May 212013

How does one brand a high performing chief executive whose
team contributes 133 megawatts at a critical time of national power crises? How
does one brand a 30 year old man who is killed in the course of an armed
robbery incident in a Ghanaian town?

Every day on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show represents a learning
moment for me. This week, matters took an affirmatively disruptive digression
into the chaos of communication. On Sunday, Joy News announced that the 30 year
old nephew of the New Patriotic Party’s Ashanti Regional Chairman had been shot
during a robbery incident. On Monday morning, the police described the incident
as a purely criminal affair, also on Joy News. On air, I queried the need for
what I considered a strong initial political linkage to what might appear to be
a random act of violence.

“It is a statement of fact; he is indeed the nephew and I
don’t see why that should be omitted from the story. Besides, the uncle came
around to the murder scene and was very upset etc”, the correspondent rationalized.
In the ensuing studio melee, there were those who justified the political
linkage on the basis of “journalistic angle.” Others like me differed sharply. Augmenting
my case, a colleague argued that any murder, family connections
notwithstanding, ought to be given serious attention. What were the reasons in
support of my objections?

Communication almost never happens in a vacuum. In this
particular context, the country was just emerging from a week where two men had
been killed in the same Ashanti region with tenuous attempts to link two honorable
members of Parliament (MPs) from Manhyia and Asawase to the violence. These
attempts had been met with strenuous denials by these MPs. Joy News could
therefore not have argued that in going beyond a mere announcement of murder
but highlighting the victim’s avuncular relationship with the NPP regional
chairman, they were unaware that even if unconsciously, the average listener
was likely to mentally link both incidents, with political undertones the only
common denominator to the violence of both weeks. In my humble opinion, what
was being communicated, consciously or unconsciously, was an escalation of
violence and insecurity tinged with partisan politics. To the ordinary citizen,
it would be my argument that though reflective of impaired security, a random
robbery gone awry might be preferred to premeditated murder from an attempt to
settle political scores.

My second objection pertained to position and timing – the
point within the story at which the linkage to the NPP regional chairman was
made. Granted, that the young man was the nephew of a high profile person,
which fact may have added an interesting twist to the story, the question
remains though whether this linkage needed to be made in the first paragraph of
the story, knowing as journalists do that they routinely report the most
important facts first? Would it have made a difference if the facts of the
robbery had been reported and then in the last paragraph, mention that the
young man was also the nephew of the regional Chairman of the New Patriotic

It is my contention that it would. Fortunately, this very point
on timing was amply made through a conspiracy of nature and fate in a
subsequent interview host Bernard Shaibu had with the Chief Executive Officer
of the Bui Power Authority (BPA), Mr. Jabesh Amissah-Arthur.

With BPA over 80% complete, currently contributing 120-130
megawatts of power and planning to bring two additional production plants on
stream by November 2013, Jabesh obviously had a good story to tell. Against the
communication discussion, it begs asking how any communicator intent on telling
this story might choose to brand Bui’s chief spokesperson.

First of all, Mr. Jabesh Amissah-Arthur is a trained
Mechanical Engineer from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
with over twenty five rich experience in many World Bank, European Investment
Bank, Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, Agence Francaise de Development
sponsored projects. Additionally, he has had close involvement in regional
energy projects, such as the West African Gas Pipeline Project (WAGP) and the
West African Power Pool (WAPP). Obviously, he is not one of those coat and tie
engineers who cannot predict when dumsorism
will strike. And by the way, he has a Masters degree from Harvard. Did you hear
that? I mean Harvard in Cambridge, Boston, MA. Not some pretender corner school
in the ghettos of Accra dubiously branded as Harvard Secretarial International College!

Now imagine that all these credentials notwithstanding, the
first thing a communicator chooses to announce is that “Tomorrow, to speak to
you about the Bui Power Authority, we have in the studios the younger brother
of his Excellency the Vice President, Kwesi Amissah-Arthur …” Of course, this
is a statement of fact but what really are you trying to communicate by linking
Jabesh’s relationship to the Vice President to the information the CEO of BPA
needs to communicate to the nation in need of power? This emphasizes my point
that highlighting the relationship, even a factual one, puts a completely
different slant to the Bui story than if you had focused on the context within
which he was invited to speak –unless of course communicating energy et al was
not the objective!

What happened in reality in Joy FM’s studios was even more
beautiful. Bernard led a very engaging and cordial interview. Jabesh went to
town with his “megawatts and laterites” and then at the tail end of the
interview, a curious caller into the studio asked, “And o, by the way, is he
related to the Vice President?” Indeed, this was such an innocuous question during
wrap up that the panel had no option than to break into sweet laughter.

Anyone familiar with Joy FM’s morning show panel will by now
have guessed that strong alliances are but fleeting occurrences. On this
occasion, the journalists typically ganged up with Bernard Shaibu and Kofi
Ansah supported by Araba Opoku-Gyamfi firing from the “journalistic angle” whiles
yours truly and the very practical Edgar Wiredu fired the “purpose of what is
being communicated” angle. Of course when things became bloody, producer Kofi
Ansah resorted to low punches, “You and Edgar are not even journalists, so what
are you talking about? I even have my doubts whether government really gave you
any document before you resumed work from your strike!”

From the learning opportunities amidst the chaos of communication,
we shall see what next week brings.

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