CNN.com Editor’s note: The staff at CNN.com has been intrigued by the journalism of Vice, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York. Motherboard.tv is Vice’s site devoted to the overlap between culture and technology. The reports, which are being produced solely by Vice, reflect a very transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique approach is worthy of sharing with our CNN.com readers.
On 5th April, 2010, an article hit the internet and got the attention of most Ghanaians. The link to Motherboard.tv website was the first that made the rounds and was soundly trashed by most Ghanaians who saw the untruths in the supposed research article. But things soon came to a head when the article showed up on CNN.com on 6th April, 2010 15.30GMT. Before long the story had been twittered and retweeted, the reports read over and again.
At this point most of us were fuming and crying blue murder and uttering expletives behind close doors at the injustice of it all. Didn’t CNN.com see the comments posted by Ghanaians showing their disgust at the inaccuracies and outright lies they found in the article at the time they decided to give it global prominence by featuring it?
Well, the Editor’s note above the motherboard.tv article (Inside the criminal world of Ghana’s e-mail scam gangs) sheds some light on how this situation has come to be and why most people are questioning the editorial policy and agenda of CNN.com. Did it cross the editor’s mind that use of figures like 99% to 1% point to [fallacy of] generalization which is a sign of questionable research methodology? or no research at all? Did he care to google to see our presidential palace?
How an editor would make a decision to give an article about the youth of Ghana and Ghanaian society such prominence just because ”the staff at CNN.com has been intrigued by the journalism of Vice…” also intrigues me; beats me that thoroughness and honesty was put aside in this case in favour of curiosity and fascination. Is it a coincidence that another definition of intrigue is: make secret plans to do something illicit or detrimental to someone? Does the proximity between the dates of publishing on the respective sites indicate a planned thing? For the conspiracy theorists and linguistics among us, let us ponder this together.
By featuring this article on CNN.com the editor has endorsed Thomas Morton (aka Baby Balls) and his media company and lent them CNN’s credibility if not in all past and future articles, at least in this particular one. To wit, CNN.com is telling us that ‘we would have come to same conclusion if we undertook a research on Sakawa in Ghana’. But in the same breathe the editor manages to insert a caveat (The reports, which are being solely produced by Vice…) distancing CNN.com from any future questioning of the accuracy of the content of Vice’s Motherboard.tv report. Same device is employed again in the note (We believe this unique approach is worthy of sharing with our CNN.com readers) where the Editor endorses the methodology but not the article explicitly. Now isn’t that interesting? One has to leave a wriggle room when things come to a head. Nice job!
When African culture and social structures are viewed and reported through the lens of a young man (Thomas Morton) whose expertise some years back was reporting on sex, drugs and rock music and not done with honest research but with misrepresentations, you bet some of us will show our displeasure.
The Journalist, Thomas Morton
I did a little research about Thomas Morton but didn’t get much by way of his academic background but got interesting facts like his sobriquet, Baby Balls; because he happens to be a vertically challenged man who lives on the edge and challenges the status quo of investigative journalism. He did a report on pollution of the sea and his video report was noted to be laden with so many expletives that his point couldn’t be carried across to the intended student audience. I’ll only say that he’s an interesting fellow with a background in investigating sex, drugs and rock music. Please check for yourself if you care.
Thomas has used unrelated imagery to make his point.
It is interesting to see Thomas dancing with a fetish priest in a possible sakawa ritual? Is that the evidence he has as proof of an underground economy rife with mysticism and sacrifices and blood rituals? I can offer without being there that what he partook of is a mini-durbar or some other traditional occasion. I can assure him that the priests who work in this cyber-juju industry have a cruel air to them and don’t dance for public viewing and no, they don’t dance with white men because they’re undertaking some research.
It is sad that Thomas will misrepresent a traditional cultural event as a blood ritual for sakawa purposes. This is a betrayal of the trust of the elders who gave him the opportunity to experience first hand the rich cultural practices and heritage in Ghana. You can’t expect better from someone who wanted to get his video out anyhow, with cooked up evidence or not.
I can see an internet cafe from a thousand miles and that picture of a man clicking away at a pc is not one of an internet cafe; it is someone’s office. Internet cafes are crammed places whether in Ghana or in the States. What has a birds-eye view of a sprawling slum, refuse dump and a trotro station somewhere in Accra got to do with anything, if not to create in the minds of his audience a bleak economic situation that in his assertion can and is leading Ghanaian youth to take up Sakawa full-time.
It is very easy for Thomas to attribute his perceived pervasive sakawa practice among Ghanaian youth to corruption among the elite without providing any evidence. As Graham Knight noted,”distortions, exaggerations and untruths come easy when reporting Africa because they build upon a set of common themes [entrenched in western media] in which certain stereotypes are taken for granted”.
On my behalf and on behalf of other bloggers and Ghanaian youth who feel globally humiliated because of CNN.com editor’s gross neglect of journalistic ethics of due diligence and fair and objective reporting, I request that
1. Mr. Thomas Morton’s report be taken off CNN.com if blogposts condemning his report will not be given same prominence or,
2. Blogposts from Ghana or by Ghanaians condemning Mr. Thomas Morton’s report be allowed to run alongside it and,
3. CNN.com (CNN BackStory team) sponsors a project with the soon to be registered Ghanablogging community to undertake a thorough research into the sakawa phenomenon.
In conclusion I will say that there are more aspiring footballers in Ghana than there will ever be sakawa-money hungry boys because our professional footballers plying their trade in Europe are better role models and have more money. Oh Mr. Morton wouldn’t know that because he is not a fan of football, my bad, soccer!
Preamble to SPJ Code of Ethics: Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behaviour and adopt this code to declare to Society’s principles and standards of practice.