises.
How times have changed!
As I recall, in 1989, not even the Ghana Journalists Association contacted me to offer a word of sympathy or protest the vicious, unnecessary intimidation of two fellow journalists.
To their everlasting credit, it was only the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, human rights advocates, represented by (Prof) Kofi Kumado, who contacted me to find out if I was in good health and whether I needed any help.
Secondly, some of the media reported that when the State Security operatives insisted on taking Citi FM reporter Ms Zoe Abu-Baidoo Addo, too, to their office for questioning, Citi FM Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Samuel Attah-Mensah, insisted on accompanying her.
To me that is the kind of support that media houses need to offer their journalists in such times.
I experienced one such heartening episode long before the 1989 ‘invitation’ to Burma Camp, regarding an earlier, proposed, ‘invitation’.
In 1976, the year I started writing this column, there was an attempt to intimidate me, through an ‘invitation’ to the Police Headquarters, from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (now the Interior Ministry).
However, my Managing Director saved me.
Better still, he demonstrated his solidarity with me in a very pragmatic, memorable way, despite the Ministry’s evident determination to punish me.
To be continued.