Beyond world Press Freedom Day celebrations

BY: Doreen Hammond

This year’s celebration of World Press Freedom day is over.It was significant that the celebration was hosted by Ghana because that meant that our democratic credentials are recognised internationally and that we are doing well when it comes to freedom of the press.

In addition to this, the occasion helped to draw attention to our country as a politically stable environment which is a necessary prerequisite for businesses to thrive.

The celebration brought to the fore some of the major impediments that confront journalists in the discharge of their duties. These include protection of journalists against all forms of harm to ensure that they go about their work without fear or favour. Then also is the need to protect journalists from all manner of influences, particularly political and financial influences to ensure credible reportage.

Though various challenges may confront journalists the world over, the intensity may differ. It is, therefore, imperative that as a country we identify the pressing challenges peculiar to our media space and tackle them accordingly.

This is because what may be a challenge to a journalist in a western developed country may not be necessarily same in a developing African country. For instance the Right to Information in some countries is given but the same cannot be said in our jurisdiction.

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The focus should, therefore, be to assess our own media to see how we are doing with our primary role of informing, educating and entertaining. In the same vein, are we holding our governments to account to ensure a sustainable democracy and acting as an outlet for the ventilation of different views?

Though we can pride ourselves for having performed creditably, there are areas we could do better. One is our agenda-setting role. Looks like we have consciously or unconsciously ceded this role to politicians. So a politician talks about a civil coup d’etat and for the next one month that is all we talk about. And so if it is not about politics or sports, then there is nothing worth talking about; From Monday to Monday, it is about politics and nothing else.

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There is also a lack of appetite for follow-up on stories. A politician emerges and starts making promises that he is going to construct a railway line from Accra to Paga and that is end of story. The Boankra inland port which was touted as the best thing to happen to the country and cost millions of dollars has since become a white elephant. How much does the media know about the current state of that national project, why it is not serving the intended purpose and who is being held accountable for this state of affairs?

There is also the huge challenge of our inability to be physically present to cover events on our own continent, let alone beyond. So something happens in Togo and all we do is to shamelessly cull from BBC or any foreign media and also go along describing Togo as a west African country even though we are neighbours! Related to this is the use of social media as a source without authentication and its attendant embarrassment when the story turns out to be a hoax.

Moving forward, we need to address some of the challenges to get our media on the right footing.

This situation where there is a free entry for all into the profession is proving to be a difficulty. This is because journalism has some ethics, dos and don’ts, so how does a person who has not gone through some form of apprenticeship or formal training know these necessities in carrying out duties? And even with trained journalists, there is the need for continuous refresher/training courses to meet the emerging challenges in the profession; for instance the use of new technology.

The lack of funding in the performance of duties is perhaps one of the greatest challenges. This affects remuneration, output and the final product. This situation leads to influences that do not allow the journalist to have a mind of his own even with the necessary training. If a journalist depends on a corporate institution for logistics like transportation, feeding and even equipment such as computers, what kind of reportage on that organisation should we expect?

These are but a few of the issues that should engage stakeholders after the global celebration of World Press Freedom day on our soil. Failure to do this and we will be singing from the same book of lamentations come next year. Belated happy world press freedom day, colleagues.

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