News of ‘Missing’ Christian Atsu and the importance of information verification before reporting

“Reporters no longer ask for verification, thus they print charges no matter how outlandish they may seem, and once having done that, when the truth comes out, it’s buried in the back page or never makes it on the air at all,” says Dixie Lee Ray.

“It is the press that has taken these charges and accusations and blown them up without any kind of skepticism whatsoever – blown them into realities and treated them as if they were true,” Dixie Lee Ray says once again.

Dixie Lee Ray, a late American politician, was speaking on the importance of journalists conducting independent verification before publishing news reports.

I do not know Christian Atsu on a personal note. I have never for once been fortunate to meet him in person.

But I have for a long time, admired him from afar for his kindness towards humanity, especially prisoners and the vulnerable in the Ghanaian society. One act of generosity by Atsu that really earned him my love was when he moved in to help free a woman and her two daughters who had been jailed for three months for stealing leftover corn worth Ghc 10. Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng of Crime Check had in October 2018 revealed that the woman and her two daughters, one of whom was a lactating mother, were jailed after a court found them guilty and slapped Ghc 360 fine on them, which they were unable to raise, consequently leading to their imprisonment. Mr. Kwarteng later revealed how Christian Atsu, a former Newcastle United and Chelsea player, moved in to rescue the mother and her daughters by donating Ghc 1000 for their release.

Growing up in Ghana, certainly Atsu understood what it meant to be poor, the challenges associated with finding one’s daily bread in a poor society like ours, and he very well responded to the problems faced by many poor people.

Atsu, a Ghana Black Stars winger who currently plays for Turkish club, Hatayspor, was reported missing in Turkey’s Hatay province following the magnitude 7.8 quake and its aftershocks that reportedly brought down thousands of buildings, killing thousands of people, in several Turkish and Syrian cities on Monday, February 6, 2023.

And the sad news of he going missing in the wake of the deadly earthquake in Turkey, really brought his kindness to the fore. I saw several posts across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp etc, on Tuesday, from people who were praying for his safety, recounting the many good things he has done for humanity.

The news of Atsu going missing has most importantly, also, brought to the fore, the significance of thoroughly verifying information before reporting or the significance of conducting independent fact-checking before disseminating sensitive information for public consumption.

After several hours of waiting to hear that Atsu was found alive, surely a report came from his club on Tuesday evening that he had been found alive after being buried under rubble.

The Vice President of Hatayspor, Mustafa Ozak, was reported to have told the media that Atsu had been found alive and taken to a local health facility for treatment.

“Christian Atsu was pulled out injured. Our sporting director, Taner Savut, is unfortunately still under the rubble,” Mustafa Ozak was reported to have told Radyo Gol on Tuesday, February 7, 2023.

Shockingly and painfully, later on Wednesday, February 8, reports started coming in that contrary to the purported claim by Ozak on Tuesday, Atsu has not been found, with the reports citing Hatayspor doctor, Gurbey Kahveci, as saying the earlier report claiming Atsu had been found, was a case of “mistaken identity.” “When we heard the news that “he was taken to Dortyol Hospital”, we especially went and looked, but he was not there. At the moment, we accept that the Sporting Director, Taner Savut and Christian Atsu were not found, unfortunate,”” Kahveci was quoted by several local and international media outlets as saying.

Mistaken identity? I asked when I heard on Wednesday Atsu had not been found. At what point did the club realize it was a case of mistaken identity? Couldn’t the club’s Vice President had waited for thorough checks to be carried out at the said hospital before coming out earlier on Tuesday to announce that Atsu had been found? What was the essence of the ‘rush’ to announce to the media on Tuesday that Atsu had been found? And couldn’t have Radyo Gol, believed to be a Turkish media outlet, done its own independent checks at the Dortyol Hospital before reporting what Hatayspor’s Vice President Ozak said? Who informed the club on Tuesday that Atsu had been found? Why did the club ‘believe’ that person that indeed Atsu had been found? What is the relationship between that person and the club? Was that person also staying in the building with Atsu?

The reports on Tuesday announcing that Atsu had been pulled from rubble alive, and the subsequent reports on Wednesday, indicating that he had not been found, clearly and sadly show that no independent checks were done by Hatayspor as a club and the media before reporting. It won’t be wrong to say that the club Vice President hurriedly told the press that Atsu had been found simply based on an information that the club was provided and the media too did not make any efforts, in the interest of the journalistic principle of verification, in reporting what Mr. Ozak. The Wednesday reports clearly show that Mr. Ozak did not make any efforts to personally visit the hospital where Atsu was said to have been sent, before addressing the media.

And Atsu’s Black Stars teammate, Mubarak Wakaso could not have said it any better than urging the media to desist from feeding the general public with unsubstantiated reports concerning his (Atsu’s) whereabout.

Journalists need to understand that as Bill Kovach says “In the end, the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art.”

As news men and women, we simply cannot continue to be rushing in being the first to break a news. Time needs to be taken for independent checks. Not everything officials say should be taken to be true without independent checks.

The author, Melvin Tarlue, is a Ghana-based Liberian journalist

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