It’s a BBC nose, nosing around. It’s not BBC eye seeing red. Whatever red seen would be red flag not caught red-handed. It is ‘journalistic’ investigation gone rogue. What I have seen so far of the BBC documentary ‘Sex for Grades in West Africa Universities,’ is not what I expect of the ‘world broadcaster’. The organization is riding on its long-established credibility as news broadcaster, especially during our culture of silence and other information restricted periods of existence, to now pull a fast one on us.
I thought BBC would practice journalism that builds institutions and not destroy them. The press contributed to the outbreak of WW1 and the Rwanda genocide. Journalism then disenabled institutions of society designed to prevent those disasters. Journalism failed miserably in both instances. BBC can’t claim its ‘Sex for Grades’ documentary is in the public interest. I see running down a public institution against public interest.
Documentaries have the time news doesn’t have, to tell stories with depth and spread. By a journalist’s own intuition or tip by someone else, a phenomenon that is harmful to society may need investigation for correction to save society. The most important thing in telling that story is to avoid shredding the integrity of an institution charged by society to deal with that societal ill.
In the ‘sex for grades’ case, it’s the university highlighted. Widespread sexual exploitation of students by lecturers is a canker. But victims’ sufferings go beyond lecturer-student to include student-student and worker-student abuse. The policy and actions of the University of Ghana, including regular reviews, are holistically formed to tackle the problem of sexual exploitation on campus comprehensively.
If the BBC investigator wanted to help the university fix the problem it should have told the story of the university’s remedial efforts. Two out of two thousand examples are woefully unsatisfactory in a quest for radical solution to a deep problem. By using stranger actor ensnarers and not having been able to convince even one in-house genuine victim of ‘sex for grade’ over a period of 365 days, is disappointing for an investigative journalist. Truth and accuracy are required cardinal elements in the broadcast content. Balancing the predatory with anti-predatory measures and actions is mandatory. It shouldn’t be nothing was being done.
The ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ title ‘Sex for Grades’ is disingenuous. It smacks of mischief. My monitoring showed the promo ‘Sex for Grades’ that began on Saturday continued till Friday dawn. News headlines, though, changed from ‘Sex for Grades in West Africa Universities’, through ‘Sexual harassment in Universities’ to ‘Sexual harassment at University of Lagos.’ The organisation claimed impact victory in a news item that a Nigerian senator had re-introduced (‘introduced,’ they said, to optimize ‘impact’) a sexual harassment bill. They wouldn’t say if ‘sex for grades’ was anywhere in the contents of the bill.
Once the journalist decides to expose rotten target disregarding institutional collateral consequences, the rot must be demonstrably comprehensive. The human institution is always some. So ‘journalism investigators’ must claim modestly and not in the absolute. The story dents reputation. It doesn’t prompt redeeming action.
Today, selling university education has become highly competitive. BBC’s owner is enticing with extended visa stays to boost enrolment and GDP. It’s a cheap way to brain drain. What we get in Africa are crumbs. BBC shouldn’t deprive us of the crumbs in the name of ‘investigative journalism.’ University of Ghana is the top-ranked in West Africa. BBC’s home country benefits from UG’s downfall in soiled reputation. That makes the actors of ‘Sex for Grades’ look like naïve uncle toms serving the purpose of Master Britannia.
Sexual harassment is serious in all circumstances. In academic circles, it’s worst as ‘Sex for Grades’. So even without proof, BBC still calls whatever harassment evidence ‘Sex for Grades’, to evoke the worst of emotions and outrage in people. That is deceitful and mischief journalism. No facts, no objectivity, no fairness. The motive smells hired to destroy. A programme developed over one year should have incorporated sex for grades cases that were not properly investigated or punishment that was not enforced.
Our local media are disappointingly amplifying the story tying themselves to BBC apron strings. They should instead, improve their content to upstage BBC. ‘Sex for Grades’ is a con job. There’s no sex for grades beef. It’s a serious problem worldwide. Serious people are looking for serious solutions. Institutions are looking for effective ways to encourage victims to report. They seek speedier investigation mechanisms. They aim at wider publicity for punishments. So, let those condemning loudest in evidence they haven’t seen, tell everyone the perfect solution. Otherwise they should shut up and let the serious deal with the challenge.
Journalism should help society. It shouldn’t be self-serving. It shouldn’t throw the institution’s baby out with the bath water; individual miscreants sexual harassing. It’s to help root out individuals who are undermining beneficial institutions. The individual target must not attract collateral institutional destruction. Journalism must be constructive; it should build and not destroy. Documentaries must not be anyhow; they shouldn’t grievously victimize critics.
I completely agree to ‘clean varsities of harassment, seduction;’ but all need to recognize it’s a hydra-headed problem which takes patience to resolve. Maybe we can start by helping reduce victims’ suffering. Sensationalism preaches instant solution. It compounds the problem by reducing the university’s capacity to fix it. BBC must admit it has not established ‘Sex for Grades’ at the University of Ghana, and apologise. It’s ‘assignment’ programme is under monitoring.
By Kwasi Ansu-Kyeremeh