Laying Komla Dumor to rest: Journalist of the Year award controversy revisited

Komla Dumor

Komla Dumor

Death is inevitable but when it strikes at sunrise of life and snatches away an iconic figure, it often evokes mind-boggling questions and discussions that are largely based on passionate, rather than dispassionate, considerations.

This is the situation in which the late Ghanaian journalist of international repute, Komla Dumor, has plunged the nation, almost a month after the shocking news of his passing in London where he plied his trade as a BBC presenter hit the nation.

Reading and listening to numerous eulogies in his honour by his friends and loved ones, high and low in status, and across the globe, leave only one impression in mind – Komla Dumor achieved greatness and lived a fulfilled life!

That is why even as he embarks on a journey to join his ancestors on February 22, 2014, his memory must be honoured in sincerity and in truth.

Journalist of the Year controversy

Following the death of Komla Dumor, and in paying glowing tribute to his memory as a talented broadcaster, many people have made reference to his winning the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) Journalist of the Year Award in 2003.

In the recollection of that historical account, the discussions have largely centred on how some journalists roundly criticised the declaration of Komla Dumor as Journalist of the Year because he was not a trained journalist.

Invariably, the conclusion of such discussions was that Komla Dumor shamed his critics by excelling in his career as a broadcast journalist even at the international level and with no mean a reputable media organisation like the BBC.

Komla Dumor might have been deserving of the Journalist of the Year 2003 award, especially with the series of investigative pieces he did on the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT).

Yes, it is true that Komla Dumor subsequently excelled at the BBC and made Ghana proud on the international scene but the desire to celebrate his journalistic excellence and memory should not becloud the legitimacy of the overwhelming protests against his award.

From the records

The truth of the matter is that some journalists had criticised his award because he was not the originator of the SSNIT story. That fell short of one of the criteria for the GJA awards – originality of story.

In fact, the New Times Corporation Chapter of the GJA took a serious view of the matter in a strongly worded statement, claiming original ownership of the story.

The claim was on the strength of evidence that its reporter, Francis Assuah, was the first journalist to break the story in an investigative piece in the Evening News.

But the more fundamental issue was the concerns raised by some journalists that Komla Dumor, at the time the Journalist of the Year award was conferred on him, was not a paid member of the GJA.

And given the fact that the GJA awards are or were exclusive to members of the association, many people found it inappropriate to confer that title on him, whether he was the best journalist on planet earth or not.

Keeping to principles

I recall in 1997, Ms Rebecca Ekpe of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) Radio News emerged as the Best News Reporter (Radio) but some GJA members protested against it on grounds membership.

In the end, the talented young journalist, who had just graduated from journalism school in 1996, was denied the award.

The President of the GJA at the time, Mrs Gifty Afenyi-Dadzie, appreciative of the efforts of the young journalist, conferred a personal award on Rebecca Ekpe as the ‘Most Promising Journalist of the Year’.

Again, when the nominees for the 2012 GJA Awards held last year were released, the name of Joy FM’s Central Regional correspondent, Richard Kojo Nyarko, was on the list, but the young man’s name was missing on the awards night.

Enquiries indicated that his name was dropped subsequently because he was not a member of the GJA.

In both instances involving Rebecca Ekpe and Richard Kojo Nyarko, the reason for denying them the award was purely based on their nonmembership of the GJA.

So what was wrong for anyone to protest against the breach of this same ground rule that defiles Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s axiom that “Principles are wholly kept or wholly abandoned!”

Who really won the award?

The issue of who won the Journalist of the Year or should have won it is known to many people by now.

It emerged in the heat of the controversy over Komla Dumor’s award that Kwaku Sakyi Addo had actually been nominated for the prestigious prize but he declined the honour on the basis that he had won on two occasions previously.

The awards committee then had to make a choice between Komla Dumor and Nanabanyin Dadson, the Editor of the Graphic Showbiz, who were the two other nominees for the grand prize.

But even beyond the three personalities shortlisted, many journalists held the view that one of the award winners that year, Isabella Gyau Orhin of the Public Agenda, who was a consistent GJA award winner, deserved the title.

Other related matters

Even the issue of journalism training that some people raised in respect of the controversy over Komla Dumor’s Journalist of the Year award, was often captured out of context.

There is the need for people to appreciate the fact that inasmuch as formal journalism training is essential (and I will make a case for it any day), one does not need formal journalism/communication training to practise as a journalist in Ghana and many parts of the world.

That position is firmly set out in the 1992 Constitution, and there is nothing any institution or persons can do about it.

Article 21 (1) (a) of the 1992 Constitution, for instance, provides: “All persons shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and of the media”.

The Constitution further provides in Article 162 (3): “There shall be no impediments to the establishment of private press or media; and in particular, there shall be no law requiring any person to obtain a license as a prerequisite to the establishment or operation of a newspaper, journal or other media for mass communication or information”.

My understanding of these constitutional provisions is that nothing, including formal journalism education or the lack of it, bars anyone from practising as a journalist in Ghana.

That is why, unlike other professions, nobody is arrested for practising as a journalist without licence or journalism/communication certificate.

Unless for the sake of semantics and, perhaps, pride, some may choose to refer to those with formal journalism training as journalists and those without formal journalism training as media practitioners.

Either way, the name calling does not make any difference, in my candid opinion.

In many international media institutions like the BBC, the ability to deliver, not journalism certificate, is the basic requirement for employment. That was why Komla Dumor easily walked through the gates of the BBC when he arrived there.

Indeed, some of the finest journalists Ghana has ever produced, such as the late John Nyankuma of GBC, Kofi Badu of the Daily Graphic, Alhaji Haruna Atta of the Accra Daily Mail and Kweku Baako of the New Crusading Guide, did not have formal journalism training.

A case for journalism training

But that is not to suggest in the least that formal journalism training is not essential in plying the trade of journalism.

There are many brilliant journalists without formal training who later find it expedient to undertake academic or professional training in journalism/communication.

In 2003 when Komla Dumor won the GJA Journalist of the Year award, Professor Audrey Gadzekpo of the School of Communication Studies of the University of Ghana was the chairperson of the awards committee.

I am not sure Professor Gadzekpo, who holds a PhD in the field of communication studies, practised as a journalist for many years and taught many communication students (including myself) at the university, conferred the award on Komla Dumor to suggest that formal journalism/communication training is not essential for journalism practice.

What I am sure about is that the Gadzekpo Committee took that decision to acknowledge and celebrate the sterling qualities of Komla Dumor as a broadcast journalist, period!

So although Komla Dumor was a brilliant journalist and might have been deserving of the Journalist of the Year crown, he was not qualified to hold that title per the rules of the game.

In mourning his painful death, we must, for the sake of posterity, uphold the truth in toto, and strip the discussion of emotional sentiments and put this matter to rest as the ‘Boss Player’ himself is laid to rest.

Source: Daily Graphic

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