It was the evening of Monday, October 18, 2021, and on the various social media platforms especially Facebook and Twitter, most Ghanaians expressed shock. News was rife that self-acclaimed African dancehall king, Shatta Wale, had been shot!
The breaking news was a big deal. From fans to sympathizers, Ghanaians wished the boss of the Shatta Movement well. Reading through hundreds of tweets, on Twitter, I realised that many were those who prayed fervently against what they feared could be the unpalatably dreadful news headline: “Shatta Wale succumbs to bullet wounds”.
What the news media reported to Ghanaians in relation to Shatta Wale receiving ‘gunshots’ and that he had been rushed to a hospital for medical attention was actually posted by the musicians’ close associates. The information came from firsthand sources and their social media accounts, to the best of my knowledge, had not been hacked.
As Shatta Wale stands trial at the law courts, I will not dwell much on him and Stephen Kwesi Appiah popularly known as Jesus Ahoↄfԑ – the bishop who prophesied that Shatta would be shot. I rather wish to address the backlash the Ghanaian media especially Media General’s news portal, 3news, received for publishing what panned out to be a hoax.
In the heat of the “breaking news,” 3news published a story that said exactly what Shatta’s accomplices – Kojo Owusu Koranteng (Nana Dope) and Eric Venator (Gangee) – had shared on social media. The information as aforementioned was clear; Shatta had been shot and was receiving treatment at an emergency ward of an unnamed hospital. This, if any media house picks such an information – coming from sources such as Nana Dope and Gangee who know Shatta Wale better, there is no way we can entirely chastise such a media house.
Do we, for instance, doubt Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah when he tweets about say President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s travel itinerary? What I am drumming home here is that there is a clear difference between a journalist relying on well-known sources for bits and pieces of information for news and that of any other ordinary person whose credibility cannot immediately be ascertained.
The critics of 3news, vociferous among them my good friend and former colleague Zubaida Ismail, had argued on Facebook that the news portal should have done its fact-checking using tools such as Google Reverse Image among others.
Criticisms, especially constructive ones, are good. They make us know where one falls short and where improvement is needed. But when these criticisms become a mere hot air of pomp and pageantry showcasing of a sort of knowledge one has acquired, it leave much to be desired.
In the first place, there was no question over the source of the information shared as to where it came from. What we did not know was whether the information was true or not. This, there was absolutely no need for one to use Google Reverse Image. If 3news had used that tool, they could still not have been able to ascertain the truth everybody wanted to know.
As alluded to above, it is a standard practice across the globe that journalists take social media posts from public figures (at times their accounts verified), develop it and publish such as news. If these social media posts are not detailed enough to make up a full story, checks are made to add up to the story.
During the tenure of America’s former President Donald Trump, all the internationally known and respected media houses did stories from tweets made by Trump. CNN, for instance, went a step further to compile all of Mr. Trump’s tweets into a huge book (see the station’s documentary dubbed “Twitter and Trump”).
In the case of Shatta Wale’s incident, any journalist would have basically had two options on their table. Either you wait entirely for matters to settle down before writing a story on it or publish such as breaking news. In either of these two scenarios, I doubt if any journalism professor can fault the journalist. More so, if the journalist chose to make a breaking news out of the information available to him or her, they had another two options; to either use the word or adjective “alleged” or go straight to the point if they are certain the social media account sharing the information is not hacked. If the 3news’ critics read the entire story and did not merely comment after reading headlines, what did the full story say?
In May 2018, almost all the international news media published a definite news item. Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist, had been killed and it made headlines. On Aljazeera’s portal, the headline read: “Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko shot and killed in Kiev”. The New York Times also had the headline “Arkady Babchenko, Russian Journalist, Shot and Killed in Kiev”. The two stories were published on May 30, 2018 and May 29, 2018 respectively.
As a matter of fact, I remember so well watching this breaking news on Mr. Babchenko on Aljazeera. All the international media outlets had had the Ukrainian Police as their only source of the sad news of Arkady Babchenko’s brutal death. Will any right thinking journalist doubt an official statement by the Ukrainian Police announcing this death? On what grounds?
“The leading and obvious line of inquiry is that of his [Babchenko’s] professional activities,” Aljazeera wrote attributing this statement to Andriy Kryshchenko, Kiev police chief. The issue here is, Arkady Babchenko had been a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was living in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. When the police announced his death, they later came out to say they faked it in order to foil a possible attack on the journalist.
The international media with the speed of a duiker quickly updated their online publications and did same on both radio and television. But, in all these, I never heard or saw any of these media houses apologizing for publishing what turned out to be a hoax.
If you care to know, the New York Times for instance only updated its earlier story with this paragraph: “[Update: On May 30, Arkady Babchenko appeared at a news conference to announce that his reported killing had been staged as part of an elaborate police operation.]” The rest of the story remained as earlier published. Do you by this example think the media did not do due diligence? What is taught in the journalism class is not always what happens on the field.
To what extent would anyone suggest that the BBC, CNN, Aljazeera, The Washington Post, The Guardian and the New York Times among a host of others should have gone with fact-checking on the Ukrainian Police’s announcement of Arkady Babchenko’s “death” before publishing their stories? Would they have fact-checked from the journalist’s killers or the same Ukrainian Police who had spoken confirming the death? I only think that, at times, we belittle the intelligence of the Ghanaian media and lambaste them unnecessarily.
My very good friend and also a former colleague, Stephen Anti also wrote on his Facebook wall on the back of the media publishing the Shatta news. “Like Kabral Blay Amihere used to tell us 90’s [sic] journalism students: ‘If in doubt, check, check, check and check. Then check again’. Nothing replaces fact-checking. Absolutely nothing. #Journalism101,” he wrote.
I think I have adequately addressed Mr. Anti’s sentiments but perhaps I need to add this. From where was the journalist supposed to be doing that “check, check and check” acrobatics of professionalism in Shatta’s case? If my memory serves me well, Highlife pioneer Reggie Rockstone said on TV3’s New Day, on October 19, that people he knew including Bulldog were either not picking his calls or that their phones were off. This was Reggie’s approach to verifying the news for himself. Do we believe that 3news never picked a phone to go beyond the Nana Dope’s posts?
To put it succinctly, I have seen great minds at 3news since I joined Media General in 2016. The past and present editors for the news portal are some of the best journalists any media house would want to have in Ghana. This is not, in anyway, to suggest that they are infallible. The point, however, here is that I only do not see any fallibility for choosing to publish the Shatta Wale story!
The writer is a broadcast journalist with Media General (Onua TV/FM]. Views expressed herein are solely his, and do not, in anyway, reflect the editorial policy of his organisation whatsoever.