The abandoned vehicles

I don’t know if you are enjoying the reading, but I am really loving the writing of these articles.

For about seventeen years, I was writing communications and PR strategies, press releases, factsheets, scripts for production of documentaries, speeches, promotional articles, concept notes, talking points and proposals. Brain-racking and horizon-broadening as they are, those did not allow you the latitude to be as dexterous as these articles do. 

It feels so good to be back where it all began over two decades ago – Journalism; the gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. Sadly, Radio Gold 90.5FM, where these skills were nurtured, is no more. 

Five articles so far and no rejoinder. We pray for none as we navigate the dangerous terrain of this Fourth Estate of the realm, God being our help. Please pray with me:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to write carefully. He leadeth me through the uncertain waters, full of national security operatives.He restoreth my vocabulary. He leadeth me in the paths of GJA code of ethics, for my own sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of senior journalists, lecturers and the powers that be, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, the editorial team at the back-end, thy proofreading and editing skills, they comfort me. Thou preparest my articles in the presence of mine readers, my writing skills runneth over.Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me, throughout this journey, and I will be safe forever. Amen!!!

The GJA code of ethics enjoins journalists to, among others, report the truth at all times, uphold the public interest and the right of the public to be informed, make adequate enquiries and cross-check facts, recognize the public’s right to fair, unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive information, place accuracy above speed in all forms of publications, obtain information, videos, data, photographs and illustrations only by honest, straightforward, fair and open means—unless otherwise tampered by public interest considerations.

So, on May 11, 2021, when Caleb Kudah left the Adabraka office of Citi FM/TV on assignment, he may have convinced himself that the lead he was following – vehicles purchased the with taxpayers money but abandoned at the mercy of the weather, with some rotting away, was in fulfilment of his professional body’s charge to journalists- uphold the public interest and the right of the public to be informed.

He definitely had this too in mind – obtaining information, videos, data, photographs and illustrations only by honest, straightforward, fair and open means—unless otherwise tampered by public interest considerations.

Ignore the fact that Bernard Avle, Caleb’s boss, is reported to have said that this adventure was not officially sanctioned. No journalist has won a GJA or global journalism award with stories based on regular official assignments. It is the exclusives that get the awards. Aloski, if you talk so, then you no force.

Indeed, it is the same phrase, ‘public interest’ that guides my write-ups. Thus, since the issue has come up for scrutiny, I want to discuss it to establish what it is really about. 

From Eric's Diary: Caleb Kudah’s sense of National/Public Interest, is that what it is?

This quest was engendered by questions posed by Prof Ransford Yaw Gyampoh, in an opinion piece published on myjoyonline.com on May 20, 2021. This was in the wake of the Caleb Kudah- National Security Operatives saga. Reading the article, I got the impression that Prof has a beef with media practitioners.

Read him, “the unintended consequences of the liberalization of our airwaves and the proscription of laws that gagged the media, following the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, has engendered the belief that journalists must be tin-gods, who must not be touched, regardless of what they do and can arrogate to themselves the right to do anything, including turning a man into a woman. Sometimes, in their quest to be the first to break the news, some blatantly insult and deliberately run down reputations and even when their attention is drawn to their errors, some ignore and others may publish retractions with infinitesimal prominence.”- https://www.myjoyonline.com/prof-yaw-gyampo-media-freedom-is-fuelling-media-tyranny/

That’s my Professor. Prof. Gyampoh taught me Government and Business Relations in my Master of Public Affairs programme at Ghana’s premier university, University of Ghana. He is a jolly good fellow. In the aforementioned article, Prof. posed seven questions:

  1. Is there truly a law in Ghana that forbids us from taking pictures at certain security areas?
  2. Can this rule be violated by a journalist in the national interest?
  3. The whole idea of National Interest is nebulous. Who defines the national interest and whose interest is the national interest? Is the national interest the public interest? Who is the public? Can national/public interest be arbitrarily defined by anybody?
  4. Can any Ghanaian enter the premises of any state institution or property and begin to take pictures? Can any Ghanaian go to the Jubilee House and begin to take pictures, just because the place is run with our taxes?
  5. Did the journalist violate any law in what he did?
  6. Was he truly beaten when arrested and is there any evidence to suggest so, beyond his own narration?
  7. Is it lawful to beat up any Ghanaian and for that matter, an identifiable Journalist who may have allegedly violated any law?

Being a former student of his, I intend to take up the challenge by attempting some responses to these questions. Back at Legon, we were made to answer four questions in two hours. Question 1 is usually compulsory and carries the most marks. We were also cautioned to credit our sources of information in all write-ups.

For the purpose of this article, I wish to consider Question 3 as the compulsory one. And in typical Legon style, this is how the question paper would be typeset:

Q3. Critically evaluate the following: 

  1. Who defines the national interest and whose interest is the national interest? 
  2. Is the national interest the public interest? 
  3. Who is the public? 
  4. Can national/public interest be arbitrarily defined by anybody? 

Q3. a: National Interest is a key concept in International Relations. It means survival—the protection of physical, political and cultural identity against encroachments by other nation-states- https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com

The National Interest is therefore defined by the state and for that matter the government.

Q3.b: As explained above, National Interest is distinct from Public Interest. This is because, Public Interest refers to a subject of legitimate news interest. That is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public-https://www.nationwideconsumerrights.com/matters-of-public-concern.html

Q3. c: The word public has different meanings in various disciplines. In Political Science and History, a public is a population of individuals in association with civic affairs or affairs of office or state. In Public Relations and Communication Science, it refers to audience, market segment, community, constituency or stakeholder-Wikipedia 

Q3. d: As mentioned before, nobody, except the state or government can determine the national interest. Public Interest is determined by what the audience or stakeholders of the nation would like to know. This becomes evident over time depending on how they react to what the media publish.

The definition of public interest above, clearly justifies Caleb Kudah’s endeavor. Caleb is a broadcaster with Citi FM/Citi TV. He reads news bulletins, reports and hosts a programme called, ‘back page’ on which he presents the news in a satirical manner.

Caleb knows what his audience want as news. And information available with regard to the vehicles he filmed that caused him that traumatic experience, is no doubt newsworthy.

Here is how. In February 2019, JoyNews investigations revealed that 350 vehicles were procured by the Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC) for the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU). The vehicles comprised; one hundred (100) 33-seater buses and two hundred and fifty (250) saloon cars. However, the GPRTU rejected the vehicles on the basis that the prices were exorbitant. Actually, $35,500.00 more than the cost on the open market.

This came to light when JoyNews checks with the supplier of the vehicles, Mac Autos and Spare parts Ghana Limited revealed that the cost at which the vehicles were sold to MASLOC in 2016, was higher than the price at which the same vehicles were sold by the same supplier, on the open market, two years later (2018).

For instance, a 33-seater Izuzu bus which was sold to MASLOC in 2016 at $107,000.00 was priced at $79,000.00 in 2018. This represents a difference of $28,000.00 dollars per bus.

The 100 Chevy Spark Lite salon cars were sold to MASLOC at $12,500.00 in 2016 but priced at $9,000.00 in 2018 (Price difference of $3,500.00 per car). Each of the 150 Chevy Aveo saloon cars was sold to MASLOC at $18,000.00 but the price in 2018 was $14, 000 (a variance in price of $4,000.00 per car).

Due to the high price differential, the GPRTU rejected the vehicles. Unfortunately, there was a change in government as a result of the outcome of the 2016 elections. One can surmise that as a result of the consequent change in leadership at MASLOC, there was a stalemate, hence the vehicles were left at the mercy of the weather. 

In real terms, an amount of $10,700,000.00 (buses) + $1,250,000.00 (Chevy) + $2,700,000.00 (Aveo) = $14,650,000.00, collected from street hawkers, chop bar operators, shop owners, table top sellers and traders in our markets as levy, private car, trotro and taxi drivers as tolls, shoppers and patrons of restaurants as VAT/NHIL and you and I, as income tax, was left in the bush for reptiles, fungi and weeds to play with.

Not to mention rain and sun taking their turns during the wet and dry seasons respectively, to cause damage to such valuable state property. 

This, is definitely of public interest. If not national/public interest.

From Eric's Diary: Caleb Kudah’s sense of National/Public Interest, is that what it is?

It is the case that when JoyNews broke the story in 2019, Caleb appreciated the news value and posted a photo of the cars engulfed in weeds on his twitter page to, as we say in media circles, amplify it or give it mileage. Then on May 4, 2021, he decided to join the virtual protest initiated by the youth of Ghana dubbed, #FixTheCountry. He therefore reposted the photos. 

By way of rejoinder, his attention was drawn, by an official of MASLOC, to the fact that the cars had been disposed of. But his enquiring mind will not let it slide. That’s how he decided to go verify things for himself. The rest is available on myjoyonline.com/caleb-cudah 

Now to question 1- Is there truly a law in Ghana that forbids us from taking pictures at certain security areas? The answer is no.

According to a renowned private legal practitioner, Samson Lardy Anyenini, “Caleb Kudah did not commit any crime while filming the premises of the national security office.

Claims that Caleb Kudah took videos on National Security premises and forwarded them to his colleague, Zoe Abu-Baidoo even after seeing a no picture sign does not equal a crime. The law says nothing is an offence unless it is defined by law and the penalty is prescribed in a written law. It doesn’t say that the thing is written on a wall or that there’s signage that says this place, do not trespass.” He told Joy FM’s Evans Mensah in an interview.

Question 2- Can this rule be violated by a journalist in the national interest? As explained above, there is no rule/Law. If there was, Article 162(5) of the 1992 Constitution would have obviated it. The Constitution states, “All agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this Constitution, and shall uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of Ghana.”

Question 4- a) Can any Ghanaian enter the premises of any state institution or property and begin to take pictures? Yes. If the pictures will serve the public interest and with permission. If s/he is refused permission, and the Ghanaian is also a journalist, the GJA Code of Ethics enjoins him/her to use other means as referenced earlier. 

Madam Elizabeth Ohene, a veteran journalist in the real sense of the title, agrees, “in the journalism that I knew, there is a case for secret filming, secret recording, surreptitious gathering of information and other such, but it was always employed as a last resort.” She wrote in an article on this issue, published on myjoyonline.com- https://www.myjoyonline.com/elizabeth-ohene-a-many-splendored-tale/

b) Can any Ghanaian go to the Jubilee House and begin to take pictures, just because the place is run with our taxes? There will be no need. Because images of the Jubilee House abound on the internet. If the need arises to take pictures of President Akufo-Addo in his office, it will be done with permission. Failing that, the GJA Code of Ethics aforementioned, will kick in. He will be filmed under cover. 

Again, Madam Elizabeth Ohene concurs, “a journalist was obliged to tell you that he/she was recording you and if it was secretly done, the audience would understand and sympathize with why.”

Four questions answered. But there is more time and the ‘apo’ is flowing. Therefore, to Question 5- Did the journalist violate any law in what he did? No. refer to answer for question 1.

Question 6- Was he truly beaten when arrested and is there any evidence to suggest so, beyond his own narration? Yes. That the officers involved have been released to their mother organizations for investigations and sanction, with the explanation that they breached Standard Operating Procedures in that operation, is evidence. Additionally, that the Press Release announcing their withdrawal from the National Security Ministry was signed by Hon. Albert Kan Dapaah himself, speaks volumes.

Finally, Question 7- Is it lawful to beat up any Ghanaian and for that matter, an identifiable Journalist who may have allegedly violated any law? A big NO. “You do not fight an illegality with illegality”, Samson Lardy Anyenini.

Having said all these, it is pertinent to note that Caleb displayed gross inexperience and indiscretion in the manner he went about the secret recording. I worked with a headmaster at Datus Complex Schools, Bubuashie, whose name is Mr. Kotey. He once made a statement that has stuck in my memory since the early nineties. He said and I quote, “you can break any of the Ten Commandments, but there is an eleventh one, which you should never break. That is, thou shall not be found out.” 

What happened to using cameras that have zoom lenses? What about discussing this with Manasseh Azure Awuni, who broke the original story, which has won him the overall best journalist for West Africa at the fourth edition of the West Africa Media Excellence Conference and Awards (WAMECA)?

What about using drones? And why not contact Anas Aremeyaw Anas, the expert in this game? These are the questions that flooded my mind when I heard about the incident and Caleb’s subsequent revelation of the torture he had to endure. 

Clearly, one cannot cry over spilt milk. As journalists, we can only learn lessons from this plight that befell Caleb and ensure that if we have to resort to secret filming, we bear in mind the eleventh commandment, thou shall not be found out.

That said, I believe I have been able to convince you without a doubt, that Caleb Kudah’s sense of National/Public Interest is what it is.

Hejdå mina vӓnner. That’s Swedish for goodbye, my friends.

Let God lead.