Hacks versus flacks: Ghana edition

“You want me to do what? You want a copy of all my questions?”

It’s the third time today I have spoken with Gabriel Nii Otu Ankrah, the public relations officer at the Tamale Teaching Hospital.

I started a story two weeks ago about labour and delivery practices in Ghana and I have yet to interview anyone.

Getting information in Ghana is challenging. In addition to conventional institutional bureaucracy, there are many barriers between journalists and the truth.

Letters of introduction must be printed on official stationary. Written requests for access to information must be filed with the appropriate office. The information gatekeepers are all the more skeptical because I’m a woman.

Once the appropriate requests are filed, the waiting begins. My letters to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ghana Prison Service and the hospital have gone unanswered.

I don’t like to be lead around like a pacified lamb, so three weeks ago I snuck into the hospital in search of stories. I thought I was inconspicuous; a white girl with a Zoom voice recorder.

I made it as far as hospital’s labour and delivery department before I was turned back.

The doctor ushered me into the green-hued ward, where the lackadaisical fan spun overhead. The midwives sat at the nursing station, gossiping and snacking on black berries.  When I pulled out my recorder to capture the din, they were suddenly not so friendly.

I am sent to the PR office, with my tail between my legs.

Two weeks later, I am no closer to getting my story and the hospital appears to have lost my letter.

Ankrah and I have been calling back and forth all morning.

“What name is on the letter?,” Ankrah asks.

“Mine. My name. Gwyneth Dunsford. G-W-Y-N-E-T-H D-U-N-S-F-O-R-D,” I reply, tersely.

“Ok ok. What organization?”

“Diamond FM,” I say, in frustration.

Then Ankrah asks the dynamite question.

“Can I please have a list of your questions?”

So far, I have obediently bowed to Ankrah’s requirements, but I draw the line here. I won’t do interviews under the watchful eye of the PR representative, when the subjects spout prepared answers.

Stirring up my calmest tone, I reply, “Thanks, Nii, but I think I will take another direction with this story”.

I hang up, take a deep breath and leave the office. I’m tired of waiting.

I will get the story, with or without Ankrah’s cooperation.

This entry was posted in Blog, Ghana, IYIP Rights Media Internships, Media Internships on by .

About Gwyneth Dunsford

Gwyneth’s passion for journalism and radio grew from a year-long exchange she took to Oslo, Norway where she not only produced but also hosted an English-language radio program. In 2009 she studied media and communications in Washington D.C. through the prestigious Washington Center and during that time, she took a journalism ethics class at the Associated Press, sparking her interest in human rights journalism. Gwyneth has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a Comparative Literature and French degree from the University of Alberta. Gwyneth has freelanced for a variety of media outlets including Global Maritimes, News 95.7, The Chronicle Herald and Xtra! Canada. She now joins the Journalists for Human Rights team at Diamond FM Radio in Tamale, Ghana as a Rights Media Radio Intern.

2 thoughts on “Hacks versus flacks: Ghana edition

  1. Gabriel Nii Otu Ankrah

    My attention was drawn to a publication on your site on March 1 2012,by Miss Gwyneths Dunsford titled “HACKS VERSUS FLACKS: GHANA EDITION.
    Yes i had encountered Miss Dunsford when she once entered my office and introduced herself together with another female colleague of hers. Apparently, they had used the” back door” to access information to do a story from the hospital’s labour ward and had been turned down by the medical staff on duty who were stunned by the flashing of a recorder and a microphone to their faces, demanding answers to questions.
    First and foremost, we owe it a duty to protect the privacy of our patients in our facility.Allowing any unidentified non-staff or close relation to our patients is NOT done. It is a global practice that you are introduced by any sponsoring institution who would like to access another facility for whatever purposes – this is called protocol.
    It is unfortunate Miss Dunsford was not orientated on protocols and the cultural milieu thereby making the reality seem ugly to her. She needed clearance to access freely any information she wanted from the hospital authorities. what happened to her complements she showered on me for my cooperation? i made every thing possible for Miss Dunsford until she impulsively said she had lost interest in doing the story at the hospital.It is a hospital and not everyone appreciates media practice in such a setting but i did my best to get her her stories anyway. Did Miss Dunsford forget to tell the whole world how she was physically thrown out of another institution in the line of duty? i wouldnt go to that extent but request that due process is followed so the journalist gets an accurate, balanced and fair story or reportage.
    As a trained Journalist and a certificate-holding executive member of jhr back at school, the last thing i will do is to hamper my colleague Journalist’s work.
    Miss Dunsford’s experience howbeit frustrating, is but another hurdle any journalist must clear in the event where the journalist is not able to get his/her story spot-on, even in investigative journalism.
    I will always be available and open my doors to assist any journalist who would like to access any form of information from the hospital.

  2. Gwyneth Dunsford Post author

    Thank you for the comment, Nii.

    The article is meant to highlight the difficulty in getting information in Ghana and is not meant as a personal attack. If you interpreted it as so, I apologize.

    Though I wrote I “snuck into” the maternity ward, that is misleading. I assure you, I was sent on a wild goose chase around the hospital to find the PR office. I walked by the maternity ward and the doctor invited me in to speak with the nurses. When the nurses baulked, I came to find you.

    The post is titled “Hacks and flacks” to reflect the historical antagonism between PR professionals and journalists. We have two different goals — yours to promote and protect the hospital and mine to tell authentic human rights stories. It’s only natural that we could enter into conflict over these goals.

    Producing timely stories is crucial for journalists. I taught my student a useful lesson with this maternity story: when you are presented with bureaucratic obstacles, find creative solutions. In our case, we went to the Cienfuegos Suglo Specialist Hospital where we had unencumbered access to nurses and patients. Instead of waiting for the hospital to process paperwork and approve the story, I went and got the story elsewhere. Surely, you cannot blame me for that?

    In terms of “cultural milieu and protocol”, if a PR professional in North American asked me for a list of questions, I would have reacted in the same way.

    I hope we have both learned from this experience and look forward to a continued relationship between The Tamale Teaching Hospital and JHR.

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