The first time I heard about Jon Benjamin was in November 2014. I was in the United States participating in the International Visitors Leadership Programme on Investigative Journalism, but I was constantly monitoring developments back home. When I went online one morning, I was greeted with a needless storm of confusion on social media. There was an outrage against a certain British High Commissioner who had been in Ghana for only six months but would not mind his own business.
The man at the centre of the controversy, Mr. Jon Benjamin, was invited to speak at IMANI Ghana’s10th anniversary programme. His topic was “Integrity in public office.” After greeting the audience and other diplomats present, Jon Benjamin began his speech: “I’m not sure, Franklin [Cudjoe], about what you have me sitting in: it looks like you are having me enstooled. But, at least, this chair was definitely made in Ghana.”
This was in reference to the rather senseless decision by the leadership of our parliament to import MPs’ furniture from China. While in the US, I visited the Senate and I was shocked to find the senators, including the likes of John McCain, using desks and simple chairs that looked like what some of our basic school children use here. While our MPs need comfort, someone should have been wise enough to give that job to the local manufacturers.
Before Jon Benjamin continued with his speech, he told the audience the kind of diplomat he was: “Now, I’m a diplomat and diplomats are sometimes known for speaking without actually saying anything, at least in public. But that isn’t really my style…”
The speech that followed was a very impressive one, but what attracted him a barrage of criticisms and insults was contained in the concluding part of it:
“… But what are we to think when certain journalists expect the famous “soli” – to cover our events? Isn’t covering the news actually their job to start with? And, if they aren’t paid sufficiently for doing so, isn’t that an issue between them and their employer, rather than ours or anyone else’s problem? And if those journalists who pride themselves on reporting corruption in others then ask for unofficial payments themselves, isn’t that just a touch hypocritical?
“An event or story is either intrinsically newsworthy or it isn’t: it doesn’t become newsworthy because someone has paid for it – that isn’t journalism, it’s advertising which is perfectly legitimate in itself of course but is a different professional activity. Now, I wonder if any of the media, which report this speech tomorrow will include these comments of mine about this lack of probity by some of their own journalistic colleagues? I doubt it but, go on, surprise me! And at least you now know officially that you will never receive any soli from the British High Commission!”
At the 2015 end of year news review on Joy FM and Multi TV, Jon Benjamin’s statement came up when the spotlight was put on the media. The host of Metro TV’s Good Evening Ghana, Paul Adom Otchere, revealed that he was the MC at the IMANI event when Jon Benjamin made that remark. He said he got upset and abandoned his role as the MC before the programme ended.
If I were Paul Adom Otchere, I would walk up to Mr. Jon Benjamin after the speech to congratulate him. The media is one of the most corrupt institutions in Ghana. A majority of the so-called powerful journalists in our republic are puppets of some of the most corrupt politicians, government officials and business people. Paul Adom Otchere knows this. The corruption in the media is worse than soli. Only hypocrites or those who are ignorant about the canker will have issues with what Jon Benjamin said.
Two years after his first major controversy, Jon Benjamin is again the subject of controversy in Ghana. His tweet, which many Ghanaians consider offensive, has since been deleted. He said: “Oh, that nasty air outside all of a sudden. Did someone just inaugurate the harmattan already?”
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