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Journalists need to be diligent in conflict reporting

BY: Timothy Ngnenbe
GJA President, Affail Money
GJA President, Affail Money

Many people in the country and across the world welcomed the new year with renewed hope of meeting unmet targets in 2018.

They made merry and reflected on how to do best what they did better in the previous year.

However, this was not the case with the residents in some communities in the Chereponi district in the Northern Region.

A violent clash that started on the night of December 31, 2018, degenerated into a communal conflict leading to the lost of some lives and burning of houses and properties running into hundreds of Ghana cedis.

While efforts are being made to resolve the conflict, the worrying issue of media reportage on conflict situations has once again raised its ugly face.

The reports filed by some of the journalists on the conflict did not only heighten tensions and anxiety, but also stirred the anger of the aggrieved factions.

The media reports on that conflict reminded me of a similar situation on Thursday, November 8, 2018.

Earlier that day, news broke that there was tension at Nankpachei in the Yendi Municipality following a misunderstanding between two individuals that degenerated into a violent confrontation and the lost of a life.

Later, the bombshell dropped when residents of Adentan blocked the N4 Madina-Adenta-Aburi stretch of the highway in protest against the killing of a 19-year-old student of the West Africa Senior High School (WASS) through a road accident.

Media report

The media reportage on the violence at Nankpachei was really scary.

I read an online portal with the headline, "Two dead as a stray pig starts violent clash between Dagombas and Konkombas."

Portions of the reportage added that "several houses in the Yendi Municipality in the Northern Region were burnt in the process."

I started flipping the dial from one radio station to the other.

Various radio stations were telling the story about how the Dagombas and Konkombas had clashed over a pig and were destroying things.

The way some of them dramatised it was as though hell had dropped in on the entire Northern Region.

Aftrer a number of phone calls to some friends in that part of the country.

I became confused because what was being reported on radio in particular, was different from what I gathered.

The good, the bad, the ugly

Finally, I heard the report from the Northern Regional correspondent of GBC Radio, Mr Mutarla Mohammed.

His account about what happened was not different from what I had gathered.

Mr Mutarla explained how a pig belonging to a farmer at Nankpachei strayed into another farmer’s farm and got shot by the latter.

He said the poor handling of the misunderstanding led to a violent confrontation between the two and the subsequent death of one person and the burning of three houses.

He also allayed the fears of members of the public by adding that the security forces had taken charge of the area and had succeeded in calming down tensions.

The following day, the newspapers also took their turn to tell the story.

Many of them painted a picture that was not any different from that of the radio stations.

However, the headlines and reportage of two leading state newspapers caught my attention.

The Daily Graphic had at its back page a story titled “One die in clash at Nankpachei, in Yendi.”

The paper went on to give a narrative that was not different from the one earlier told by Mr Mutarla of GBC Radio

On the front page of the Ghanaian Times, the same story was carried, but with the headline “Dagombas, Konkombas clash over pig: one person reported dead.”

The opening sentence of the story read “One person has been killed while two others sustained gunshot wounds in a communal clash over a pig between Dagombas and Konkombas at Nankpachei in the Yendi Municipality in the Northern Region.”

The current situation is just one of the many instances in which journalists have failed to appropriately report on conflict situations.

The way some media houses and journalists reported on violence in the aftermath of the 2016 elections was not the best too. It was either “NPP tugs” does this or “NDC hooligans” does that.

Reports on conflicts on the chieftaincy, tribal, and other fronts have always been exaggerated.

Ethics

The coverage of the recent conflicts has brought to the fore the reality that all is not well with the way the media and journalists report conflicts and violent situations in the country.

Article One (I) of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) Code of Ethics states that "the duty of every journalist is to write and report the truth bearing in mind his or her duty to serve the public."

It goes to state in clause III of the same article that "a journalist should make adequate inquires and cross-check his or her facts."

Article 17 of the GJA code of ethics also speaks against sensationalism by stressing that newspaper headlines should be fully warranted by the contents of the articles they accompany.

If journalists are to report the truth, bearing in mind that they are serving the interest of the public, then their reportage must not be seen to be inflaming passions and causing panic.

Diligence

Journalists must prepare their news meal in the kitchen of integrity using accuracy, balance, facts, and moral conscience as the active ingredients.

The media is a powerful tool and so journalists need to know that what they say or write, especially during conflict situations, go a long way to fuel the situation or calm down nerves.

In conflict situations, media reportage ought to be geared towards calming nerves rather than inflaming passions.

While radio stations, newspapers, TV stations and online platforms try to outdo each other and be the first to break the news or to get touching sound bites, catchy headlines, and the most compelling pictures, journalists must be wary of the fact that they do not have to fuel tensions by what they put out.

Action

There is the need for the GJA, Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), owners of media houses, editors and other key stakeholders to collaborate to ensure that journalists keep the gate well especially in conflict reporting.

There is the need for training programmes to be organised to build the capacity of journalists on how to effectively report on conflicts, demonstrations and other unusual situations in a manner that will promote Peace building and unity.

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