Desperately Seeking Acceptance

Newsy by all standards, it was. It was salacious too; with emotion charging words. Two words in the headlines and leads, would determine the impact of the reportage. They were ‘pregnant’ and ‘kidnapped.’ Whichever the Western Region Minister would pick to assure the public not to fear or panic, would resonate for calm or incense into restiveness.

It was news with hydra-headed angles. Kidnapping in a milieu known for being a hotspot. A woman’s word of ‘I’m pregnant’ versus a man who should know nothing about pregnancy’s word of ‘she’s not pregnant.’ Maybe if the Minister were a doctor, the almost riotous reaction of a section of the public to his adding ‘not’ to the ‘pregnant’ would have been different.

In serving the news dish, journalists are interested in the source and how credible it is. It’s not clear how that was determined in the Takoradi pregnant woman kidnap story. However it was, it’s become a lesson in how not to cause fear and panic with newsbreak while ensuring the public would not be denied its right to know.

News timeliness or when what was said is often tricky. It borders on the competing values of getting it first and getting it right. Some of the many aspects of the story (who said what to whom, where, when, how and with what consequences) were: Woman’s word that she was pregnant and had been kidnapped with the kidnappers terminating the pregnancy versus man’s cruel contestation that she was not pregnant to quell public fear and panic.

In its fear and panic mode, it sounded like Amina Yutong Mark II, if one can recall the alarming alleged story of assault and rape on the Kumasi-Accra road somewhere around a toll point. In Takoradi, it was a Minister dutifully calming fear and panic in a kidnap, in one of the most kidnap sensitive environments in the whole wide world. Matters were deepened by what sounded like a chairman’s audio tape directive to footsoldiers to kidnap.

Mister Minister, faced with ‘not pregnant’ and ‘has not been kidnapped,’ it was easier and wiser to choose the first. Once found, pregnancy test was easier and faster than testing or verifying kidnapping, for which GH¢3,000 was said to have been already paid for the ‘victim’s’ release.

The poor lady had instantly turned ‘Western yɛ wɔ adze a oye’ (the best comes from the West) into another unneeded and unwanted spell of kidnapping fear and panic. The Minister had picked the human interest (pregnancy) first, although even when that seemed to have angered some in the public so much to have invited their curses. It was in a manner that might not have been had he said, what he dared not to have said, ‘she has not been kidnapped.’

Someone actually hastily wrote: ‘the indiscretion and verbal diarrhoea of the Western Regional Minister ‘de asem beba’.’ So, now, where is the ‘asem’? It’s now clear the Minister, the regional security boss, knew exactly what he was saying. It’s so tempting to assume a political colouring for that ‘asem beba’ write-up, which seems to be cheering a chairman’s purported on-tape instruction of go ye forth to kidnap.

Now, we know the public misjudged the situation. At the beginning, the public saw it as a poor pregnant woman being accused of lying, because she was not pregnant, by a heartless man. Seriously, I wish I knew which candidate and party (if you check both presidential and parliamentary) won in that Columbia neighbourhood tucked in the epicentre of where kidnap must be ammɔdin (taboo) word.

It just occurred to me, news portals might want to develop apps for tracking a specific story to facilitate their own fast backgrounding research. That should save other researchers from the drudgery of reading everything page by page and date by date.

It’s all about knowing what to say, when to say it, and how to say it all within a cultural context, in an intriguing news, or a situation of unfolding of facts.

I wish one big lesson for journalism would have been every newsroom of our hundreds of newsrooms, would have made available to our educators their treatment of the story. To tell which angle they picked as headline and lead, their position on the scoop line-up, and how the end justified or did not justify their treatment.

Knowing whether they were the first with the news; whether they were accurate or how they managed speed with accuracy in managing the first and right conundrum. In addition, whether the outcome reflected their news judgment would be interesting. The journalism educator would relish who got it first, who got it right and, in award-winning journalism, who got it both first and right.

My compatriots, please let’s campaign to stop badgering childless marriages. And, please, it’s a wife’s right to worry over not giving the husband a child, but when the worry extends to faking pregnancy and kidnapping, it threatens society and public safety. That necessitates intervention to save her from harming herself and endangering those around her. Advocates and activists of the woman’s rights must help ease the pressure of the stigma of childlessness by beginning with respecting the woman’s right to choose whether to have a child; and when to have a child should she choose to have one.

I just read a national security boss in search of an understanding from those who generate and multiply news in the effort to address public safety concerns. It’s an uphill task if the news multipliers believe themselves to be larger than the rest of us in the motherland.

A journalist is not a seer for any reporter or editor to know a pregnant woman to be faking pregnancy. That’s why caution must guide definitive statement of a pregnancy ‘fact.’ The trap of later ‘not true’ is avoidable if all the rules would be scrupulously followed. Otherwise the media compromisingly pushes someone’s, in this case a desperate woman’s agenda. Indeed, the public has a right not to be exposed to knowledge of harmful consequences.

The balance would have been to check the Minister’s ‘not pregnant’ claim. Instead, reporting seemed to have succumbed to the temptation to sensationalise rather than dig for the truth. Some ‘Mr Minister, wo boɔ nie,’ in profound apology, would be very healthy journalism. As to what happens now to the agitated members of the public who hurled abuses and invoked curses on the Minister, I wonder what happens to them now that the Minister has been vindicated. I hope they are spared any curse rebound effect.

By Kwasi Ansu-Kyeremeh