[Opinion] When Will National Media Commission Grow Teeth?
My joy on the Easter Sunday was marred by an almost incredible story of a gruesome murder of a 10-year-old class four pupil, Ishmael Mensah, allegedly by two boys, Felix Nyarko, 15 and Nicholas Kini, 17, at Kasoa. The story first appeared on a WassuApp platform. Initially, I mistook it for one of those fake stories on this new media platform. But I saw ‘Kasoa police station’ in the video. ‘What has Ghana been reduced to,’ was my initial comment. I asked myself why teenagers would want to own aeroplanes.
The story, in no time, appeared on the net with more details. The mainstream media also picked it up. In a very disturbing video accompanying the story were some people, majority being youthful, wanting to lynch the two suspected teenage murderers sitting in the bucket of a police pick-up in handcuffs with the lifeless body of the boy by them.
The policemen, sensing danger, quickly shepherded them into the vehicle. The story had it that, the victim, who was studying, was lured by the suspects into an uncompleted building. They hit him to death with cement blocks, cut off his ears and buried him there, hoping to go back and harvest more parts of his body for money rituals known in local parlance as ‘sakawa.’
The practice of money rituals is not new in Ghana. It is a phenomenon that is gaining currency since its inception a few years ago. It seems to be more common among the youths. Agona Swedru, noted for cyber romance, was where the last murder of same magnitude occurred, when some boys reportedly lured a girl into the bush, murdered her and took some body parts. One of the suspects was said to be her lover, but did he really love her? What is the state of that case with the police?
So, Ghanaians are not unfamiliar with such murders. What is, however, shocking now is the age of these boys. A few questions streamed into my head; what do they know about money rituals, how did they hatch such a heinous crime, do they live with their parents, could an attitude of their parents have influenced them, what kind of upbringing are they receiving, whom were they taking the body parts to, how did they discover that ritualist, what were they going to do with the expected money, could videos they watched have been a factor, could they be having a psychological problem, were they goaded by societal influences, are they students, how do they behave at school etc? Some of these will be what the security experts, researchers doing phenomenology and psychologists will be making frantic attempts to get answers to.
Death for murder
The story of a biochemist from Accra being killed by a ritualist is fresh on our minds. He reportedly approached the ritualist for wealth but was killed and buried on a compound accessible to the priest only. Police excavated human remains, beads and some wigs of women, suggesting that some women also went to the shrine but perished. A male GHACEM worker in Takoradi also disappeared, as he visited a shrine. There is a fresh case of a man from Kasoa who lured a young man to a shrine where he was killed in the presence the suspect who was given the arms of the victim and some money as a fee. All took place in the Eastern Region.
Even when murderers are found guilty and sentenced to taste what they served others; the execution is not carried out, as we have some prisoners awaiting execution that may never happen. America, the bastion of democracy, even executes murderers.
Some groups have been advocating for the scraping of the death sentence from our law books. They contend that only God can take human life. But those who take the lives of others for economic ambitions and, thus, render the children and other dependants hopelessly useless, do they take permission from God? Those organisations will do mankind a lot of good if they rather embark on sustained campaigns against crimes of these kinds. Ghana must severely punish murderers. Why must we threat others to what we cannot withstand?
The nation seems to be lumbered with a huge load of Freedom of Worship guaranteed by the 1992 constitution. The recent case of some children below 18 facing a dilemma as to whether to sacrifice their education for a religious practice is tempting me to comment, but aware of the implications since that is before the court, I will continue to bear the hefty padlock on my lips.
Democracy cannot be fully practiced without media plurality. Ghana is touted as a full-fledged democracy because of the liberalized media landscape. The free media guaranteed by article 162 of the 1992 constitution has allowed many to own media houses, but abuse that right.
There cannot be free and unregulated media. I am not suggesting censorship, no! That will surely lead to supressing the media and stifling of free speech. Our airwaves have infuriatingly become too loose like a marketplace inundated with all kinds of unwholesome products. On some traditional markets, Hygiene Inspectors ensure that goods meet safety standards. Can same be said about Ghana’s media space?
The only commodities that some TV stations sell are super natural powers for overnight riches. These spiritualists, who are mere scammers, direct potential clients to their shrines to be assisted to become fabulously rich, get a visa etc. They are seen ‘doubling’ money while others give out lotto numbers on the radio. What are they doing to the psyche of our vulnerable youth?
I lauded the Police Chief when a few months ago his men started to clamp down on these lotto charlatans, but that was a nine-day wonder. If prosecutors met an obstacle in proving their cases in court, why won’t the Attorney General lobby parliament to recast the law for easier prosecution?
Children learn from a plethora of sources; parents, friends, and society at large. Divorces contribute to the kind of situation that some children go through resulting in such a tragedy. Besides, tele- novellas become substitutes for parental void in the life of some children. With all kinds behaviours that these movies teach, our society should not be surprised at such a dastardly occurrence.
Some of our churches cannot be excluded from blame as contributing to the decay of social fibre of the country. Prosperity seems to dominate their sermons instead of salvation of the soul. Some of the pastors are in a cat race of affluence, boasting of being the wealthiest. They flaunt their wealth, tell the world the number of houses they own. Their most recent cars are paraded in the media as exclusive. With this, what kind of message are they sending to members of their congregation, some of whom struggle for a meal a day and hardly have the means to change their badly faded dresses to church service, or even replace their one-sided footwear. A pastor was recently quoted as saying that rich pastors were not under any obligation to extend alms to poor members of their congregation. Is he unaware of what poverty can do to people?
National Media Commission (NMC)
Chapter 12 of the 1992 constitution of Ghana has established the National Media Commission (NMC) with a mandate to promote and ensure the freedom and independence of the media for mass communication and information, and to provide for related matters. The Commission has Legal, Media, Training and Relations, and Finance and Administration committees. The Media Committee is made up of media practitioners and is the Advisory Body on matters of ethics and professional standards. ‘Ethics’ is difficult to handle, as it cannot be enforced legally. If that is the nemesis of the NMC, why should it take it upon itself over journalism practice?
Will the chaos on our TVs and radios ever come to an end? The NMC is the only body that seems to bear the torch of hope. Though it cannot control media contents, the NMC must be heard, at least, condemning some of these unethical practices. Even in Libertarian atmosphere, the media is expected to be responsible by self-righting. As it is now, some media houses seem to be sacrificing responsibility for profit.
Some ritualists, mallams and pastors are taking undue advantage of our economic situation to exploit gullible people through irresponsible journalism. It’s about time the NMC, together with allied agencies, called these media houses to order. Owners of some of these media houses are not professional journalists and, therefore, do not have any idea about media ethics. Furthermore, some employees of these media houses got the job by merely exhibiting fluency in some local languages at funerals and have had no training in journalism.
This is where the training of media practitioners by NMC becomes paramount. It is unknown the number of times the NMC organises training courses yearly. Assuming the NMC is bogged down financially, will it be disappointed making a public appeal? No, I don’t think so. They can be assured of my widow’s mite. It is important for the NMC to assert its authority and bring sanity into the media landscape, especially on these ritualistic programmes on TVs and radios which are casting the nation in a bad light before the international community, as the world has become a global village.
The NMC may have a difficulty in biting for effect if owners of these unethical media houses are those who are blessed with impregnable artificial skin. But the teeth of the NMC must be strong and piercing enough to bite anyone. It is time sanity prevailed.
EX WOI Bright Segbefia,
PRO, Veterans Administration, Ghana (VAG)