I believe two words have been trending in the minds of many Ghanaians for the past two months, “corruption” and “dumsor dumsor”. Barely a week passes without the publication of a scandalous story that involves known public officials and the current energy crisis has made the word “dumsor dumsor” a chewing gum in the mouths of many.
However, the two words have unfortunately been surpassed by the word “soli,” by the kind courtesy of the British High Commissioner to Ghana and the “twin” civil society groups, IMANI and Occupy Ghana. Just like many other English words which have their etymology from a Greek or Latin word, the word “soli” seems to have been coined from the English word solidarity. According to the Longman dictionary, solidarity means “loyal agreement of interests, aims or principles among a group.”
Soli in journalism practice, an amount of money paid to a journalist after he/she covers an event for publication for their respective media organisations. It is difficult to know when the soli practice started but a retired photographer who worked for one of the biggest newspapers in the country said that he has been a beneficiary of the soli in his entire 40 year career as a photo journalist.
Let’s forget about the whole research requirement of a margin of error and for the purposes of this article assume that the soli practice began 40 years ago although further enquiries I have made suggest it is likely to have been more than that.
As a practicing journalist, I have been a beneficiary of this soli on countless occasions. After the program is over, the event organizers hand over an envelope containing money to you mostly with a charming smile. Once you are on their list as an invited journalist, they “sort you” out as soon as they can but they are mostly lukewarm towards uninvited journalists who are usually called “paparazzis”.
The arguments being made by opponents of this practice is that the practice equates to corruption or is likely to breed corruption since the monies paid are expected to tilt the objectivity of the journalists in his or her reportage in favor of the “pay-master”. The British High Commissioner to Ghana John Benjamin in his recent remarks on this matter is quoted as saying “If those journalists who pride themselves on reporting corruption in others, then ask for unofficial payment for themselves, isn’t that a touch hypocritical?” I have been reporting for almost two years and I have barely seen any journalist accredited to cover an event demanding the payment of any amount. What I can confirm is that “paparazzis” are always on the neck of event organizers for money.
Most if not all paparazzis lie about their affiliation to a media organisation. They are a strong cartel of unqualified persons who parade themselves as journalists just to make a living. How on earth can soli be equated to corruption? In my opinion corruption is the abuse of a position of trust to gain an unfair advantage. How does a “harmless” envelope end up being corruption?
And to the lawyers who claim soli is an act of corruption how do they juxtapose the soli practice to the real legal meaning of corruption. Can I be taken to court for taking soli on the charge of corruption? Granted that the practice is corrupt how does the payment implicate all actors involved as corrupt. Every event organiser knows reporters are not the final decision makers in story selection and publication. So how does soli influence story selection, story placement and publication?
IMANI and OccupyGhana have received extensive media coverage on almost every event they have organised. They have never paid soli, at least according to them, but their events are well publicised because of good content. This goes to add that they are heavily supported by the media so what did they seek to achieve by circulating a release banning soli which for me, cast a slur on the image of journalists who cover their programmes.
Yes I am aware of the PR gimmick they attached to their soli press release when they commended journalists and media organisations who continue to help them in their activities so was it necessary to create a media frenzy on soli, just to strengthen their anti-corruption campaigns?
An argument regularly made is that media owners have the responsibility to pay journalists and not event organizers. Yes that is very true and valid but does a tip from an event organiser necessarily devalue the responsibilities of an employer? I know for a fact that civil societies are funded by foreign donor foundations in their activities.
To ensure trust and evidence that such funds are used for the planned purpose, some if not all civil societies, use media publications as part of their proof to these foundations that the funds were actually used for the intended purpose. That is why most of them have framed media articles and recorded tapes of their programmes at their offices. I have been harassed and embarrassed by some leaders of these civil societies just because I failed to give them evidence of their events. That is an example of how our work attracts funding for their activities.
So what is the big deal if they handover an envelope to me after I cover their event. It is not that I demand it. If it is given to me I will take it but I will not demand for it. How does that make me corrupt or immoral? There is a widespread practice in the western countries where tips are given to waiters after a service? Is it immoral for the waiter to receive the tip because he is paid by his employer? If the waiter accepts the offer does that make the waiter corrupt or immoral? I will take the soli any day, any time because it is not immoral and it does not and will not influence my objectivity.
Franklin Badu Jnr