Nana Aba Anamoah: In defense of the truth
What started as a post on a social media platform by Anamoah ended with her suspension from work. The self-described soccer fanatic shared a photo of herself, spotting a background suggesting she was at the September 26 Manchester United – Sunderland game at Old Trafford, England. She wasn’t.
she failed at her core duty to represent and/or defend the most important ideal of her metier
The image, which appeared doctored, drew the ire of her employer, TV3. And despite Anamoah’s public apology TV3 won’t budge. Friends and fans of Anamoah, even non-fans, have been vociferous in their criticism of TV3’s decision to take the woman off the screen, describing the move as misplaced, unwarranted, overreacting and unlawful. But is the matter as simple as Anamoah’s sympathizers are portraying it to be? Or, are they enablers who themselves have been treading dangerously in cyberspace?
To begin with, the person under scrutiny isn’t just anyone. Anamoah is an experienced journalist and a popular face on TV, who uses Twitter, the second largest social networking platform in the world, as her social networking space of choice. She is huge on that platform, with close to 170,000 followers [nearly three times the number of followers her entire network attracts on that same platform] as at 8 October.
Still, the tweeting of a doctored image by Anamoah doesn’t stun one as much as her list of faux pas prior to and following what she says was meant to be a prank. She did not seek permission from the owner of the original photo she digitally manipulated herself into, even if doing so would have been no guarantee for averting the situation that ensued. After all, better, more professionally tweaked photos still get detected by the sharp eyes of graphic design experts.
Even so, the time it took for her to come out with an explanation after the original owner of the photo expressed his disapproval was seemingly long, especially for an avowed tweep. The usually outspoken newscaster virtually fell off the face of the earth as the photo whipped up a storm on social media and the blogosphere for days. With references to her name often evoking her employer’s name, it is fair to understand that the issue caused them some embarrassment.
What many – maybe Anamoah herself included – failed to consider is that a person of her recognition is a brand that is closely tied to her network and field. For anyone in her position, the line between personal and professional couldn’t be blurrier. Journalists are expected to tell factual stories, and photoshopping an image to position herself at a place she never stepped foot isn’t exactly what is expected of a respected journalist. But she did post that doctored picture to tell a story, which in her field of work amounts to a false report. A lie.
Thus, to say her behavior was personal and should have no connection with her work is to imply that a journalist can stand on a community, national or world stage and “lie” without their actions having any impact whatsoever on their professional brand for as long as they did not do so in their company’s name. But that can’t be true, or can it?
So, how come a journalist of Anamoah’s experience got this so wrong? Why are fellow journalists crying foul about her suspension? Why has her employer’s decision stunned a section of the Ghanaian public so much? Without a shadow of doubt, Anamoah’s series of faux pas pale in comparison to the unethical behaviors many Ghanaians have seen and known across the country’s media and political landscapes. What sets her case apart is not only because of the platform she chose, the size of her audience or the event she picked for her supposed prank. It is first and foremost because she failed at her core duty to represent and/or defend the most important ideal of her metier. Fact.
Cyberspace is public space, no matter how private. Our digital footprints allow people who have access to them make critical decisions about us. Quietly, many have been denied employments, business contracts, job promotions and more – thanks to their easy-to-collect digital footprints, no matter how misrepresenting they may be. Media employers today are on the look out for journalists with a respectable and untainted social media presence. While the practice of tracing people’s private online engagements for official deliberations isn’t that popular in Ghana, it is increasingly becoming the standard in many places around the world. But it is only a matter of time.
Having called a spade a spade, Anamoah has apologized multiple times – to the person whose photo she used, to her fans and to anyone she might have offended. In her own words: “I have learned my lesson. Some jokes are really expensive indeed.” And despite the negative publicity the incident may have brought Anamoah and TV3, it comes with some benefits.
Undeniably, this incident presents an opportunity for dialogue on journalism ethics in a digital age. It questions the place of the law in the digital media space. It scrutinizes our definition of the boundary lines. It warns of the slippery slope as journalists seek to take advantage of the enticing self-branding opportunities offered by social media while defending the two most important ideals of their industry: truth and facts.
TV3’s decision to suspend Anamoah may be reasonable, but unless one is after her job or has something personal against her, we would all root for her reinstatement, agreeing that this photogate does not override all that she may have accomplished in the field.