Accra, Ghana (PANA) - The publication of leaked US diplomatic cables by whistle blowing site Wikileaks, with damning comments of various politicians, and a tragedy on the Volta Lake occupied the attention of the Ghana media this week.
Described by some media houses as “wicked leaks”, the cables threw up very interesting reactions depending on where one is on the political landscape.
The cables assessed the performance of governments in the fight against drugs, the ability of ministers, candidates of political parties, outcome of elections, corruption, health and character of politicians, the economy, the media, among others.
In some cases, there was total silence from those quoted, admission that the leaks are true or false by others while some of the personalities quoted as having revealed the information said they could not remember.
The independent media was also divided and chose angles that they felt were favourable to them, embellishing the developments with their own comments.
One of the most hotly contested leaks was that of pollster and Editor of the independent Dispatch newspaper Ben Ephson, telling US officials that he was offered US$20,000 by Gabby Otchere-Darko, a member of the now opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), to skew the result of a poll in favour of their candidate in 2008. The NPP lost the election.
“NPP offered me US$20,000 to influence my poll - Ben Ephson,” was the headline of the story on the website of the Accra-based radio station, Joy.
The story said Ephson had admitted to Wikileaks report that the NPP offered him the money to skew the result of the poll to favour the party.
He said Otchere-Darko, who is also Executive Director of a pro-NPP think-tank, the Danquah Institute, proposed the said amount to influence his work but he turned it down.
But Otchere-Darko has vehemently denied the allegation, stating “I have never approached Ben to conduct an opinion poll in favour of the NPP…it never happened.”
Unyielding Ben Ephson maintained: ‘'If this thing never happened, what was I going to gain in telling the US diplomats that this is what transpired between me and Gabby?...what benefit do I get?”
The office of former President Jerry Rawlings has also denied leaked cables on him with his spokesperson, Kofi Adam, dismissing them as ''illogical”.
The pro-opposition Daily Guide has the headline, “JJ for court over Wikileaks” after the media fed fat on a specific cable on him titled, “A close look at Ghana’s President Rawlings.” This was based on a report of the wife of a former Dutch Ambassador Hein Princen, after the couple spent a weekend with Rawlings and his family on a presidential yacht in 1997.
The Daily Guide wrote: “Ex-President Jerry John Rawlings has had enough….The ex-president considers the Wikileaks reports on him as attempts at smearing his reputation of some 19 years standing at the helm of the country’s affairs. He has accordingly asked his lawyers to consider a court action against those who spread the contents of the leaks which denigrate him.”
As new leaked cables were released everyday, the state-owned Daily Graphic quoted the executive director of the Institute of Democratic Governance, Dr Emmanuel Akwetey, as cautioning Ghanaians against being reckless in their conversations with foreign diplomats.
He said although talking to diplomats was a standard practice in international diplomacy, it was very important for people to be careful of what they told diplomats since they could be giving out vital information.
Dr. Akwetey said even though some of the pieces of information given out might not be seen to be serious, such information could have damaging effects on the country.
He said the country was so divided that instead of Ghanaians talking to one another more often, they preferred to talk to foreigners.
A political scientist, Vladimir Antwi-Danso, was also quoted as saying the situation was putting Ghana at risk.
Antwi-Danso, a Senior Research Fellow at the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD) of the University of Ghana, said in as much as WikiLeaks was trying to make governance more transparent, the leaked classified diplomatic situation was making the security system of many countries, including Ghana, porous.
On the boat disaster, many newspapers also featured the story of the unspecified number of passengers who perished in an accident on the Volta Lake on Tuesday night, bringing to the fore again safety of river transport.
The state-owned Graphic’s first story had the headline “Worst boat disaster on Volta Lake: 35 lives lost, missing” with the story saying 35 five bodies of passengers had been recovered from the Volta Lake in what appears to be the worst disaster on the Volta Lake, when the boat on which they were travelling from Tapa Abotoase to Kagbanya in the Volta Region capsized halfway into the journey on Tuesday.
It said the death toll was likely to rise as 35 others were still missing in the accident that occurred when the boat was said to have run into a stump.
But the figures were drastically revised downward as the days went by, with the Graphic’s headline on Friday saying “Conflicting death toll figures on boat accident”.
It said there were conflicting reports on the number of deaths from the disaster, which occurred last Tuesday when a boat carrying more than 70 passengers capsized halfway through its journey.
“While initial reports suggested that 35 bodies had been recovered from the Volta Lake, reports from a point called Alonso Akura on the Sene River in the Sene District, where the accident was believed to have occurred, indicated that 18 people drowned.
The Ghana News Agency said in a story with the headline “Volta Lake boat disaster: poor safety standards to blame”. The story said logistical constraints and compromise of safety measures were largely responsible for the accident.
“Fibre glass boats soon,” was the headline of the state-owned Ghanaian Times, which said the government was working towards procuring fibre glass boats for distribution to communities along the coast to help prevent boat disasters.
It said to this end, a team of experts including some boat owners were expected to travel to India next week to assess the quality and suitability of the boats.
-0- PANA MA/SEG 10Sept2011