Opening remarks by Mr. Michael DeTar, Deputy Chief of Mission on Exchange on professional coverage of street events and political news

Embassy of the United States of America, Lomé
Public Affairs Section

Exchange on professional coverage of street events and political news
Date: December 18 – 20, 2017

Opening remarks by Mr. Michael DeTar, Deputy Chief of Mission 

Madam and Mr. Moderators,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear colleagues,

It is a pleasure for me to address you today at the opening of these three days of exchanges on “the professional coverage of events and political demonstration”. To be honest, the decision to organize this event is, of course, in the context of the political stalemate that has occupied Togo for five months already. The media play – and should play – a vital role. As a friendly people of Togo, the United States has always been involved in supporting the main actors of democracy in Togo, and the media occupy an important place. They are par excellence the channel of information and training of the public.

But you are the first to know it, that no one can cover the political news as he can cover the economic or sports news. As a general rule, doing journalism requires respect for certain basic principles: Respect for the truth of the facts; separation of facts from personal comments; independence; and respect for balance. The current political approach calls for greater rigor in respect of these principles. It also requires the mastery of certain subjects, and the understanding of certain concepts, such as: mastering the background of the actors and political subjects; mastery of political strategies and professional relations with politicians; the importance of fact-checking or extensive verification; possession of figures and statistics; respect for the rules of deontology and ethics; observations of professional security rules; and finally, the full exercise of the role of the fourth power, that is, to defend and promote democracy, individual freedoms, good governance, and social stability.

As a matter of principle, all these values ​​are recorded by the professionals that you are, and we congratulate you on your dedication to report to the Togolese and to the international community the various aspects of political demonstrations and reactions. However, there are some among your colleagues, unfortunately, some who forget on the ground a number of principles that I listed earlier. I will mention two:

  • The first, independence from political power. It is actually unfortunate that in the current context, several journalists are openly claiming power or opposition. From then on, professional lucidity diminishes and no longer aims to inform the population, but simply its political camp.
  • The second is the non-verification of the facts by some reporters, who are not politically marked, but who have fallen into the trap of “fake news”. In most cases, this information manipulated to discredit opposition or power is not written by the journalists themselves, but by clearly malicious people. For example, we have seen videos and images that have been shot in other countries, but when we find them online, they are supposed to be from Togo. And because they have not been verified, these manipulations have been presented as the truth, and many people have believed them.

I will add a third difficulty that is not the fault of the reporter, but which can contribute to the alteration of the truth of the information: the threat and the violence exerted on the journalists during the political events.

During the next three days, we will discuss with you and revisit the essential principles of effective, secure and verified political reporting.

I also hope that in these exchanges, we will develop strategies that will enable you to overcome the difficulties journalists face today, so that you can practice safe, objective and ethical journalism.

Before concluding, I’d like to leave this thought of Bill Kovach, former editor of The New York Times and co-author of this book, for a meditation, [Show the cover page of the book entitled “Principles of Journalism: What Journalists must know “] that I invite you to read. He says, and I quote: “In the end, the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction or art.”

Thank you.