Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Language reporters can understand

June 1

It had all the makings of a good party: cold beer, food, beautiful people standing around on freshly manicured lawns in front of a three story mansion. The host was Ghana’s Minister of Defense, Dr. Kwame Addo-Kufuor, the brother of President John A. Kufuor. The guests of honour were Kumasi’s political journalists.

As the beer flowed and the mid-afternoon party got underway a few things became very clear. Kufuor would speak on his recent constituency tour and nothing else. When a colleague and I bypassed beer for a chance at a one-on-one interview with the man, he flatly denied he was campaigning for the 2008 presidential election. The throngs of people chanting his name, wearing T-shirts bearing his face, were a mere coincidence? When asked when the T-shirts were bought and how he would describe the day’s events he refused to accept the word campaign. Rather, he said, “It’s a sign that I’m an effective MP.” What about the campaign manager hovering nearby?

Also hovering, unseen but over Kufuor’s head, was a New Patriotic Party rule that says a minister campaigning for president must first resign his seat.

But why let power and public office get in the way of a campaign!

Now, what does every good host do for his guests, after the beer, the food? Well, he gives them a gift of course!

Kufuor prefaced his comments by saying: “Now, I don’t know what you’ll write when you return to your media houses, but…” And with that he invited a “friend and longtime political journalist” to the front of his living room. After a brief conference, Kufuor announced he was giving the journalists 10 million cedis, or about $1,000 US dollars (a small fortune by Ghanaian standards) to share among themselves. The reporters applauded.

Flabbergasted but not unfamiliar with envelopes of cash offered at Ghanaian press conferences — though I have never accepted one — I casually asked my colleagues what they’d spend the cash on. Most said it wasn’t enough, some said it was for transportation and then smiled knowing full well a taxi costs a fraction of the amount being doled out. When asked whether they’d include the “gift” from the Minister of Defense in their story they asked why. When asked whether the cash would influence how they wrote the story they said absolutely not. But what, then, I asked, is the story about? “Oh, it’s about how great a job the MP and Minister of Defense is doing.” Right.

In high school in Nova Scotia the true mark of a good party was a good ole fashioned fight. Sadly, journalists attending Kufuor’s party didn’t disappoint. Once a few figured they hadn’t received their fair share of the 10 million cedis, everyone grew suspicious which lead to accusations and a squabble on the front lawn. Another group became suspicious of a woman — not me — who they said was posing as a journalist. Imagine that, pretending to be a journalist — pretending to uncover the truth and doing it without bias or favour or conflict of interest.

Can’t wait to watch what happens in the 2008 elections.

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