In our Journalist Spotlight interviews, the IARJ focuses global attention on the work of professionals who will interest our members around the world.
Albert Ken Dapatem, Ghana Broadcasting Corp.
Working as a journalist while also playing a role in the religious community can be very challenging, especially when reporting on religion and spirituality in the diverse cultures of Africa. Those are the challenges Albert Ken Dapatem is facing. He has covered religion since 1999 and he is currently working as a program officer and editor of the Religion Department of state-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. He also is a managing editor of Gospel News Publications and is a senior minister of the Gospel and director of media and protocol at the Dominion College of Bishops. In 2015, he was awarded a doctor of theology degree at the Ghana campus of Immanuel Bible Institute and Seminary.
In July 2016, Dapatem spoke at the “Reporting on Religion and Spirituality on Africa” conference organized by the IARJ in Ghana. After that gathering, we interviewed him about the challenges of covering religion in his part of the world.
Q: What are the main religious groups in your region?
A: There are many in Ghana. We have predominately Christians, including Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics and independent denominations. Then we have the Islamic religion with various sects: Tijaniyya, Sunni and Shia groups and also the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission. We also have the traditional religions and other minorities: Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’is and followers of the Hare Krishna and Eckankar movements.
Q: What are some of the key issues in religious life in Ghana?
A: The key issue is an intense prophetic activity with the influx of prophets and prophetesses of varied shades claiming to have messages from God for individuals and the nation. We see a ministerial competition where some of the ministers of God openly compete with each other about the size of their congregation. We also see religiously inspired Traditionalists and Mallams (educated men) advertising for clients to solve their financial, spiritual and marital problems. The results of this competition are really challenging to the religious life of the nation.
Q: Could you share an example of the way this religious competition is affecting the nation?
A: The nation will go for general elections on December 7, 2016. One of these prophets will come and announce a prophecy from God saying that candidate A will win the presidential elections. Then another prophet will also come saying, “The lord candidate B will win the presidential elections.”
Beyond national politics, some of these religious figures affect life in local communities. They might give a prophecy that one’s mother or child is a witch, bringing confusion to families. They might use fear or invoke the name of God to lure people. The ministerial competition has led to some of these pastors conducting themselves in ways that seem counter to traditional religious practice. Some are charging for prayers, for example, in an effort to acquire more wealth and show off. For example, coming to some Traditionalists and Mallams, their advertisements make it seems that success comes easy for their clients. They are luring the youth to go for fast money with adverse consequences.
Q: What challenges have you faced as a religion reporter? Does being a minister affect your work as a journalist?
A: There are many challenges. Due to my study in comparative religion, however, I am able to adapt to each situation in order to get the information I need to educate and inform the general public. I do not want to be biased or to compromise my faith. I remember one day our Director General came to my office with the head of a Hare Krishna group to make sure that we would cover their programs. I then referred to a lot of programs we had already attended and discussed some of the issues this man had brought up in those programs. My director left the matter in our hands to resolve.
As senior minister of the Gospel, most of my challenges come from my colleagues’ ministers. Some of them wonder why, given my personal background, I can visit certain places to cover programs and conduct interviews. Also in my Christian reports, I have always refused to improperly credit a pastor of any signs, wonders or miracles. Some are not happy with the way I handle this coverage.
Aside that, when they need any help from the media they will come for education and directions. Some of them also come for assistance in lecturing their Bible colleges and outreach programs.
Q: Why do you think religion reporting is so important? How can we, as a community of journalists, improve reporting on religion, making it accurate and interesting while avoiding sensationalism?
A: Religion reporting is very important to any given society, because it can help us better understand and respect each other’s religion as we report. We can improve reporting on religion when we are conversant with the study of comparative religion, then we understand and accept proper interpretation of what each religion stands for. There should be proper standards and practices in religious broadcasting to prevent situations in which unscrupulous religious figures might try to use the media to deceive the vulnerable.
Balance also is important. I have been able to write articles and conduct interviews on almost all the religious groups in Ghana over the years.
Q: How do you think we can encourage news media to place more importance on religious coverage?
A: It is necessary to educate media leaders about the essence of such coverage, because accurate and fair coverage of religion and spirituality seeks to promote and maintain religious harmony and peace in a country. It also plays a meaningful part in the moral regeneration and upholds a sound and healthy moral environment of a country.
Q: What could IARJ do to support you in your work?
A: The IARJ could support religion journalists by offering resources, seminars and periodic conferences, and by enhancing networking between journalists reporting on religion and spirituality.
Q: In July, you participated in the IARJ’s conference on journalism and religion in Africa, together with colleagues and scholars from other African countries. Do you think the conference was helpful?
A: The conference was really helpful because we were able to share ideas, knowledge, networking and experience from various areas which can enhance the progress of our work.
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FROM THE IARJ—Please follow the IARJ on Twitter and Facebook. If you sign up for our Twitter feed, you’ll see some interesting examples of coverage of the Jewish High Holidays featured in our news items. Also, encourage friends to follow our Twitter feed, which provides fascinating news from around the world in several languages. The IARJ Twitter feed will give you a far more diverse window into the world’s religious and cultural diversity. If you are a journalist covering religion, consider becoming a member of the IARJ.
FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF RELIGION DATA ARCHIVES (ARDA)—You’ll find very useful information and free online tools to help in reporting on religious minorities around the world. One of the most powerful is ARDA’s Compare Nations set of tools. Enter the name of a nation and you’ll find not only background information on that country, but also an Adherents tab that breaks down religious affiliations. And, you’ll also find a very helpful array of maps and charts provided by ARDA.