Of the various forms of media intimidation (4): An intimidating ‘invitation’ with a surprise result!

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

A few days after the paper came out, one morning, I was informed in the office that some officials from state security had come looking for me, and the Managing Director, and they were in a meeting with him. 

But, to be fair to them, they didn’t come ‘Rambo-style’, as experienced by Citi FM in the Caleb Kudah case – the incident which has sent me on this memory lane trip.

They came to the Graphic Corporation reception and requested to see the head of the organisation. But I need to tell the story properly.

In May, 1976, frustrated by the lack of cooperation by the then Ministry of Internal Affairs, in my attempt to get answers to what I thought were uncomplicated questions, I detailed in this column the runaround they had subjected me to. The following is an abridged version of the article:

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Civil Service Waltz
I wonder if there’s a slow waltz song called ‘It takes time’. There ought to be, and it ought to be the signature tune of the civil service.

Since April 26, I have been trying to get some basic information on citizenship from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In all I have gone there more than six times, rung at least ten times and wasted about six hours there.

All because I want answers to simple, straightforward questions like who qualifies to naturalize? How many people have taken citizenship in the past five years?

On April 26, I went to the Ministry with the hope of seeing the Principal Secretary. After an hour’s wait for the P.S., I asked the secretary to fix an appointment for a convenient time.

No, she said, I would have to see the P.S. himself for that.
The next day I was back in the P.S.’s waiting room. After a while, the Public Relations Officer wrote down all the questions, promising to have them answered by the end of the week.
Several telephone calls and one or two visits later, one week had gone but no answers.

This situation persisted for another week. Finally, the P.R.O. suggested that I should bring an official letter. Couldn’t I see the P.S. myself and get a straight yes or no? No, she said.

Thursday, 20th. In the P.S.’s office he looked at me enquiringly as he held the form I had filled to see him.

“You are …? From ‘The Mirror’. You want information on citizenship. You are writing an article?”
“We need the information for background to a story, Sir. I gave the questions to the P.R.O.” I answered.

“Questions? What questions? I haven’t seen any questions.”
“Sir, that’s why I’ve been coming here for the past three weeks; that’s why you gave me an appointment for last week; and yesterday; and the day before. Sir, you mean you haven’t seen the questions?

“Questions? No, I don’t know about any questions. Come, let me find somebody to help you.”

Perhaps now that the P.S. has found out what I need, I shall get the answers. Trouble is, if it took three frustrating weeks for them to find out my mission there, how long will it take to get the material? (Column of May 28, 1976, ‘Civil Service Waltz’.)

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A few days after the paper came out, one morning, I was informed in the office that some officials from state security had come looking for me, and the Managing Director, and they were in a meeting with him.

Later, Mr. Badu sent for me and told me that the visitors had been from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Police. They said they were not happy with the ‘Civil Service Waltz’ and so had come to invite me to the Police Headquarters to discuss the article.

However, he had made it clear to them that under no circumstances would he allow his reporter to go to the Police Headquarters. Eventually they left.
So that is how my MD firmly declined the ‘invitation’ for me.

Then on June 9, 1976, my Editor, Mr. Nicholas Alando, received the following memo from Mr. Badu:
“I have read Miss Yeboah-Afari’s article on ‘Civil Service Waltz’. I think this is one of the best pieces I have read in the Mirror for a long time, and I have decided that Miss Yeboah-Afari should be given a bonus of C50.00 on the article.

“The Chief Accountant is being requested by a copy of this letter to pay the bonus to her. Please convey my congratulations to her.”

I don’t know how much the C 50 would be in 2021 terms, but I certainly appreciated it then! Moreover, that remarkable gesture was apparently a first in the corporation! The mere idea of such a recognition, and especially in defiance of the Ministry, made my year.

No doubt it was the dialogue my MD had with the visitors that led to an understanding that there was no need for a journalist to be invited to the Police Headquarters just because they didn’t like an article about their ministry.

Thus dialogue is the way to go in state security and media encounters; no need for intimidation, violence. Both state security, including the police, and the media have crucial and complementary roles to play in our nation-building enterprise and shouldn’t view each other as enemies.

Certainly, my experiences were nowhere near the alleged mistreatment of some journalists by those supposed to protect the public, including journalists. But why should any form of intimidation be employed when dialogue can solve problems and any misunderstandings?

I shall always treasure Mr. Badu’s unprecedented, ultimate endorsement gesture. Needless to say, my copy of that brief but phenomenal memo, now almost falling apart due to its age, is among my most prized documents.

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