The 2022 GJA Journalist of the Year and broadcaster, Portia Gabor, has reiterated calls for state institutions and governments to ensure journalists are protected, in the face of growing attacks on the media.
According to the broadcaster, journalists play a critical role in the country’s affairs by disseminating information and representing voices of the underprivileged in society, thus, an imperative to have laws and regulations to protect the activities of journalists.
Mrs. Gabor was speaking at this year’s maiden public lecture organised by the Directorate of Research, Innovation, and Development (DRID) of the fully-fledged University of Media, Arts, and Communication, (UniMAC-GIJ), at its North Dzorwulu campus, on the topic, “Journalism, innovation and development: Frontiers for advocacy and social change.”
“Since 2016, 44 countries have adopted or amended laws and regulations which threaten freedom of expression and press freedom online,” she said, adding that; “Years of experience has taught me that when you silence a media person, you are silencing dozens of ordinary Ghanaians whose voices are heard through that one journalist.”
However, she expressed concern over the kind of reward journalists receive regarding salaries, indicating that “some journalists in Ghana have meagre salaries, others not paid at all.”
“As big tech companies and social media platforms are battling to get a huge chunk of global digital advertising spending, if there is a time to protect journalism it is now,” the adjudged science and health reporter stressed.
Midnight call for help
Portia Gabor has become the face of several advocacy and social change reports, notable amongst them is her report titled, “Wealth for health”.
She recounted a 12 midnight WhatsApp call for help by one Janet Addy who needed GHC 164,000 to undergo surgery. When all attempts to raise the amount proved futile, “she decided to seek help from an unlikely ally, the media, to help save her life.”
“As journalists, our core roles of informing, educating, and entertaining the public are evolving,” said Mrs. Gabor.
Janet was racing against time, as a price tag had been placed on her life. She either pays or dies.
“As a journalist, I did not have that amount of money in my bank account, but I had a pen, notebook, and computer, and with the power of the media and the help of the public, I knew that combining these together could work some magic,” the TV3 news anchor said.
The report on Janet’s predicament touched the hearts of viewers, who donated willingly to support her surgery. According to Mrs. Gabor, less than one week after the report, a total of 150, 000 Cedis was raised for Janet’s surgery.
Gloria Azumah, a final-year student of UniMAC-GIJ, said the lecture was insightful because she learned that journalists should at all times pursue stories that will impact society and transform the lives of individuals.
“We [journalists] need to take advantage of the digital tools and devices like Google Maps, satellite imagery, and so on so that we can use them to verify certain information we get,” said Gloria.
“I learned that as a journalist when covering stories about people with disabilities, focus more on the positive than their condition,” another attendee, Etornam Barbet, remarked.
In his closing remarks, the Acting Rector of UniMAC-GIJ and Chairman of the Event, Professor Eric Opoku Mensah, praised Mrs. Gabor for her dedication to the profession with diligence and people-centeredness, describing her as an embodiment of “ideal journalism.”
“So through her work, we see journalists being seen as firefighters who are being called upon, when there is a flood, they’re being called upon to intervene in something that the police or other appropriate institutions are to be concerned with,” Prof. Opoku Mensah said, adding that “through Mrs. Portia Gabor’s work, she’s redefined what impactful journalism is about.”
Professor Eric Opoku Mensah, however, bemoaned the decrease in the enrolment figures of journalism students over the period. He cited, for instance, meagre salaries received by journalists as accounting for such development, yet indicated that “if journalists do their work well, they get the needed recognition and climb so much higher than they ever imagined.”
He, therefore, urged students and media practitioners to emulate Mrs. Gabor’s journalism, which will make people see them as “saviours” of society because if they come to them with their stories, they will get positive results.