By: Dominic Yooku deGraft Aidoo (UK)
“If you decide to clean a society, then you should show character for people to look at you and say you are clean,” (Kwadwo Mpiani – Ghana’s former Chief of Staff)
Some friends have asked me to comment on the “WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMAN” documentary which was aired at the forecourt of Kencity Media in Accra on the 27th June 2018 by Mr Kennedy Agyapong, Member of Parliament for Assin Central in Ghana. Mr Agyapong sought to prove his allegations that the celebrated ace undercover journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, is an extortionist, blackmailer and bribe taker.
I have been careful not to comment on the substantive issues arising from both documentaries (namely “Number 12” and “Who Watches the Watchman”), for a reason I will explain later in this article. I have also been asked to express my views on undercover journalism. The more I tried avoiding this question, the more I got bombarded with it on this topic. I am reluctant, yet dutybound and obliged to answer the plethora of questions on the same subject.
As mentioned in my article a fortnight ago, the use of subterfuge, misrepresentation and secret recording devices for undercover investigation is allowed in journalism on issues of public interest.
I have my misgivings about this intrusive method of investigation. I remember so vividly the autumn of 2003. It was 3rd February 2003 to be precise; the frosty winter spell was gradually tapering off. I recall leaving the library early that Monday evening to join my two older sisters at home to watch the much-anticipated, talked about and awaited ITV1 Tonight Special: “Living with Michael Jackson”. It was a “not-to-miss” television documentary about Michael Jackson, and my sisters and I decided that, for once, studies can take the back burner, as other interests took priority. My mother was on the phone that evening impatiently awaiting updates and commentary on the documentary. It was, indeed, a memorable night, alas we were hopeful that our “Heal the World” star would address the many sexual abuse scandals that had rocked his career, and put the allegations to rest once and for all. Throughout the documentary, I sat at the edge of my seat hopeful of a “light bulb” moment. It was not my night. I finished watching the documentary stunned and speechless with a question I barely mustered the courage to whisper to myself, let alone, to my siblings. “Why would anyone do such a thing to himself.” Unfortunately for Mr Jackson, the film was seen by more than fifteen million Britons. The damage done to his reputation was irredeemable.
It was a few days later that I learnt, much to my relief, that Michael Jackson had made a complaint to the Independent Television Commission of the United Kingdom, as well as the Broadcasting Standards Commission. Mr Jackson had complained that he had been unfairly treated in the documentary. I was not at all surprised, neither were my sisters. Something did not add up in the documentary. This was not a secret recording about Michael Jackson. This was a documentary Michael Jackson had agreed to with his friend, Martin Bashir. Why would a ‘recluse’ like Michael Jackson agree to open-up his life in such an unprecedented manner?
If you recall, in 1993, Michael Jackson made a costly out-of-court settlement over sexual abuse allegations, something he strenuously denied till he died in 2009. Mr Jackson’s public rating dipped because of the bad publicity. To some, the out-of-court settlement was an admission of guilt. This tag haunted him for years till he got introduced to Mr Bashir, a man credited with turning around the fortunes of the Princess of Wales. Mr Bashir interviewed Princess Diana, which was aired on the BBC Panorama programme in England on the 20th November 1995. The Princess of Wales won huge public sympathy from the British public, following her revelations into her divorce from Prince Charles and the Royal Family.
Mr Jackson yearned for similar public sympathy. He thought the press had not treated him fairly, portraying him as a child molester, something he so strongly detested and denied. The “Living with Michael Jackson” documentary was recorded over a nine-month period. Unfortunately for Mr Jackson, after airing the documentary, he came under intense public scrutiny, with charities such as Barnardo’s and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) criticising him. Mr Jackson admitted in the film that he still allowed children to sleep at his home, sometimes in his bed. An admission he was later to regret. He felt betrayed by Mr Bashir, someone who had persuaded him that he would depict an honest and fair portrayal of his life. In Michael Jackson’s complaint, he claimed that voiceovers, editing, and questions asked gave credence to the 1993 allegation and sought “to infer sexual impropriety.”
Granada News made millions from selling the broadcasting rights to overseas television channels. Bashir’s career blossomed as well. On the back of this documentary, he took up a deal with ABC, said to have been worth $1 million to become an anchor on 20/20, the American equivalent of Newsnight. Bashir was criticised in equal measure, with some questioning the ethics used by him to win Mr Jackson’s trust, only for him to betray it for personal gain. Jackson later showed the unedited version of the footage which he had filmed. In the documentary Mr Bashir said: “Your relationship with your children is spectacular. It almost makes me weep when I see you with them, because your interaction with them is so natural, so loving, so caring.”
Mr Bashir described Mr Jackson’s Neverland a “dangerous place” for children in his documentary. It was too late by then; Mr Jackson’s already sunken image was now in tatters. Mr Bashir had edited the video and made a documentary with voiceovers that fit into his agenda and fuelled the public perception of Mr Jackson as a child molester, which resulted in Mr Jackson being investigated. Mr Martin Bashir had put forward his personal gain at the expense of Mr Michael Jackson’s reputation.
From that day on, I have had an open mind about most documentaries, let alone, undercover investigations. Maybe I am old school. I prefer going through reams of documents to investigate an issue. The old tried and tested method of investigation and analysis will always be my first choice. I will use subterfuge reluctantly, advisedly, as a very last resort, in the interest of the public, and perhaps, in self-defence. Before I concluded this article, I spoke to Adofo, a lawyer friend of mine in Ghana. Adofo is of the view that if Anas’s documentary is sacrosanct and credible, then Mr Agyapong’s documentary, by the same measure, must also be sacrosanct and credible, unless we can discredit them after forensically analysing and examining the video by experts. Even then, I will entreat the public to be somewhat cautious. The context of confessions must be established appropriately, lest we condemn the innocent. It is for this reason that I have refused to comment on the substantive issues in both documentaries.
As I write, Ghanaians are divided, some section support Anas, others support Mr Agyapong. Many people I have spoken to are of the view that Anas is the “Messiah” to fight corruption in Ghana, with some saying Mr Agyapong is malicious. Anas has denied all the allegations, describing them as scurrilous falsehoods, no wonder he has sued Mr Agyapong for defamation. Mr Adjapong, unfazed and unperturbed about the defamation, has since released more videos with damning revelations about Anas to support his assertions that Anas is a crook. The goal posts seem to be shifting, with some Ghanaians suggesting Anas be put under the microscope. Backing Mr Kennedy for standing up to Anas, some have even gone further, encouraging him to report Anas Aremeyaw Anas to the Criminal Investigation Department of the Ghana Police Service. They say if there is proof that Anas is a blackmailer and extortionist, and uses the proceeds from his nefarious activity to buy properties, then he must be reported to the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) for money laundering. Mr Agyapong has already reported him to the Legal Council, for him to be adequately investigated and sanctioned.
Should Mr Agyapong decide to report Anas to the Police, then Anas will be subjected to investigation by the same State Institution President Atta Mills ignored to investigate the rot at Tema Harbour. His choice of Anas was an indictment of the Ghana Police Service, and a suggestion that the service is corrupt and incapable of investigating the Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS). The same Police Service, incapable of investigating the CEPS corruption, will investigate Anas should Mr Agyapong decide to report him. It is my fervent hope and prayer though, that Anas is innocent of these allegations. That, notwithstanding, it is imperative we all have an open mind about the never-ending twist and turns in this unfolding drama. Should the allegations against Anas be true, and I hope not, then I would be inclined to agree with a text I read a few weeks ago on a school platform that suggested: “Anas is the biggest deception in 21st Century Ghana.”
I perceive that the founding fathers of Ghana will agree with Anas when he says corrupt public officials must be named, shamed and jailed. They would also agree with Mr Kennedy Ohene Agyapong that those who investigate, name and shame corrupt public officials, must not be corrupt themselves. The question being asked is: who watches the watchman (Anas)? Well, I would not be surprised if some have already concluded that Mr Kennedy Agyapong is the man now watching the watchman. Interesting times ahead.
God Bless Ghana!