Who is a Journalist?

media2On March 26, the much awaited National and Regional elections of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) were held throughout the country with all the attention and importance that it deserved.

Like any other elections, by the close of the day, members in good standing of the GJA across the country had successfully elected their national and regional executives to lead them for the next two years.

Mr Affail Monney, of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), went unopposed as president, Mr Mathias Tibu, an Assistant Registrar at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), was elected as the vice president.

Mr Dave Agbenu, from the Ghanaian Times, was also elected unopposed as the General Secretary, while Mrs Linda Asante Agyei of the GNA, was re-elected as the treasurer, and Ms Mary Mensah, of Graphic Communications Group Limited, was elected as the Public Affairs Officer.

The GJA is undoubtedly one of the enviable professional associations in Ghana like the Ghana Medical Association, (GMA), the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) and many other professional associations that are seeking to protect the interest of their members and the image of their respective chosen professions.

But unlike the other professions that have clear cut criteria in joining, journalism is not so and that has created a big problem even for the association as to who qualifies to become a member leading to chaos and confusion in the media front in Ghana.

The issue of who is a journalist in Ghana still remains a challenge and the earlier all stakeholders put their efforts together to look at that issue the better for all media practitioners and the entire nation in the pursuit of democratic development.

Over the years, past executives and the entire membership had been confronted with the problem of who is a journalist and who qualifies to become a member of the GJA.

In many of the regions, people who claim to be journalists but do not qualify to be members of the association have become like a mafia group, causing problems for the GJA.

The problems of the GJA became evident in the just ended general elections held on Tuesday where all staff of the GBC who are not journalists and have nothing to do with journalism and worse of all have never paid dues or applied to become members of the association, were listed as members in good standing and allowed to vote.

In some instances people who claimed to be members but are not known in the regions were allowed to contest, while some who had not been members of good standing for five years as stipulated by the GJA constitution to contest for positions, were also allowed to contest and won their positions because those who voted for them are not members and therefore did not care about who they voted for.

As we welcome the new executives, I think the most significant achievement they can be remembered for within the next two years to merit being re-elected is a major transformation of the association through the reviewing of the GJA constitution to make it clear as to who qualifies to be a member and not the current situation where anybody that works in a media house is considered a journalist therefore automatically a member of the GJA.

The GJA constitution states that any person who has a diploma in journalism and works for two years qualifies to be a member, anybody who has a diploma in any field of study and works on the job for four years also qualifies while any person who has no diploma neither in journalism or any field but has worked on the job for five years qualifies to be a member.

I think the constitution itself is confusing, that clause where anybody who works on the job for five years qualifies to be a member is the bane of all the problems of the GJA in that people who cannot even define their role or job in any radio station for the period of five years assumes that he or she can join the association and that is bad.

Anytime the issue of the GJA is raised, the common statement is that the constitution does not define who is a journalist, but I think as a journalist and a member of the GJA, we are not doing justice to our own constitution, we need to ask ourselves the question – what do we mean by a professional association?

The fact is that when you go to hospitals and clinics there are many workers with different job descriptions such as the nurses, pharmacists, radiographers, anesthetists and so on who all help in the healing process, yet they are not all members of the GMA, even nurses who are so close to the doctors do not by their work claim to be members of the GMA.

In the same manner, the GBA is made up of solely lawyers who have gone through the system to become lawyers and not all those who work at the Attorney General’s Department or work as supporting staff at law chambers.

As an association, we may not be able to define who is a journalist but it is within our mandate and purview to determine who qualifies to join the association to make it look more credible and a realistic association of professionals and not an open association where anybody who claims to be a journalist or work with a media house becomes an automatic member.

The trend where non members are issued with the GJA identity cards, listed as members when they just pay dues prior to elections to enable them cast their votes against those who are rather protecting the image of the profession should be a thing of the past.

As we welcome the new executives, we wish to draw their attention to the herculean task and also to pledge our unflinching support for them in their pursuit of the above problems that have taken the shine and glory off the association all this while.

The GJA must not be left to public ridicule where people question the credibility of the association by the caliber of persons who profess to be members.

By Bertha Badu-Agyei
Source: GNA

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