One of the issues that stood out when the world converged on Accra on May 3 to commemorate the 2018 World Press Freedom Day was the urgent need to promote press freedom and weed out crimes against journalists.
The participants in the two-day historic event made a strong case for governments across the world to put in place robust legal regimes and policy frameworks to guarantee the safety of media practitioners.
Speakers at the international forum that was attended by 900 participants from 90 countries minced no words in advocating strongly against all forms of violence and crimes against journalists in the line of duty.
The media fraternity climaxed the all-important event with the adoption of a resolution that was referred to as the Accra Declaration, a document that charged various stakeholders to play their parts to protect journalists.
The adopted Accra Declaration called on countries to review cases involving journalists in prison to ensure that the prosecutions were not a travesty of justice.
As part of that declaration, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), civil society organisations (CSOs), media establishments and journalists were charged to play their respective roles appropriately to sanitise the media industry.
The Accra Declaration came in the wake of global crime and attacks on journalists in the line of duty.
In Ghana for instance, the recent cases of attacks on two journalists from Multimedia, Mr Latif Iddrisu of Joy FM and Ohemaa Sakyiwaa of Adom FM, at the Police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and New Patriotic Party (NPP) headquarters, respectively are still fresh.
These attacks by the police and a party activist have been deservedly condemned by all manner of people and groups. These condemnations and call for legal action to ensure that justice is served to the victims are welcome news.
While the government and other stakeholders have critical roles to play in providing security and an enabling environment for press freedom, journalists equally have the responsibility to protect that freedom jealously.
Journalism is a profession that thrives on the core principles of truth, accuracy, balance and professional integrity, among other values.
A strict adherence to these ethical values, to a large extent, determines the acceptability and reliability of media products by the members of the public who need relevant and verifiable information for their daily activities.
It is, therefore, important that journalists adhere to the ethical standards even as they carry out the huge responsibility placed on the media to be the watchdog of the society, including the three arms of government - executive, legislature and the judiciary.
Moles in the media
It is in view of this critical role the media play in socio-economic development and the deepening of democracy that the activities of some elements who can best be described as Judases or moles in the system ought to be a subject of great concern.
The growing number of what is known locally as "paparazzi", but which I will describe as scavengers, is simply worrying and paints a very bad picture about what otherwise would be a respected and noble profession.
These ‘paparazzi’ are the category of "journalists" who go from one programme to another not to hunt for news but sniff for what has come to be known as "soli", a token that is sometimes given to journalists for transport when they cover assigned programmes.
Typical of scavengers, these ‘paparazzi’ move in their numbers with so much aggression and are ready to take on any event organiser who fails to give them anything.
Their modus operandi is such that they have a well-rehearsed game plan that will always put them at the winning side. Like sniffer dogs, they wake up each morning sniffing for venues for events and when they get wind of one, they quickly relay the information to others.
In this age of social media, they communicate effectively especially via WhatsApp. They put themselves into groups and target specific events and venues where they are sure to get "soli".
What is even nauseating is that they are ready to form a long queue after the end of a programme and struggle to receive anything on offer from event organisers. They are able to go to as many as five programmes in a day, knowing very well that they will not write any story from those events.
This trend of events is not only casting a slur on the reputation of journalists who are diligent and adhere to professional standards, but also dragging the image of journalism into disrepute.
Sometimes, event organisers take advantage of the activities of these paparazzis to make very unprintable comments about journalists and journalism.
For such event organisers, there is no difference between the right eye of a horse and the left ear of the same horse.
In journalism, we are made to believe that the message is just as important as the messenger. So if the messenger’s credibility is at stake, it simply means that the target audience will take the message with a pinch of salt.
It could be true that the media industry in Ghana is not as lucrative as other sectors and that it takes extra effort and divine intervention to make ends meet.
Some media organisations either do not pay well or pay nothing at all to journalists who work for them; and all that some of the journalists know and call salary is the "soli" they get when they go for events.
In view of this, they seize every opportunity to get their "salary" daily, by hook or by crook.
This notwithstanding, the tenets of journalism and the code of professional standards as enshrined in the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) code of ethics and professional standards ought not to be thrown to the dogs.
The time has come for the GJA, the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), the National Media Commission (NMC) and other stakeholders to collaborate to weed out bad elements within the media fold who are serving as wet blankets to the industry.
The line ought to be drawn on who qualifies to practise as a journalist to safeguard the integrity of the profession.
Professions such as law, medicine, accountancy, engineering, as well as the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) and Ghana Police Service, have strict and robust systems for entry and practice for its members.
The media industry can do same.