President John Mahama hardly delivers great speeches. It is one sad characteristic of our presidents in recent times. Mr. John Mahama is a good writer, but considering the heavy burden he bears, he cannot have time to write all his speeches himself. And one would expect his speechwriters to be up to the task. They ought to write speeches that would befit the President’s status as an “astute communicator.” But, hey, his speechwriters will not take cues from those who write speeches for the main opposition leader, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
When President Mahama and Nana Akufo-Addo speak, you find it difficult to choose a sound bite. With Nana Akufo-Addo, you have many compelling sound bites, and your difficulty is that you don’t know which one to leave out. When President Mahama delivers a written speech, however, your difficulty is how to find something compelling to use. Sometimes the only reason he is given a sound bite is because of his position, and not the content of his delivery.
But once in a while, he gets it right. A number of speeches he has delivered at the United Nations General Assembly have been on point, speeches that you listen and have your face twitching with a sense of pride. Back home, the day he really got it right was at the 59th Independence Anniversary in March this year. The President and his wife showed up at the event in their dazzling smocks. And his speech was the speech of a statesman.
But his handlers creatively robbed him of the shine. Pictures of journalists who were packed into a rusty tipper truck to cover the occasion started flooding social media while the programme was still ongoing. And just as we thought we had had enough embarrassment for that day, the error-ridden anniversary brochure hit social media and would later occupy mainstream media discussions for days. Apart from the Golden Jubilee celebration of our independence, this year’s anniversary was the best in recent times. But the president could not enjoy the spotlight.
Whose fault was it? It was those who handled the communications at the Flagstaff House, those who are in charge of the media and programmes at the presidency. The President’s media handlers have, on a number of occasions, attracted unnecessary bad press, which contradicts the president’s personality and values as a media-friendly gentleman. But the president is yet to wake up to the reality.
Just when one of the craziest presidential hopefuls to ever make an attempt at the White House, Donald Trump, was accusing the US media of conniving to rig the elections, news emerged of our President blaming a certain media cabal for not allowing the message of his good works to get to the public.
“It is populism, a certain group has taken control of the media in Ghana and it makes it difficult for people to discern the truth. So as much as you are putting out the information, it is either being blocked or distorted,” President Mahama said during an interview with Ovation Magazine.
It is worth noting that the President, like his predecessors, has received considerable media attention and coverage, both home and abroad. His interview with Tim Sebastian dazed him, and his BBC interview with Peter Okwoche, in which he fumbled about whether or not he had taken a bribe before, embarrassed him.
Back home, however, almost all the interviews he has had with media houses appeared like image-enhancing public relations work. Like his predecessors, however, he has endured harsh and critical coverage from the Ghanaian media. Generally, however, he has been duly covered and many of them were carried live. If there is any reason for the President to worry, it should be the fact that he and his team have allowed avoidable scandals to drown his good news.
A number of avoidable scandals have conspired with the corruption scandals that have hit this administration to drown the “good news” about the President. Beyond this, the president should blame the handlers of his press corps for the failure to get his stories out there, if only his assertion is true. The President has no media managers, and if there is anyone who goes by that title, then they are yet to learn the rudiments of their job.
President Mahama is a communicator. Ironically, he has surrounded himself with people who have no respect for journalists. You don’t treat journalists like trash and expect them to go out of their way to project you. And the President himself seems to sanction their behaviour.
When city authorities mishandled a Joy FM reporter, the late President John Atta-Mills called the reporter to apologise to him and demanded action against the people. When President Mahama’s close staffer attacked and destroyed the voice recorder of a GBC reporter, the Ghana Journalists Association regional executives demanded an apology from the culprit but he did not. The Media Foundation for West Africa presented a petition to the President to reprimand, Stan Dogbe, but nothing came out of it. Stan Dogbe did not apologise. And President Mahama has not said anything about it.
A voice recorder of Yahaya Kwamoah of GBC radio was destroyed by Stan Dogbe at the 37 Military Hospital when the reporter went to report on presidential press corpse accident
You certainly do expect journalists to go out of their way to project you when you treat them like trash.
I covered the Presidency only once in my journalism career, but I had cause to raise concerns about the mistreatment meted out to journalists. On November 9, 2012, I stepped in for the Joy FM Presidential Correspondent because he was not in Accra. A team of rescuers was coming from Israel in the wake of the Melcom disaster and we were to go to the disaster scene with the President. The time for the assignment was communicated to us as 8:00AM so I got to the Cantonments residence of President Mahama at that time.
The security at the gate refused us entry into the house. They asked us to go and “hang around”. When the Media Coordinator at the Presidency, Wisdom Peter Awuku , later arrived, he entered the compound and came out after about three hours to tell us that the time for the assignment had changed and that we either had to wait further or go the newsrooms and return in time for the trip to the disaster site in a convoy.
The most appropriate option for most of us was to wait a bit longer. Almost every journalist there was complaining bitterly about the treatment we had received, so I decided to draw his attention to our concerns when he finished speaking. This was what happened between us:
MANASSEH: My concern, and that has been the concern of many of us who came here this morning. We were asked to come here at 8 (AM) so I left the newsroom at 7:40 and I got here at 8. We were getting in there when the security said, we introduced ourselves, and he said we should go and hang around. That hanging around… there are no chairs, and for three hours now…
WISDOM: “Manasseh, listen, I won’t allow you to finish talking. This morning when I spoke to you I told you that as for you it is a baptism of fire. Please, if you ask your colleagues who are Castle Correspondents, this is what we go through everyday. It’s not going to be special treatment. When you come, there are no chairs to sit down. It took a while for the bus to come here. And the bus is even warm. Sometimes we don’t put on the engine for you to have air condition.
So I beg you, these issues, if you say them now, … colleagues of you who are members of the Castle Press corps have been going through all this every day. Everyday! It is not rosy at all.
MANASSEH: And do you think it is fair?
WISDOM: As to whether it is fair, it is not a subject for discussion for now, and I’m not going to discuss that with you. You can express it but that is the situation we go through every day. You call Seth, your colleague Seth (Kwame Boateng) to ask him. I don’t know if he has told you, but this is the situation we go through everyday. And it may not change. Sometimes they will ask you to come at 6:00AM, and you leave here at midday.
MANASSEH: That’s not my problem. My problem is, if you are delaying the person, at least give them a place to sit down…
OTHER JOURNALISTS: Or something… Water to drink…
WISDOM: Go to the man’s house. The people who are there are standing. You don’t expect to be treated specially. Manasseh, I’m sorry… I can’t… I don’t think we have to debate this thing.
MANASSEH: I’m actually doing a story on it.
WISDOM: Manasseh, please, you can go ahead and do your story on it.
MANASSEH: Okay. Thank you.
Why should it be a baptism of fire when I’m covering an assignment at one of the coziest residential areas in Ghana? Am I covering the war in Iraq? If you treat journalists like trash, they will not go out of their way to project the presidency.
In 2015, a rented vehicle which conveyed the Presidential Press corps to an assignment in the Volta Region was involved in an accident on its way back. My investigation revealed that the vehicle was not rented from a reputable car rental company as the Presidency and the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) wanted us to believe. One journalist was killed and many others were injured. A few months ago, I met one of them at Peace FM with a deformed hand. He said he still had a surgery to perform.
It’s been more than a year, but the Presidency is yet to come out with the report on what really went wrong. Some members of the press corps who were involved in that accident are aggrieved. They tell me they have not been compensated, or rather some of those who were involved in the accident were “sorted out” while others were left to their fate.
Just yesterday, some journalists in the Volta Region were complaining about the behaviour of Wisdom Peter Awuku, who is currently with the President in his tour of the Volta Region. According to the reporters, he told them the President came with reporters in Accra so the story would still be told anyway, with or without them.
A journalist in the Volta Region, Fred Kwadwo Duodu, and his colleagues in the regional are not happy about how they were treated by the presidential staffers on Monday when the when they covered the President’s visit to the Volta Region
If President Mahama really wants to blame any media cabal for blocking his good news, he should not look beyond the Flagstaff House. He should not look beyond his most trusted confidants.
I don’t believe there is a media cabal blocking the message of the President’s good deeds. The president has enjoyed and continues to enjoy enormous media coverage. If he is worried about the bad news drowning the good ones, then he should blame the people he pays to manage his communication.
Not all journalists are prepared to sell their conscience. Not every journalist can be bought. Not every journalist would want a Toyota Prado before they can go out of their way to tell positive stories about the Presidency. If members of the Presidential Press corps cannot be treated with respect, then you don’t have to “think far” to determine where your downfall with the media is coming from.
If you cannot reprimand your media handlers who attack and break journalists’ equipment, then you have no right to blame any non-existent media cabal for blocking your good news. The president should thank his God for the poor leadership we have in the GJA. Any serious association should have called for a boycott of the presidency unless Stan Dogbe apologised or the president reprimanded him.
The Media Foundation for West Africa petitioned the Presidency to call Stan Dogbe to order. About 150 journalists signed that petition but nothing has come out of it.
Mr. President, whoever knows you will know that you are a media-friendly gentleman. But if you ever think that the media is hostile to you, then don’t look too far to see the cause. Your own press corps members are not happy.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. You can write to him through firstname.lastname@example.org.