Monday, January 20, 2014

Komla Dumor is gone, but what he stood for still remains

This week Ghana, Africa the world and journalism lost one of their finest, Komla Dumor of the BBC.

He was a friend and a brother. Whenever we met we called each other 'my brother'. The last time we met, we were both in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as guests of the UNECA. 

His departure this week has left all of us hurting. Guest blogger and fellow Columbia Graduate School of Journalism mate, Raymond Bayor writes a tribute to the memory of Komla.

I'm sure Komla Dumor's death—a tragedy that we are all still grappling with—has cast our minds and imaginations in different directions. Earlier yesterday, I woke up to scores of phone calls from friends in Ghana, wanting to know if I had heard about his alleged death. I was tempted to dismiss these calls in an instant, but not when these calls were alarming. I went back and forth on phone, frantically trying to verify what looked like a wild rumor, something I'd rather hate to believe. It came to pass that in their millions, our hearts would remain seared for days and months, if not years, in the flames of the anguish resulting from his untimely departure.

Yes, Dumor attained great, enviable heights at home and abroad. He and a few others--no need to mention their names—excelled where many journalists in Ghana would easily fail today: Rising above the pettiness that's bent on ruining our media landscape. They would ask all the bold, embarrassingly probing questions, whether the issues at stake were about SSNIT or a hotel that a sitting president had interest in.

Thousands have taken to social media platforms to pay glowing tributes to one of the world’s finest broadcasters, but what is the state of journalism in Ghana today? If he was an adherent of the caliber of journalism that’s holding sway in Ghana today, would he attain the pinnacle of his career? For some of our colleagues, the line of distinction between news and hearsay is either blurred or does not even exist at all. We have become willing accomplices to condemnable acts—the very things that we must fight with passion.

Journalism is a calling. And this calling to speak can be a vocation of agony. It’s not a shortcut to fame and influence; neither is it an opportunity to settle personal scores, given that there are ethical boundaries within which we operate, whether in Ghana or around the globe. It’s time the Ghanaian journalist accepted that good journalism is no luxury. Of course, the ability to speak to power, subject politicians to the fire of accountability and pursue the cause of the larger society can never be the preserve of the fainthearted.

Journalism that's not principle or truth-driven is but a means to an end that only those who champion it know. If we all paused and reflected upon our approach to our calling to a profession revered for its nobility, especially in relation to the late Dumor's record, would our nation not be better? The image of journalism in Ghana today, unfortunately, is so battered by a strand of laziness, blatant partisanship and professional misconduct. In fact, it’s almost at its nadir.

His painful death, however sudden, leaves us with the challenge to remain relevant in an environment where the intersection of politics and journalism poses a constant threat to the latter's viability as the fourth estate. From the USA, Asia, Europe through to our native Africa, the outpouring of tributes bears eloquent testimony to his enduring legacy, his shortcomings notwithstanding. What do you and I, as journalists, stand for today? Are our actions a fair reflection of our convictions? We have, it’s sad to note, stridden beyond the contours of our watchdog role in ‘lap dogs’!

Our continent still has considerable democratic deficit, fuelled in part by the failure of various governments to commit to core democratic principles. In the case of Ghana, our democratic ‘resilience’ is nonetheless a pride we talk up so well, pretty much to the envy of other Africans. No doubt, our political parties constitute the fulcrum around which our democracy revolves.

What remains to be seen is the capacity of the media to enrich our political discourse. Beyond the obsession with what’s for or against a particular party, which seems to be the new norm now, the national interest can’t be left to fate. Whereas new parties will likely emerge in the course of time, the role of the media is cast in iron, regardless of the governing party. Not until we rededicate ourselves to the sacred values that inform the very being of the profession, we are definitely on a terminal decline. But I pray our image doesn’t get any worse.  “Hope is a waking dream,” Aristotle, the ancient Greek Philosopher, once said.

God bless Ghana.
By Raymond Yeldidong Bayor.

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