Who are we loyal to? …Media, Mahama and Politics’ Disciples of Discipline

The Media House publicly apologized. In writing. Multimedia’s apology came after an Asempa host called out former president John Mahama’s grass mowing outside a military cemetery as a potential stunt to score political points in a campaign year. The host’s monologue drew the ire of NDC party loyalists.

The image of former president Mahama hard at work mowing the grass outside a military cemetery followed the lament of its poor state . The image and video went viral..

A group of red t-shirt wearing NDC loyalists hit the road and arrived en masse at Multimedia’s door with discipline on their mind and a particular journalist the target of their anger. Images of them hit social media. They arrived, stayed, demanded entry, chanted, sang, demanded the journalist exit and meet them, stopped traffic, and made focused, targeted noise. Their actions triggered media coverage, and ultimately a formal written apology from Multimedia about the matter.

Apology accepted. That was the simple message from our former president John Mahama. It was delivered on Twitter, with the publication of the written apology.

The matter is closed.

Not quite.

Can we take a moment to explore this incident and what it reveals about our current climate regarding citizens, media, power, loyalty, politics, action and accountability?

The public action of cleaning up space to improve access to something as sacred as a military cemetery is laudable. That is without question. Is it that surprising given former President Mahama seeks the Presidency and that he wishes to be associated with hard-working ordinary Ghanaians he took to an activity that they might applaud?  I am not defending insults. I am saying that the primary function of journalism is to challenge those in power, who seek power and question their motives in context, based on research and some careful analysis.

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It doesn’t take much to assess that in the run-up to a presidential election year we routinely find – and see – politicians rolling up sleeves, grabbing public utensils and engaging in any manner of activity designed to make them look like a ‘man of the people’, a person unafraid to roll up their sleeves and jump in the trenches, an individual committed to change by changing their behaviour.

Again, laudable.

My dear father is buried in the Osu cemetery. That sacred space is a scramble for those seeking to pay respects to their loved ones because it is in such a state. Cemeteries are spaces where there should be an implemented working structure that maintains them, as opposed to what can be arguably labelled publicity-hungry acts by ogas and big men designed for shallow applause.

And for those who showed up, chanted, sang, condemned, waved their banners, I have  questions. What if we put that energy, focus, and commitment into supporting women working to build and create change for the lives of the 52% in this country? What if we exerted that level of sustained focus in support of the election of more women into office? What if we showed up in such numbers and demanded justice for girls or women who are sexually assaulted, and then insulted on-air? What if we fought for our futures, our progress and our rights with the same vim, passion, focus and commitment that was exhibited in support of former President Mahama?

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What if?

The media’s loyalty is often questioned. That is fair. It should be loyal to citizens, not bill-payers and advertisers. Not to politics and politicians. That is an ongoing particular challenge in our media climate where politicians own the mics and the media house. How do such contradictions shape our media landscape, our content focus and our loyalty to citizens?

Do we become cowards, saying only what flatters and not tough truths that infuriate but trigger critical thinking? Do we become complacent and unchallenging in our voices and commentary, scared of politics’ disciples of discipline, and strangers to the foundation of our own profession – which is to question, challenge and pursue information? Is that who we in the media become?

This is a messy moment.  It is messy because we confuse rigorous challenge with undeserved deference to titles.

In media, challenging authority is too often reimagined as insulting in our culture. But, without challenge there cannot be change. It is neither easy nor without consequence, but it is imperative.

This cycle of electioneering is ramping up for 2020.

For we in the media, will it be: loyalty to citizens or deference to power, politics and politicians? Choose.

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