The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) just voted new executives into office. I say kudos to the past executives for doing their part, and I congratulate all the new leaders on their election and re-election. But the politics and the party are over. It is now time for work. It begins with routine office to office thank you tour, then back to the real work over the next three years.
As they come to office to run the affairs of this noble association of Ghana’s dynamic inky fraternity, I wish to share a few personal thoughts with them, and believe that it would impact the way they run the affairs of the association. Unfortunately, journalists in Ghana do not have a working forum where we can share our thoughts with our leaders and colleagues, so I want to pile mine in this one two-part piece for possible consideration.
Journalists talk about everything on behalf of everybody else except themselves. For instance, when the President of Ghana reads his State of The Nation Address, we interrogate it and throw our agenda setting spotlight on issues of concern to the public, which the president either failed to touch on or touched on them casually. We take on the president and his government for their failings towards the public. We raise issues about whether the state of the nation is really what the president claims it is.
But typical of journalists, including yours truly, we throw the spotlight on any and everything else but hardly do we look at the state of our own profession, at least, in the light of the collective, and more specifically, the accountability of our own leadership. Journalists ask very probing questions of everyone, from the elected president of this country, to the unelected new born baby, and everyone in between, but we hardly ask questions of our own ELECTED leaders at the GJA. When journalists interrogate public figures, we do it on behalf of the general public; but we do not interrogate our own leaders on our own behalf. We are quick to scrutinize the President's State of the Nation Address, and shred it into pieces, but we do not demand for our own “State of the GJA Address”, much more scrutinizing the GJA.
When are journalists also going to have ‘The State of the GJA Address’, so we know where the association stands, whether it owes any money, or it has surplus funds; what its previous leaders inherited, and what they are bequeathing to their successors; what its achievements have been in terms how they were able to improve the lot of journalists and what specific ways the work of journalists across the country have impacted national development, communities, families, individuals and organizations, state and private. Journalists need an address to, for instance, know what their MONTHLY DUES is doing for them; how individual journalists have been impacted by the work of the GJA leadership, and how many opportunities and doors have been opened for journalists as a direct result of the work of the leaders they ELECTED into office, so that they can ask questions of them like they do the elected presidents of the country and his appointees.
Right to Know
The very nature of our job requires that we push people to make full disclosure on all issues of national interest, so the general public would KNOW and thereby participate in national discourse from an informed position. Indeed, the first code in the GJA Code of Ethics is about the public’s right to know and our duty as journalists to ensure that. But how many journalists really KNOW much about the activities of the GJA, and what our elected leaders and the resources we give to them every month (no matter how meager) are really doing for us. Do we really know the GJA like we work to make the public know everything government is doing? We are not exempt from full disclosure, so there is no reason our president and his executive should not be required to piece a State of the GJA Address together every year and present to us annually so we can discuss and chart the way forward for our association. GJA presidents always say a few things in their welcoming address at the annual GJA awards. But is that enough an address that we can discuss and chew on for the betterment of our great association?
As of now, we do not have a real State of the GJA Address, so one has no reference point to present the ‘True State of the GJA Address’ (apologies to Alban Bagbin and Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu). We now have new executives, and I believe this is something they can reflect on, as a way of opening up the GJA more to members in a proactive way, rather than waiting for individual members to walk to the GJA office and ask questions.
GJA Monthly Dues
It is not compulsory for any journalist, whether in the state or private media to join the GJA. But for those of who have worked and continue to work in the state media, it is practically compulsory because the GJA dues are part of the deductions made from their salaries at source before they get their take home. That is the reality. But journalists get to see absolutely nothing about what exactly their money's are being used for. The GJA Awards is a sponsored event, and the Press Centre is used for commercial purposes to generate funds. So what does GJA use all these money's for? For those who have bothered to pose some of these questions in certain contexts, the answer from GJA has usually been "the books are there for all to see, so those who are interested can always come and see them." Nice answer, but very pedestrian and political in tone; the very vagueness we accuse politicians of. And this is why there is need for a State of the GJA Address so that these things would come to the fore then journalists could probe them further.
Some previous GJA executive has said that journalists need to go the extra mile and investigate things for themselves at the GJA. That is true, but practically, not every journalist would be interested in doing that, and yet all members of the GJA deserve a periodic report about the association. So as a collective, there is need for the GJA to portray itself as an organization that believes in the full disclosure gospel journalists preach, and be proactive about it as GJA, instead of waiting for individual journalists to go searching, and risk being accused of witch hunting.
I have personally heard some previous GJA executive say that one of the reasons award winners do not get to enjoy the full GHC3,500 sponsorship for each category is because apart from what the headline sponsor and other sponsors give to cover the organization of the awards event itself, the GJA have also had to spend just about the same amount from its coffers to organize the event every year. But that is just what the GJA says, without any real documental evidence to show. This is another good reason for the State of the GJA Address. Journalists cannot continue to sit by and be told, without evidence, what their monies are being used for at the GJA.
How much is the GJA making monthly, annually from the commercial activities at the Press Centre; how much of that goes into administrative cost (no matter how little) and what is the net profit, if any? The GJA does collaborations with various organizations to source for funds for projects, but very little accountability comes from there also. For instance, before last year's elections, GJA got about US$100,000 in two chunks from Star Ghana for an election-related project. I have asked and been told what exactly could ask and be given an answer, but the GJA should volunteer that information. A State of the GJA Address should capture these things.
Website and Social Media
New GJA President, Affail Monney
Every serious person and organization today need not be told that online presence is a sure way to stake your claim in the world today. I have searched online a million times to find GJA website, but it simply does not exist. If it does exist then it is in coma because it does not show up in any search engine. GJA recently launched a Facebook page, which is good, but I was so ashamed when I saw our Facebook page. It had better not been there because it is worse being there and being virtually dead. It is simply not being run – nobody is managing it to trigger public or even membership interest. I have heard many people say that GJA is a joke, and I disagreed with them. But this time I found myself asking in my head "are we joking or what?"
There is no reason why GJA should not have a dynamic website where it could publish events, pictures, annual reports, financial records, events, links to fellowship programmes and career development opportunities that journalists can benefit from, scholarships available to journalists, links to sister organizations around the world, links to conferences that journalists would be interested in, the GJA Code of Ethics, and other important documents like State of the Nation Address, the Annual National Budget by the Minister of Finance, keynote addresses at GJA awards, The 1992 Constitutions and many, many, many more. I have asked about GJA website and I was told it used to exist but it has gone into coma.
In fact, why does the GJA keep publishing notice of invitation for entries for the GJA Awards on paper and on notice boards at the Press Centre and across media houses? Shouldn’t the GJA be driving the use of ICT by publishing it on its website or social network platform, and sending emails/whatsapp/facebook/google+ messages to members to go check the notice on the website or social media page? Does the GJA even have the database of the members, including phone numbers, email addresses, social media pages and all that? A gargantuan media organization like the GJA has no excuse not having these things and not being a dynamic user of these tools. This is food for thought for the new executive. If they discuss with members, they can get help.
GJA is kind of on Facebook (even though virtually dead), but what about Twitter, Google+, Youtube, and other important social media platforms, where journalists can openly, and privately discuss issues affecting them as a collective and as individual journalists, so that could inform decisions by GJA leaders to move the association forward. Is that too hard to do - why has the GJA not done these things all these years - is it, that the leaders elected over the years are just laggards who have no drive for modern technology, or they are just not ready to give members the opportunity to speak their minds about the GJA openly because they fear what that could lead to? This writer does not have all the answers. But we have a new executive. Their leadership style is key to our forward march.
Part two would touch on the GJA Awards and the need for a proactive membership drive.