Sensational ‘militia’ documentary ‘crass and bad journalism’ – Paul Adom-Otchere
Veteran Journalist and Host of Good Evening Ghana on Metro TV, Paul Adom Otchere, has carefully analyzed and punched gaping holes into the video documentary by Joy News’ Manasseh Azure Awuni, titled ‘Militia in the Heart of the nation’.
The outspoken journalist and a PR practitioner, sharing his views on the Good Evening Ghana Editorial segment of his show, did not mince words when he described the documentary as “sensational, disingenuous and bad journalism”.
The documentary, which captures a group of young men and women said to be members of a private security firm or militia group known as De-Eye Group during a meeting at the Christiansburg Castle at Osu, the former seat of government, has generated heated public debate about whether or not the producer did a good job.
Manasseh Azure Awuni among other things emphatically stated that the supposed militia group, which had two offices at the Castle, was affiliated to the NPP, and that, although it wasn’t a registered private security firm as his checks had revealed, attempts by the National Security to evict them in the past were unsuccessful.
Manasseh thus stated that the group had the support of a higher hand in government for which reason they could have access to the Castle which houses some ministries, and it’s treated as a security zone.
With the Commander of De-Eye group identified as Nana Wereko-Addo (Alias ‘Chooman’), a former personal bodyguard to President Nana Akufo-Addo, Manasseh Azure Awuni showed a scene in the video where another leader of the group, was heard assuring the members and telling them that the President was indeed aware of their gatherings at the meeting.
In another scene, the Commander himself was also heard urging the members not to get themselves into trouble with the law, adding that in that particular week, no member of the group had been caught with the law.
He was heard saying they’re not going to rise up against Nana Akufo-Addo or any state official, but was heard boasting about the kind of training they give to their members, for which reason some of them had enlisted in the security agencies.
In criticizing the work of Manasseh, many have particularly described his use of the description ‘militia’ as extreme, sensational and inaccurate, with the explanation that the persons captured in the video in uniformed suits with no weapons or any rigorous physical training, could not have been members of a so-called militia or vigilante group.
The critics have also taken on the journalist and the Multimedia Group for causing fear and panic by overly hyping a documentary that in their view was not worth the publicity.
Some critics specifically questioned the use of hooded men in black with weapons in the promotional photos that were published on their online portal ahead of the airing of the documentary, although there were no such persons in the video.
Government itself has condemned the video describing it as a sensational and malicious piece of work lacking the right ingredients to pass for a good undercover piece.
Although the government admitted the group should not have held its meetings at the Castle, it stated emphatically that the group was not a militia group operating with the tacit support of government as the producers sought to suggest.
The New Patriotic Party, NPP, also dissociated itself from De-Eye Group, and said it had not sanctioned its operations at the Castle, although the producers of the documentary mentioned that members of the Eye-Group had in the past provided some security services at NPP events.
Paul Adom Otchere’s analysis
Before his detailed analysis of the documentary, Mr. Paul Adom Otchere said: “We want to comment about aspects of the documentary, because we felt that in some aspects of it, the documentary could have been more just and could have been fairer”.
He then continued by first showing his viewers a story on Myjoyonline titled “NPP militia training centre uncovered in the capital”.
According to Paul, the image of hooded men holding guns as advertised before the airing of the documentary was misleading.
He said “We were worried because when we researched, these photographs are photographs that have been exported from a Nigerian phenomenon. Something happened in Nigeria where these men apparently went into the Senate to have some difficulty removing Saraki or something like that. So really, this was quite scary; and anyone who saw this poster was particularly worried that we’re going to see a documentary in which militiamen either dressed like this as they were on the morning of the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election or that they were training shooting guns and stuffs like that.”
“This actually we think; constitutes wrong reporting because these photographs that were put up as adverts for the documentary did not actually do justice to the evidence that Joy FM had gathered in their documentary. So this is the first concern that we have.”
“This is a very big and important company, which is a media and news leader in Ghana, and if you’re putting out a documentary as they have done so many times and put up fantastic documentaries over the years, and this is the poster that advertises the documentary only for us to sit behind our sets and we find out that the people that have been secretly filmed do not look anything like this poster, then really it’s a little sensational and wrong reporting. That’s our first concern with our friends at Joy FM,” he noted.
The definition of a Militia group
After playing excerpts of the supposed undercover part of the video, Paul Adom Otchere explained the meaning of the word ‘Militia’ as “an army that is conscripted from the civilian society either to support the military or to oppose the military one way or the other”.
He then added that “These people don’t look like people who want to oppose the military or who even have the capacity, the weaponry and the strength to oppose the military, so that’s very clear, and my concern is that this is a big media house doing this; and you call this group of people as a militia based on the definition of militia that was apparently given at the Commission for the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election.”
Analyzing the statement attributed to Eugene Arhin
Mr. Adom Otchere also punched holes into a statement attributed to Mr. Eugene Arhin, the Director of Communications at the Presidency, in which he supposedly told Joy News that the President was not aware of the alleged activities of any group operating at the castle, let alone sanction them.
The documentary also quoted Mr. Arhin as saying that, “My checks from the National Security have revealed that no such group is operating from the Castle”.
But Mr. Adom Otchere argued that the supposed response can only be put in proper context if Manasseh Azure Awuni had told viewers the specific question he asked Mr. Arhin for which that answer was given.
“They don’t tell us the question they put to Eugene Arhin and that’s where our disappointment is. I don’t know what question they put to Eugene Arhin, but in terms of the credibility of the work, we need to know what question they put to him. What group did you mention to him? What activities did you tell him that they’ve been carrying out? If you don’t tell us the question you asked of Eugene Arhin and you give us the answer that he gave and just say that you talked to Eugene Arhin about the documentary, that’s really unfair and it leaves a whole gap for the credibility of the whole effort that you’re putting together. I am afraid to say, but that’s what it is. That gives us a bit of jitters and unnerves about the conclusion,” he stated.
The Good Evening Ghana Host, also questioned why Manasseh Azure Awuni failed to provide any evidence to his claim that De-Eye group operates in and out of Accra.
“No evidence at all was produced for this claim. No single example was offered, and I think that’s bad. The documentary should have told us that they provide security services in Accra and Kumasi, and that we’ve found that on this particular occasion in Kumasi and that day they operated here or there; later in the documentary they talk about the Accra International Conference Centre, we will deal with that. Given your status as an important news leader, this is not the kind of work that you should do, and this isn’t the kind of outcomes that you should give, and this is not the kind of evidence that should lead you to other outcomes,” he argued.
Manasseh’s ‘inappropriate’ interview with Martin Kpebu
Mr. Paul Adom Otchere, who’s also a private lawyer, said it was inappropriate for Joy News to seek an opinion of an individual lawyer to know what the law says about running a private security firm like the De-Eye group without a license, after had they confirmed from the Interior Ministry that the firm wasn’t registered.
In his view, for the credibility of the documentary, Joy News should have sought that interpretation from the Attorney General’s department or someone with specific authority or depth in law on that subject matter.
“What’s the basis for picking Mr. Martin Kpebu? Why are you picking Martin Kpebu over 4,000 lawyers? That’s not the way to do a documentary. You go to the office of the Attorney General; that’s why they’re the principal legal advisers to the government. And they’re everybody’s lawyers because they’re paid with the tax payer’s money; they have all the information, they have all the laws, and they are also the Ministry of Justice. That interview appears disingenuous,” he said.
More gaps, More questions
Mr. Paul Adom Otchere also raised some pertinent questions about the portion of the documentary where Manasseh Azure Awuni linked members of De-Eye group to an NPP event attended by Nana Addo, and suggested that the party relied on them for security duties that day.
According to Mr. Otchere, the documentary did not provide any evidence to suggest that the men at the Castle Gardens shown in the documentary were the same people who provided security at the Conference Centre event.
“The documentary does not evidence that circle person A training at the Osu Castle, show him at the Conference Centre standing in front of the door performing those services that you allege that they’re performing, so there’s a major gap there as well that has to be filled by a top media company like Joy FM putting out a documentary about a matter that’s so sensitive. I think the standards should have been higher; I think they should’ve gone better than that”.
Paul explained further that “A documentary that has outcomes, whose outcomes could be fatal including about people, that documentary must be able to bring out evidence that’s inconvertible in terms of the attributions that you make. You cannot make attributions and get away with it; that’s not why people fought for the 1992 constitution. You’re Joy FM, so you cannot just make attributions and just walk through it; and they have done that with this documentary, I will show you the statement from the Ghana Armed Forces and their own changing statements online after the documentary. And that’s where the disappointment is tonight, that our big news leader has done something that really should have been done better”.
Tagging the President with “evaporating evidence” very bad
Mr. Adom Otchere was not the least enthused about the attempt by the producer to link the so-called militia group to President Akufo-Addo with what he calls ‘evaporating evidence’.
“This is the worst part of the attributions that were made in the documentary. A clear direct tagging of the President has been established by absolutely no evidence. Totally evaporated evidence based on the words that were uttered by ‘Chooman’. ‘Chooman’ said that the President said on the event day, congratulating them that they’re good people and that the President was asking; are these the people at the castle? How do we believe that? How do we know that the President said that? Maybe he was encouraging them; quite clearly he was encouraging them. Joy FM does not evidence at all, they don’t even comment by saying that well; this is his view, we don’t know if the President said that; which should have been fine to issue a small disclaimer in there. This is the way in which you tag the President to something like this happening at the Castle; that the President has a direct connection with the militia simply because the head of the militia said that to the people?” he quizzed in awe.
“You didn’t hear it from the President, you didn’t confirm from other sources; all you say is that the guy said it so the President said it? And that’s how you tag the president to a very serious matter like this that has implications for our foreign investments; has implications for the country’s image and for everything? This is a President who a few days ago, had been talking in a sessional address and giving a blueprint about how vigilantism can be solved. The diplomatic community has heard it, the world has heard it, civil society is suspicious, but at least a blueprint has been given; the president goes on to add that if the blueprint fails he will initiate a legislation. He’s given a very clear commitment to the matter.”
“If you want to show a documentary to show a contradiction, this evaporating evidence is what you tag the President with and conclude by saying that National Security is aware, President is the Chairman of the National Security, this is dastardly; this is the worst part of it. ‘Chooman’ said it doesn’t mean that it’s true. That’s disingenuous, that’s bad journalism; it’s bad, it’s crass and it’s not good journalism. It’s disingenuous and I am afraid to say it’s poor. It’s very poor”.
Fake impact stories?
Paul also accused Joy FM of putting out false stories to create an impression that the documentary had made some sudden impact despite the backlash.
He specifically mentioned a story about soldiers clearing out De-Eye group from the Castle after the documentary, saying this claim was later denied in a statement issued by the Ghana Armed Forces.
“This was palpable falsity. We didn’t know that it was false because we trust Joy FM. A day after the documentary, there was an unseen hand forcing an impact on the Ghanaian citizen. This cannot be; this is a very important media organization that doesn’t need to do this. Then later the Ghana Armed Forces comes in and say it has not deployed any soldiers to clear the Castle.”
Freedom and Independence of the media
Mr. Adom Otchere reminded Manasseh Azure Awuni and his Multimedia group, and the media in general of their limits, rights and responsibilities, referencing the various articles on Freedom and Independence of the media.
He also referenced a suit filed by the governing New Patriotic Party in 1993 against the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation GBC, which ended in a 4-3 ruling in favour of the NPP.
Due to the lack of media plurality at the time, the NPP was in court to establish a principle that all parties needed to be given fair coverage by the state broadcaster, a ruling that deepened media freedom and fair coverage for political parties.
“This was an important matter. Let’s see what Justice George R.M Francois, one of the famous judges we had at the time in Ghana had to say.”
“So Justice Francois in his ruling in favour of the media said “It is the right of the viewers and the listeners, not the right of the broadcaster or broadcasters which is paramount. That’s what Justice Francois said in Ghana’s Supreme Court in 1993. So yes, you may have the right to do an undercover investigation and the right to publish it, but you have a responsibility to the people to give them a properly evidenced story; that’s their right too; you don’t deny them that right and impose something on them that’s not properly evidenced. That’s low; that’s not great”.
De-Eye group sues Manasseh, Multimedia; demands GHC10m in damages
De-Eye group Limited, the company at the centre of the documentary has sued Multimedia and Manasseh Azure Awuni over claims made in the documentary.
De-Eye group in its writ indicated that the company is not a “militia group” as suggested in the documentary.
“The plaintiff avers that the promotion of the 1st Defendant documentary coupled with the full documentary which was aired on the 2nd Defendant’s network has generated several comments and media attention ostensibly to tarnish the reputation of the organisation by describing it as a militia group when in fact its activities have nothing to do with any militia operations,” it added.
The company is, therefore, seeking a declaration that the publication be declared “slanderous and defamatory.”
De-Eye is also seeking compensatory damages in the sum of ten million Ghana cedis for “loss of reputation against the defendants.”
The company is also seeking an order “directed at the defendants to retract the said defamatory publications and render unqualified apology in the same prominence on Joy TV and four publications in the Daily Graphic.”