Newspapers are intended to deliver information, educate the public and beyond that – bring community together.
This is what former publisher, editor and current Chair of the Board of the Toronto Star Mr. John Honderich shared with local journalists on his visit to Ghana as part of a Journalists for Human Rights initiative. During Mr. Honderich’s ten day visit, he delivered a presentation to over 20 of Ghana’s leading publishers, editors and reporters at the Press Centre of the Ghana Journalists Association.
The presentation focused on the role of the media in community development. Honderich described much of the media scene within Canada and the role of the Toronto Star, one of Canada’s largest national newspapers, in communicating news and information within the most diverse city in North America and around the world. Toronto, with a population of 2.48 million people, is home to over 20 per cent of Canadian immigrants and has up to half of its population, 1,237,720 people, being born outside of Canada.
In Mr. Honderich’s presentation, he acknowledged The Toronto Star’s commitment to covering issues of public interest for such a large diversity of people. He recognized the challenges of cultural values and belief altering one’s perspectives on a particular subject or issue, but says it is essential to reflect these issues in mainstream media.
Mr. Honderich called this interaction, ‘the dialogue on diversity‘.
Topics have been featured in the Toronto Star that have created heated discussion, not only within Toronto’s multicultural environment but nation wide. Some of the issues discussed within the presentation included the debate on whether Muslim’s within the RCMP should be allowed to wear their traditional turbans while on the job to whether the singing of Christmas Carols in public schools should be banned.
To some, these issues seemed unimportant but were seen as essential in the eyes of Mr. Honderich in regards to the dialogue on diversity.
Although these topics were not specific to Ghana, the discussion of dialogue on diversity is taking place within Africa and here, local media has its own cultural conversations to report.
A recent example is Ghanaian President John Atta Mills’ refusal to legalize homosexuality in exchange for the continued support of foreign aid from British Prime Minister David Cameron – a leading news story which has been causing heated reaction and debate nationally and internationally.
Although many Africans strongly oppose homosexuality and believe it is a foreign concept brought in by Westerners, a minority of the population support gay rights or claim to be gay themselves.
This includes gay rights activist who goes under the alias of Prince.
Prince met with Mr. Honderich during his visit to Ghana and described the circumstances under which homosexuals live in the country as a ‘difficult thing’. In a column written by Mr. Honderich inspired by his visit with Prince, he writes “[Prince] no longer feels safe, adding police harassment has spiked dramatically.”
In regards to Ghana’s dialogue on diversity, Chair of the Ghana Journalists Association Ado Yeboah-Afari referred to the press reaction to the homosexuality debate as ‘hysterical’.
When asked by participants to share his own opinion, Mr. Honderich explained that homosexuality is legal in Canada and described the process it took to get there – highlighting that many people in Canada were also opposed to the notion. Nonetheless, it is the media’s job and responsibility to cover the issue unbiasedly from both sides.
In addition to the presentation held at the GJA Press Centre, Mr. Honderich was kept busy with multiple media engagements. He paid visit to two of Ghana’s leading radio stations, Joy FM and Citi FM and spent time speaking with young professionals of the Journalists for Human Rights Student Chapter at the African University College of Communication.
He also facilitated a panel discussion at the residents of the Canadian High Commissioners and met with over 70 students from Communication Studies of the Islamic University College, Ghana and worked alongside management at Ghana’s leading independent newspaper, The Daily Guide.