fbpx

Killing the game: Media ownership in Ghana

BY: Kwame Adinkrah
Kwame Adinkrah

It is often contented that, like the firearm, the media is both a tool and a weapon; a tool because it functions as a means of communication, a weapon because it has the tendency to mislead and incite.

Experts say media set the stage by spreading animosity against ethnic gatherings in Rwanda that caused the Rwandan ethnic conflicts.

Ironically, in the context of acquiring a firearm many countries have put in place restrictive measures to assess the owner and the intended reason for its possession.

Over the years, Ghana has built a number of legislations to curtail and clip the citizens’ right to keep and bear arms. A person qualified to acquire firearm should be mentally sound, physically fit and must be of good character and without criminal traits or records.

However, same cannot be said when seeking an authorization to operate a radio spectrum in Ghana.

The National Communication Authority (NCA) is a government agency under the Ministry of Communication with the mandate to regulate spectrum for and on behalf of the people of Ghana.

The agency has an additional mandate to auction frequenciesto companies to render services as corporate business entitiesto generate revenue and make profits.

Among the guidelines required by the NCA is the submission of Programming Philosophy to indicate the nature of programming the station intends to churn out.

This requirement alone, however, cannot exonerate potential investors to pursue political agenda or other dangerous interests.

Across the world, political organizations and leaders use and/or abuse media for their own political aspirations.

Similarly, media owners use their media to promote and disseminate their own political views, and exploit politicians to achieve their own (corporate) goals.  

Very recently, a renowned entrepreneur in Ghana, Dr. Sam Jonah in a speech to the Rotary Club indicated that “Our media landscape is so polarised and partisan.

There is hardly any objectivity because a lot of the media stations are owned by politicians whose interest is in swaying voters one way or the other. Independent media practice seems to have faded and journalism has become a conveyor belt for political propaganda, insults, and acrimony.”

Scholars, however, tend to find problems with all forms of media ownership.

According to Picard and Dal Zotto in 2016, private ownership is problematic because proprietors can use it for private interest; corporate ownership can put profit goals ahead of social goals; public service media can present limited choice and are prevented from pursuing political agendas; big companies can control content and markets; small companies cannot provide the proper range of quality and content, and they are weak in the face of pressures from powerful interests; foreign owners can bring in foreign influences that can affect national sovereignty; and domestic owners are often too close to domestic social and political power. Hence, all forms of ownership come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

It is, also, argued that the many of the complaints we have today in Ghana about ownership have nothing to do with ownership per se, rather the over commercialized nature of media in pursuit of economic rewards. Politically, to win and sustain political power.

Prof. Kwame Karikari, Executive Director of Media Foundation for West Africa has described as dangerous the situation where politicians were constantly owning media houses in Ghana and throwing ethics and professionalism to the wind. 

In his book “Les nouveaux chiens de garde,” Serge Halimiasks whether it is possible to imagine someone buying an instrument that offers the prospect of influence, but foregoing the chance of influencing the orientation of such an instrument?

The Ghanaian media is practically owned and controlled by politicians and entrepreneurs with political affiliations. There is no ambiguity to that fact. On the corridors of NCA the rumours are rift that if you do not have strong political connection, you will not have a frequency. In other words, if you are not a member of an existing regime it is impossible for NCA to issue you a spectrum.

There is no conspiracy theory needed for the analysis of media deviations in Ghana today.

The traditional roles of radio or the media; to inform, educate and entertain have today become commercial tools auctioned to the highest bidder. These tenants are now utilized as weapons by politicians to incite a section of the populace, propagate their party views and create an atmosphere of uncertainty.

Radio is no longer exciting as it used to be in the 90s where the airways would be filled with good music, high quality presentation and matured news. Today, what we hear on radio could be likened to fragmented noise with unsubstantiated reports and vilification of people.

All radio morning showshave become political shows or politically induced shows. The shows have been crafted to propagate the views of political parties and avenues of setting political agenda.

Every social subject discussed on radio has its own political dimension; every policy is discussed along political lines. Sadly, some journalists are becoming more politicians than the politicians themselves.

But according to Professor Kwame Karikari, radio today is as indispensable to the existence, cohesion and development of modem society as oxygen is to the survival of living beings.

It is therefore, imperative that there should be a concerted effort to properly regulate and protect the media space for posterity.

The National Media Commission is struggling onlegal interpretation of its mandate to ensure highest journalistic standards.

The Chairman, Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh is on record to have said that the commission cannot regulate contents of media houses and that the commission can only go as far as the documented ethics that has no legal backing.

The Ghana Journalists Association is hanging on code of conducts for their members. A set of codes that is not a legal prerequisite of establishing a radio station.

The Ghana Independent Broadcasting Association is an association of independent broadcasters that can only appeal to members with sanctions not deterring enough to ban offenders from operating.

The Ghanaian media space has become exclusivelyprofit generating enterprise and highly politicized in direct contrast with journalistic requirements of objectivity and diversity.

Stricter laws and regulations, monitoring and sanctions from the NCA and NMC can save the media space.

The writer is a Broadcast Journalist and holds an MPhil in Communication Design