A drama is unfolding in the SKYY newsroom. Or perhaps more appropriately worded, a bloody controversy. A big rig truck carrying timber runs over a cyclist, rendering him into a bloody pulp. It happens just down the road from SKYY. Two camera men have not come into work, so a young reporter grabs a camera to fill the void.
The scene is grisly. The truck has pulled over to the side of the road. A motorcycle policeman has arrived. A large crowd has gathered. The uncovered body lays in the middle of the road. The camera takes it all in, including many gratuitous close-ups of the corpse. The ambulance arrives to take the body away. A man literally scrapes the body off of the ground and lifts the bloody remains onto a stretcher. The camera catches it all.
The story leads the 6 o’clock newscast. The story of the event is told, and we are shown the gory details over and over again. The segment runs for what seems like an eternity, but what must have been five minutes.
Doug Murray and I are in the studio shooting b-roll of the newscast for a video on JHR and its role in Ghana. The video asks whether or not capacity for human rights reporting has been increased in Ghana through the JHR model. Is it effective, and how can it improve? We get a look at the footage of the accident as it goes on air. I even shoot some of it, not realizing what I’d be seeing.
The next day, I raise the issue in the morning editorial meeting. I question whether we consider the body of the cyclist to be a ‘he’ or an ‘it’. Does the man who has been killed have rights to some sort of dignity after death? What about his family? Should this body become a spectacle for our viewer’s macabre enjoyment? Does anyone actually want to see that? The topic generates much debate about the role of the cameraman, the reporter covering the story, the video editor who chooses the shots to be used, and the television news editor who allows the story to go on air. A general consensus emerges that it was too much. It shouldn’t have shown in such great, horrible detail. Especially at dinner time.
The following morning a letter arrives in the newsroom from the Ghanaian Journalists Association and is read aloud in the morning meeting. The GJA denounces, in no uncertain terms, SKYY’s airing of the bloody affair.
Despite the in-house discussion to the same point, the letter is received as a personal attack. The GJA has called SKYY News unprofessional. Voices in the newsroom say GJA has something personal against SKYY. I don’t understand. Doug and I defend the letter, calling for it to be considered a lesson learned. The SKYY house becomes divided.
By the end of the week there is word that the GJA has sent the letter to other media houses in Ghana. SKYY apparently becomes fodder for morning radio shows. It seems a lesson has been learned, but what lesson is it?
The same morning sees the Ghanaian Chronical, a state owned daily newspaper, run a cover story on a small boy killed by a truck crashing into his house. The boy’s leg was severed by the collision. There, in colour, on the front page of the paper, is the boy’s detached limb.
I’m left wondering what the standards of ethical journalism are in Ghana, and exactly who are held up to those standards?
I’m told that the GJA are a benevolent organization, of, by and for journalists practicing in Ghana. Yet, I wonder if they really can set a standard of ethical journalism in such a competitive media environment, where literally if it bleeds, it leads – and sells.
Ghana is recently, since 2002, freed from a criminal libel law that saw reporters held personally responsible for critical statements made of politicians and governments. The period since has been one where Ghana’s media is creating itself anew. What this new media landscape becomes is up to the ownership of the media houses, the journalists working within, the GJA and the government regulatory body. Only when all parties involved work towards the creation of a journalistic standard that informs and empowers the citizens of Ghana can we avoid such bloody controversies.