This is the second part of my opinion piece on how I think the GJA can get to the next level.
I am a four-time GJA Award winner, so I have been hanging around GJA award winners and I know a bit about what the concerns are. I was quite elaborate on his issue in my previous article entitled “Did GJA sacrifice MTN’s GHC70,000 for Airtel’s GHC3,500?”. But just as a recap, there are several professional and non-professional awards schemes in the country. In many of those, the top winners, and even second runners up take away cars and houses. But journalists, whose work cuts across all facets of society (health, education, entertainment, economics/business/finance, ICT/telecoms, arts and culture, tourism/travel/aviation, agriculture, politics and what-have-you), we go away with peanuts.
Formerly, GJA award winners only took home plaques and certificates, except the journalist of the year, who got and still gets the Unilever package for a month’s training internship with a media house abroad. A few years back, laptops came on stream, and we have remained there since, in spite of the fact that technology is advancing very fast; and marketing, PR and CSR (corporate social responsibility) has become mainstream for businesses across the world. The current award winners were promise Samsung Galaxy tablets or IPads, but they ended up taking away Uhuru laptops, which also works as tablets. It is difficult to say whether that was a better deal, because Uhuru is a new product from Ghana’s RLG. It is great to know Ghanaian journalists are going away with a technology device from a Ghanaian company, even though it may have been made in China. The truth is that Uhuru is not a tried and tested device like the other big brands, so one cannot be all jumpy about it. The GJA actually made moves to get either IPads or Samsung Galaxy Tablets, which are tried and tested. But how come they ended up with the very recently launched Uhuru? These are some of the things we need full disclosure on. Maybe some members could have helped to get something better, but because the folk at the GJA do not discuss, they do not get help. I trust the new executive would make the GJA more interactive.
There is reason why the Journalist of the Year should not drive away a car or get a house. Even if the other award winners would not get such mouthwatering tangible prizes, the top award winner should, in addition to the Unilever package. And why shouldn’t the Best ICT/Telecoms Reporter go home with top of the range gadgets and devices in the industry, plus travel packages to the biggest industry conferences around the world. It is about negotiations, and negotiation comes down to leadership. This is where clout, charisma, and skills of the leader come to play. The leader’s own hunger and passion for more than average, is also very important in this context.
What does the GJA take to the negotiation table – those are the critical things that constitute its tramp card for negotiating better deals and packages for this noble profession. If organizers of beauty pageants, soccer and music reality shows, are able to make a case for such mouthwatering prizes, and sponsors buy into them, why can’t such a powerful fraternity as the GJA get more. Are GJA leaders really negotiating for what journalists deserve, or they are just settling for peanuts, just like most journalists are given crumbs as monthly salaries or even nothing in lots of media houses across the country, and GJA says nothing about it?
I have been wondering why GJA does not organize debates for members who file their nominations to run for office. GJA should have been an organization that champions the principle of debate, because the media is a major platform for such debates for persons who run for national political office. There is no reason why those who show interest in holding positions as GJA President, Vice President, Treasurer, General Secretary, Organizer and Public Affairs Officer at least at the national level, should not debate each other. Even of those who go unopposed should be subjected to some Q&A session so that members can satisfy themselves that the person is really in for the good of the association.
It is also my opinion that those who run opposed should still be voted for. There should be ballot papers which should bear the picture of the candidate running unopposed, with options like ‘YES’ and ‘NO’, so that voters would decide if they want that person or not. It would put people on their toes even if they run unopposed, and lots of voters voted ‘NO’. This is good to ensure some level of responsibility and accountability. We have had enough of GJA being all about those who work at the Press Centre, rather than about the entire membership.
Is it really true that new members who join the GJA in an election year cannot vote? If it is true, then I wonder what the rationale is, because newly registered voters at the national level get to vote in the election year. So why is the GJA not taking a cue from that? Hopefully, we have leaders who would blaze the trail on that, and correct the anomaly if it does exist. In this day of modern technology, the GJA’s Constitution should be published online for us to access and know what it says about membership and elections. We must not be required to go to the Press Centre and ask for it.
But come to think of it, the GJA is largely dominated by journalists working in the state media, even though the private media currently employs more journalists and broadcasters in the country. The GJA gets members through the state media without any effort. We have to do a little bit of work to bring the journalists in the private media on board, but we hardly do. Some have suggested that it is deliberate, to keep the top executive positions of the GJA firmly in the grips of the state media. There is need for the new leaders to make this membership drive a passion and work to see it come to fruition.
Indeed, looking closely at the list of Ghanaian journalists who have won both local and international awards in recent times, there is no doubt that the private media is flying the flag of journalistic excellence way higher than those in the state media are. So there is no reason why the GJA should continue to be dominated by state media guys. Whether that has helped the GJA or not, is for members to judge.
I may have sounded very controversial on this matter, but it was not intended. The bottom line for me is that we need to attach seriousness to driving membership in the private media also, to create the opportunity for private media guys to get into leadership. Some of the responsibility also rest on those in the private media to make it point to be active rather than passive towards the GJA. What you often get from journalists working in the private media is that the GJA does nothing to benefit journalists directly so they do not see the need to join or be active. This is something the new executives should reflect on, and find ways of restoring confidence in the GJA. Ambassador Kabral Blay Amihere, was one of very few great GJA presidents, and he was from the private media, even though he had his foundation from the state-owned news agency, the GNA.
My younger brother, who is not a journalist, recently sent me a Whatsapp message and said he misses the days of Kabral Blay Amihere and Gifty Afenyi-Dadzie. This is someone who is not a journalist, but could tell all has not been well with the GJA since Gifty. But no, we do not need to go back to those days. We need to look ahead and take the GJA to a whole new level. I wish I could give all the suggestions, but I can’t. I have proposed a few things for reflection. I trust that we can take something from it for the good of our great organization.
Long live GJA, and I look forward to the first ‘State of the GJA Address’.