The Erosion of Journalism Ethics: Unveiling the Dark Side of Media Consultancy in Ghana

The practice of gathering, verifying, and publishing news and information to the public serves an important role in society as a watchdog, a forum for educated debate, and a means of holding those in power accountable. Journalism’s key purposes include informing the public, promoting transparency, and encouraging an engaged and well-informed populace. The public trust the media for a number of reasons. 

Journalists serve as a trustworthy source of information and a well-informed electorate is essential for a functional democracy. Journalists bring transparency to government activities, corporate practices, and other powerful entities by investigating and reporting on them. By offering multiple perspectives and giving an avenue for different voices to be heard, the media encourages public discourse and constructive debate. Journalists also help to foster social cohesion by fostering understanding and empathy among diverse cultures. These are among the crucial reasons why the public repose so much trust and confidence in the media and this is the same for media in Ghana. In safeguarding public trust, the media adhere to ethics and professionalism without which there exist the risk of eroding public trust. 

One of the prominent subjects sparking discussions in Ghana’s socio-political sphere is the recent exposé conducted by The Herald regarding the operations of Aker Energy Ghana Limited, a Norwegian oil company. The investigation revealed that Aker Energy Ghana made a substantial payment of US$125,281.21 to Excomsult Media, owned by Evans Mensah, who also serves as a journalist/reporter with Multimedia Group, the parent company of Joy FM. The payment was purportedly made for media consultancy and communication services, including the suppression of negative stories about Aker in the Ghanaian media. This revelation has garnered significant attention and has become a focal point of public discourse.

This commentary would focus on why this arrangement or private contract between Excomsult Media erodes the ethics of journalism. 

It is public knowledge that Mr. Evans Mensah has admitted to being the owner of Excomsult Media and may have received some amount of money from Aker Energy but denies receiving US$125,281.21. Thus, Excomsult Media being his private company has the mandate to contract with the whole world. However, what make this situation one of public interest is the revelation that Mr. Evans Mensah was contracted to suppress negative news about Aker Energy. 

What is more interesting is that this is not in isolation with the $1.65 billion loan approved by the Parliament of Ghana to acquire 37% of Deep Water Tano/Cape Three Points (DWT/CTP) operated by Aker Energy Ghana Limited and 70% of the South Deep Water Tano (SDWT) operated by AGM Petroleum Ghana Limited. There was some public outcry over the lack of transparency in this deal but it suffices to say the least that there has been ground works to kill the story.

While some CSOs and think tanks like IMANI were pushing for the deal to be transparent, other CSOs specifically, Alliance for Social Equity and Public Accountability (ASEPA) and Chamber of Petroleum Consumers (COPEC) were reported to have been compromised and hence ‘playing soft with the loan deal’. According to reports, it has been alleged that Mr. Mensah Thompson, the founder of ASEPA, and Duncan Amoah, the Executive Secretary of COPEC received amounts of GHS 10,000 and GHS 30,000 respectively in exchange for taking a lenient stance. These payments were reportedly made in the presence of Evans Mensah, a journalist with Joy FM and the owner of Excomsult Media.

This situation calls to question the ethic of Evans Mensah as a journalist. The ethics of journalism are seriously impacted if reporters are being paid to sabotage a bad story. In its ideal form, journalism is based on values like truth, accuracy, impartiality, independence, and accountability. These core standards are violated and the credibility of the profession is damaged when journalists are paid to bury or alter stories.

Here are some ethical concerns raised by the actions of Evans Mensah to journalism as a whole in Ghana;

Public information should be accurate, according to journalism. The truth is compromised when journalists are paid to kill a story, and the public is kept from learning crucial facts that might affect their lives or society as a whole.

Journalists are supposed to be impartial and maintain their independence from other influences. By paying them to cover up a story, journalists lose their objectivity and their capacity to operate freely. This creates a conflict of interest. By using a private company – Excomsult Media – for these activities, the journalist creates a clear conflict of interest. Their personal financial gains may influence their editorial decisions, compromising the independence and objectivity of their reporting.

In society, journalists frequently have a position of trust and trustworthiness. Utilizing a private firm to distort or stifle stories in order to take advantage of that trust harms both the journalist’s reputation and the public’s confidence in the entire industry thus abuse of trust. 

Additionally, this conduct has the potential to erode the integrity and reputation of reputable media consulting firms. These businesses are often expected to offer expert counsel and services that adhere to moral principles. The credibility of the entire industry is damaged when a journalist utilizes the moniker “media consultancy” for unscrupulous purposes.

Journalism depends on the public’s long-term development of trust and credibility. The audience loses trust in journalists when they engage in unethical behavior, such as burying stories for personal gain, which undermines the legitimacy of the entire profession.

In conclusion, to protect the public’s access to knowledge and to preserve an effective democratic society, the independence and integrity of journalism must be protected. In order for a society to be free and informed, ethical journalism is essential. Media organizations should have better policies in place to guard against actions that jeopardize the ethics of journalism, and journalists are responsible for upholding these standards.

Article by Nathaniel Dwamena

He is a free-market policy analyst and president of the YAFO Institute. He engages in activities that promote civil liberty and economic freedom in Ghana. He was part of the team consulted by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ Ghana) to undertake a study on business red tape in Ghana. He has a background in law, geography, and economics.

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