Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nobody Said It'd Be Easy

In attempting to cover my first human rights related story with Skyy
News in Takoradi, Ghana I've come to realize just how difficult
dealing with these types of issues can be.

I left the newsroom with a sharp young reporter, Kofi Asamoah, and JHR
expert trainer Doug Murray en route to a nearby rock quarry. There we
planned to interview the young people who work as rock crushers as
part of a report on child labour in Ghana.

Walking up the steep hill leading to the station was a young girl, no
older than 6 or 7 years old. She struggled up the hill, carrying a
large, leaky bowl of water sachets on her head. Seizing the
opportunity, Asamoah conferred with the girl and we began videotaping
her walking down towards the main highway into town.

As we walked two men in a black BMW drove up to us, parked, and kept a
close watch. We continued down the hill and crossed onto the busy
road. The little girl began selling her wares to local passers-by as
large trucks, vans, and cars sped by, just two feet from where she

We continued to shoot as the black BMW pulled onto the shoulder where
we were standing. Two men leapt out of the car and began shouting at
us. They yelled, gesticulating wildly. "Do you have permission to
shoot this girl?!" They yelled, eyes twitching with anger, accusing
us of framing a story of an impoverished Ghana. They yelled, spittle
flailing, branding us as profit driven BBC reporters contributing to a
legacy of white oppression.

We tried to identify ourselves, but the men were not interesting in
who we were or what we were doing. They had already made assumptions,
the foundations of which could not shaken.

As one man yelled and accusatorily pointed fingers in our faces, the
other tried to take the bowl of water sachets from the now visibly
frightened and crying little girl. He led her by the hand and tried
to get her into the back of the black BMW. She refused.

A small gathering of local people stepped in and led the girl away.
Getting back into the black BMW, the two men hastily drove down the
road. Asamoah went back over to the little girl, got a few last words
from her and gave her 20,000 Cedis, or about $2 US, from our pockets
for her troubles. She walked away with the small group surrounding her.

When Asamoah returned we asked him what she had said.

She wanted to know why the pastor wanted her to go in the car. Her
aunt was just down the street.

I have a feeling that she's never been offered a ride in a BMW before,
especially one carrying a man of God.

Through all the yelling, we told the men to contact the CEO of Skyy
with their concerns. They did. After their phone call, and reviewing
the videotape, word came down that the story, as it stood, was dead.
Follow other leads, we were told. The video footage was confiscated.
The tape it was shot on would be replaced.

This series of events, as polarizing as they are, has reminded me of a
few things about the nature of journalism. The concerns of a
community fighting perceived repression and persecution, the balance
between journalism and business or community interests necessary for
broadcasters, the duty of reporters to tell the stories of people who
cannot speak for themselves and the constitutionally protected rights
and freedoms of the press, whether respected or not, all play a role
in the daily grind of news reporting.

As I continue working, both within the confines of Skyy News and in
the greater Takoradi community, I will use these lessons and continue
to challenge the perceptions and stereotypes that divide us within our
global community.


Dad said...

Hi Kevin,
Two points: 1)Does the constitution of Ghana protect the freedom of the press and 2) Was that a pastor; sounds more like police.....?

Kate said...

It almost doesn't matter who you are (e.g. 'exploitative' BBC or not) - the dude's problem was just with the coverage. He wants to keep poor people quiet - lest someone rise up and take his precious BMW away from him.

little sister said...

If you could not get killed while you are there, that would be super. Thanks Kevin.

druker said...

Wow! What a way to begin... and so true that indeed it is lucky that this happened at the start, because now the "lenses" through which you see are keener... i can only imagine how much you will have learned by the time you return...keep up the important work!

Kevin Hill said...

Dad: Yes, the constitution does protect the rights of a free press. It does not cover self censorship by media houses, though. I do not know if it was police or not. They did not have guns or beat us up, so perhaps not.

Kate: Yup, the powerful do not exist without the powerless.

Little Sister: Done and done.

Druker: Thanks, you keep up the good work, too!