I don’t think I will ever win a journalism award in this country. It would be nice if I won one but if I look at the path my career has taken, I know I won’t ever get a journalism diadem. So when someone close to me is nominated for an award (and goes ahead to win – as Israel Laryea and Komla have done recently) I take the opportunity to bask in their shine for as long as they will allow me.
So imagine my delight when I heard earlier this week that my boss and friend Matilda Asante had been nominated for the journalist of the year award. I think Matilda deserves the award more than any of this year’s nominees and so immediately I heard she was up for the crown, I started thinking about sewing a new ‘agbada’ to wear for her coronation on Saturday.
But with just a few hours to the event, I shouldn’t bother attending.
The entire award programme has suddenly become the talk of town with people raising questions about how the Ghana Journalists Association seems incapable of organising an awards scheme devoid of controversy.
It all started when the GJA put out announcements asking people to vote on the list of nominees, ostensibly to decide who should take away the prize for journalist of the year. I found it quite nauseating that the award had been reduced to a competition like ‘TV 3 Mentor’ (which, I do not like). But I felt that, perhaps, that’s what the sponsor of the GJA awards (MTN) wanted.
Then it occurred to me that the public voting might not favour Matilda. You see, Daily Graphic has a staff of thousands strewn across the country. The same applies to GBC. If these people decide mobilise to vote for their colleagues who had also been nominated for the top prize, Matilda would lose out by an embarrassingly wide margin. Her company has just a few hundred workers. Under the circumstance, I decided to bank on the fact that not everyone at GBC and Graphic will vote for Lorreta Vanderpuye and Kobby Asmah respectively.
Then to my utter surprise and shock, I heard Bright Blewu, general secretary of the GJA (of which I am a member – not a proud one at this moment, if you ask me) saying on radio that the public voting will not amount to much.
“I suspect by now they [the awards committee members] are very clear in their minds who is going to be journalist of the year,” he said.
His comments raised serious issues about the sort of thinking that had gone into the planning and execution of this year’s awards scheme. It also brought back painful memories about some of the controversies that have shrouded previous awards.
But things were to get even murkier. A few hours after Mr. Blewu’s comments, the ‘Daily Graphic’ published a list of award winners which was very different from what the GJA had issued earlier in the week. Once again the public were being asked to nominate (by text) their choice for journalist of the year.
After texting for his favourite candidate, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a friend of mine got this message: “Thanks for voting Loretta Vanderpuye. Your vote is valid. Thank you, have a nice day.”
Surprised, he sent a message to ask me: “Is the GJA awards a joke?”
He wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. For sports journalist of the year, for example, those who voted for Kofi Asare Brako of Adom FM, got a text message thanking them for voting for Nathaniel Attoh of Joy FM.
Pushed for an explanation, Mr. Blewu (I really feel sorry for him) went into damage control overdrive and tried in vain to explain why for this year’s awards there are different lists of nominees – the one issued earlier in the week and the one published in the ‘Daily Graphic’ today.
According to Mr. Blewu the one in the ‘Daily Graphic’ was a mistake – from his end – and should therefore be ignored.
How on earth could a mistake like that have happened? We don’t know yet. But I am sure ineptitude had a lot do with it.
What is clear, however, is that yet another batch of GJA awards are going to be presented in just a few hours under a pall of needless controversy. There is already talk of a plot to deliberately hand the awards over to some undeserving people. And in a country where even presidential awards are doled out like cheap, expired ‘bofrote’ such speculation is hard to brush aside.
But the bigger issue for all of us journalists to deal with is the apparent incompetence of the GJA. Members of the association complain, criticize and challenge people to be up and doing. And we cannot prudently and efficiently choose the best from our ranks for recognition? That doesn’t speak well of us. If we can’t do this simple thing without setting ourselves up for ridicule, what right to we have to take the higher ground to condemn people who fail to live up to bigger responsibilities?
We should all have to bow our heads in shame and pray that the blight on this weekend’s award ceremony goes away as soon as possible. I believe a win for Matilda will help a great deal – even though in the latest twist to this madness, her name is strangely absent from the list of nominees “officially” announced by the chairman of the awards committee.
We need to find a way of cleaning our house to make sure that the GJA awards are presented to those who rightfully deserve it and without any controversy – or very little of it. After this year, the only time I want to see any controversy around the GJA awards is when I pick one, which – as I’ve said – is highly unlikely.