Gwyneth Dunsford, a Canadian journalist living in Ghana as a JHR Rights Media Radio intern, wrote this account of her frustration with gaining access to sources, re-published here with permission from JHR's Field Notes.

Gwyneth Dunsford, a Canadian journalist living in Ghana as a JHR Rights Media Radio intern, wrote this account of her frustration with gaining access to sources, re-published here with permission from JHR's Field Notes.

“You want me to do what? You want a copy of all my questions?”

It’s the third time today I have spoken with Gabriel Nii Otu Ankrah, the public relations officer at the Tamale Teaching Hospital.

I started a story two weeks ago about labour and delivery practices in Ghana and I have yet to interview anyone.

Getting information in Ghana is challenging. In addition to conventional institutional bureaucracy, there are many barriers between journalists and the truth.

Letters of introduction must be printed on official stationary. Written requests for access to information must be filed with the appropriate office. The information gatekeepers are all the more skeptical because I’m a woman.

Once the appropriate requests are filed, the waiting begins. My letters to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ghana Prison Service and the hospital have gone unanswered.

I don’t like to be lead around like a pacified lamb, so three weeks ago I snuck into the hospital in search of stories. I thought I was inconspicuous; a white girl with a Zoom voice recorder.

I made it as far as hospital’s labour and delivery department before I was turned back.

The doctor ushered me into the green-hued ward, where the lackadaisical fan spun overhead. The midwives sat at the nursing station, gossiping and snacking on black berries.  When I pulled out my recorder to capture the din, they were suddenly not so friendly.

I am sent to the PR office, with my tail between my legs.

Two weeks later, I am no closer to getting my story and the hospital appears to have lost my letter.

Ankrah and I have been calling back and forth all morning.

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“What name is on the letter?,” Ankrah asks.

“Mine. My name. Gwyneth Dunsford. G-W-Y-N-E-T-H D-U-N-S-F-O-R-D,” I reply, tersely.

“Ok ok. What organization?”

“Diamond FM,” I say, in frustration.

Then Ankrah asks the dynamite question.

“Can I please have a list of your questions?”

So far, I have obediently bowed to Ankrah’s requirements, but I draw the line here. I won’t do interviews under the watchful eye of the PR representative, when the subjects spout prepared answers.

Stirring up my calmest tone, I reply, “Thanks, Nii, but I think I will take another direction with this story”.

I hang up, take a deep breath and leave the office. I’m tired of waiting.

I will get the story, with or without Ankrah’s cooperation.

 

This story was originally published on JHR's Field Notes.