British High Commissioner's speech at the inauguration of the Komla Dumor Centre for Broadcast Journalism at the African University College of Communications
Honourable Minister for Education, Members of the media, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Traditional Leaders, distinguished ladies and gentlemen
We often hear the phrase “the star of Africa” being applied to so many different people or places. But I think you will agree that no individual or place merits that accolade more so than Komla Dumor.
For me, a British national who at that time did not know Ghana, Komla Dumor was not necessarily a household name during his early years of journalism. But I’ve heard the stories of how Komla spent many hours touring Accra on the back of motorcycles, reporting live for Joy FM and gaining vital front line experience.
Radio is of course still the single most important medium in Ghana and provided Komla with a platform to project his talent. Soon enough, Komla became known to Africa, the UK and the world after he joined the BBC in 2007. I know that Komla was hugely popular with both radio and television audiences across the UK and Africa, especially here in Ghana. I remember him so vividly, his reporting from Mandela’s funeral in South Africa a master class for any aspiring journalist on how to do the job.
Through his tenacious journalism and compelling storytelling, Komla worked tirelessly to bring a more nuanced African narrative to the world. Komla transformed the coverage of Africa and brought a depth of understanding and courage to his work. His infectious charm and charisma ensured his unique style was both friendly and professional at all times. At the time of his passing Komla was by far the preeminent African presenter on the BBC, easily recognised by a world audience. His death was an enormous loss to Ghana, to Africa, to the UK and the world. We all still mourn him deeply.
But Komla left a legacy for upcoming young journalists to aspire to. Komla’s professional values are the foundation of this legacy. He often referenced ‘patience and perseverance’ as the most important professional values. He enjoyed speaking with people, from the rich to the poor, the old to the young; and everyone in between, Komla offered the same interest and respect to all he met. His naturally fair, firm and friendly approach meant that he was the perfect man to cover sensitive news stories. The Komla Dumor Centre for Broadcast Journalism will be the catalyst for this legacy. It will stand for and reflect those same professional values that Komla stood for. It will instil this culture and approach to journalism, providing young journalists with the opportunity to drive their talent and promote the benefits of a free press. There is no greater tribute.
Komla understood viscerally that a free press plays a key role in sustaining and monitoring a healthy democracy, as well as in contributing to greater accountability, good government, and economic development. According to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index, only 14 percent of the world’s citizens live in countries that enjoy a completely free press. In the rest of the world, governments as well as non-state actors at least to some extent control the viewpoints that reach citizens and, worse still, sometimes brutally repress alternative independent voices who aim to promote accountability, good governance, and economic development.
The recent Anas Aremeyaw Anas documentary, ‘Ghana: In the Eyes of God’, is an example of how a free press can contribute to greater accountability. Anas and many more like him should be encouraged to pursue each story they hear about; chase each strand of information they receive; and investigate those thoroughly to provide a detailed account for the wider public audience. An open, democratic society needs more Anas-style journalists, demonstrating courage and resilience to unearth the truth and deliver an accurate story so that those paid from the public purse can be held to account.
In recent times, Ghana has produced two leading journalists in Komla and Anas - both of whom are very different in style - but equally as effective. Whilst Anas is fast becoming the icon for investigative reporting in Africa, we should not forget that Komla himself was the lead crusader into the corruption scandal at the Social Security and National Insurance Trust in the early 2000s. I spoke to Anas earlier this week: he was at pains to point out what a great personal friend Komla had been for him, too, often working hand in hand in their complementary roles as broadcast and undercover journalists.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ghana has been ranked 22nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, rising 5 places from last year. That is a terrific achievement for which Ghana deserves our respect and congratulations.
But, conversely, that statistic also belies some of the real issues that Ghanaian journalists are still faced with, so the headline figure shouldn’t make anyone complacent or think that there isn’t potential to improve still further.
We recognise that many journalists work under tough conditions and are paid poorly in a highly competitive and crowded media market which tends to push salaries down. That can in turn inadvertently lead them to neglect their own professional values and affect their ability to remain neutral.
Good journalism based on the professional values that Komla embodied, are, however, crucial for the future. The Komla Dumor Centre for Broadcast Journalism will help to deepen Komla’s professional values within Ghanaian media and reflect what he stood for, thus providing a stable and dynamic media environment for a new generation of journalists with a new sense of ethics and standards.
We hope the Foundation can, for example, help to make ‘soli’ a thing of the past. Journalists should accept that a story is either intrinsically newsworthy or it isn’t: a story doesn’t become newsworthy, when it otherwise wouldn’t be, just because someone has paid for it. That isn’t journalism, it’s advertising, an honourable enough profession in itself of course, but a different one. So, we at the British High Commission will continue with our policy of naming and shaming those journalists who brazenly ask us for ‘soli’ money to cover our events, and then ban them from ever covering them again. But acting alone, we know we will have little effect, so we hope others will join us.
There are other disturbing traits in the media here too which strike a neutral outside observer and real friend of Ghana like myself as troubling.
Why, for example, are uncritical media platforms provided to just a few religious figures, so-called and self-appointed ‘men of God’, to exploit their congregations for money?
And why should readers be exposed to graphic images of recently dead bodies, published without care for their privacy or the grief of their families, as was the case following the fire and flood tragedy here in Accra earlier this year? Komla, I am sure, would not have recognised those phenomena as acceptable journalism.
Komla once said that “there’s so much more to tell about Africa than the usual stories about war, famine and disease”. He was right and Ghana with its wealth of history is an example of that. I suspect that there was similarly so much more to tell about Komla that, over time, his family and this centre will share with us all. I expect my good friend and Komla’s former BBC World News presenter colleague, Nik Gowing, will similarly have many anecdotes of Komla’s time at the BBC to share with us when he speaks shortly.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Komla Dumor was simply a great Ghanaian. An exceptional broadcaster who in his short life made an extraordinary impact - in Ghana, in Africa, in the UK and around the world. Komla was a leading light of African journalism – committed to telling the story of Africa as it really is. Africa’s vibrant energy and intrigue shone through every story that he told. Komla was that ‘star of Africa’ that we so often talk about in general terms, and I am sure we will be referencing Komla and his work for many, many years to come.
I’m very grateful for this opportunity publicly to honour Komla in this way here today. I feel highly privileged to have been able to do so. Thank you.