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Makers of Ghana’s Journalism, professional bodies

Makers of Ghana’s Journalism, professional bodies

Dating back to the end of the 19th Century, professional journalists started to come together to form associations, trade unions and clubs.


Their goals included the defence of their rights to publish against encroachment, especially by the government. They laid out their duties and responsibilities and established a code of ethics aimed at improving professional practice.

These groups worked to get legal recognition for their profession and to improve the quality of training and journalistic standards in their countries and the world. The first professional organisation, the Society of Professional Journalists, was founded in 1909 and included broadcast and print journalists, journalism educators and students interested in journalism as a profession.

Journalists began to come together in the 19th Century at the local, national and international levels.

In Britain, the Newspaper Society was formed in 1836 and the National Association of Journalists was founded in 1884.

In 1886, that association established the Institute of Journalists, which received the Royal Charter the same year.

In the United States, the American Newspaper Publishers Association appeared in 1887 and American journalists founded the Newspaper Guild in the 1890s, which became an effective tool for the negotiation of wages of journalists in 1933.

To help improve the quality of content, the professional associations of journalists collaborated with educational institutions to establish regular training courses in journalism for professionals and students of journalism.

The first of such training schools was established at the Missouri University in 1908 and Colombian University in 1912.

The oldest of the professional organisations, the Society of Professional Journalists, known formerly as Sigma, Delta, Chi, was founded on April 17, 1909, at DePauw University and its headquarters was in Indianapolis, Indiana.

From the onset, it was a male professional group founded by 10 practising journalists.

It continued to operate as a fraternity of male journalists until 1960 when it became a professional society, and in 1969, the SDC began to enrol women into the society.

In 1973, the group changed its name to the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi.

It was in 1988 that the association changed its name, completely, to the Society of Professional Journalists.

Up to today, the professional goals and objectives of the SPJ have been the following:

•      To defend the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press;
•      Encourage high standards and ethical behaviour in the practice of journalism and
•      Promote and support diversity in journalism.

The association has also developed a code of ethics aimed at higher standards of behaviour and practice. In Germany, the University of Leipzig established a school of journalism in 1916 and Finland started a two-year training course in journalism in 1925.

Universities in China began training journalists in the 1920s. National professional associations of journalists also came together at the international level to influence the scope and quality of journalism practice in the world.

According to UJ Bjork: in The Press Congress of the World and International Standards for Journalists (1994), the International Union of Press Associations worked between the 1890s and the beginning of World War I – with the idea of educating journalists and establishing a code of professional ethics.

Presently, there are about 30 international associations of journalists that operate to promote press freedom, codes of conduct and safety of journalists.


The best-known among these are The International Press Institute, World Association of Newspapers, International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Frontiers and World Association of Press Council.

Journalism practice came late to Ghana, then the Gold Coast. Royal Gold Coast Gazette, the first newspaper, was established in 1922 by Governor Charles MacCarthy.

When the Gold Coast Gazette folded up in about 1824, the Accra Herald, founded and published by the Bannerman Brothers, replaced it as the second newspaper in the Gold Coast in 1857.

Many other newspapers founded, edited and published by Ghanaian journalists appeared on the newsstands regularly. However, there were no records to show that there was a professional journalists association before the establishment of the Ghana Journalists Association in 1949 with Martin Therson-Cofie as the first president.


Before then, the journalists had used their media as the sole instruments for agitating for and protecting press freedom and the welfare of journalists in the country. Like other professional journalist associations, the GJA, also known as Ghana Press Club and Ghana Society of Journalists and Writers, worked for the promotion of free speech and other fundamental human rights in the Gold Coast and in Ghana after Independence in 1957.

Ghana, under the one-party state environment of the Nkrumah Regime, did not provide the GJA with enough room to function properly as other journalists’ groups did in democratic and rule-of-law nations.

The Nkrumah regime monopolised state-owned means of mass communication – print and electronic media -- and banned all opposition publishing houses. The Ashanti Pioneer was the last newspaper that was made to fold up.

The overthrow of the Kwame Nkrumah regime in 1966 and the restoration of free press and free speech gave the GJA the opportunity to play its role as a journalists’ organisation as far as it could under the military regimes of the National Liberation Council (NLC) 1966–1969; the National Redemption Council (NRC) and the Supreme Military Council (SMC) 1972-1979; the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) June 1979-October 1979; and the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) 1981-1993.


The GJA, in collaboration with other Ghanaian institutions, made useful inputs into what became Chapter Twelve (Freedom and Independence of the Media) of the 1992 Ghana Constitution.

That constitution abolished newspaper licences, patents and censorship in the country. It confers on journalists the right to hold the government to account for constitutional breaches.

Article 162 (5) states: “All agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this Constitution, and shall uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of Ghana.’’

In the abolition of criminal libel, and preparation and passing of the rights to information bill into an act of Parliament, the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) inputs have been remarkable.

It is in the training of journalists at the school of journalism that I find the GJA’s performance to be inadequate. In the other principal professions, such as medicine, law, engineering, pharmacy, accountancy and architecture, the professional bodies have been collaborating and working closely with the training institutions to ensure that the products of the schools are properly trained.

In journalism, the training of journalists at the school of journalism, and professional practice, are not in harmony, and the chemistry was broken, completely, when the training schools were decoupled from their sector ministry, the Ministry of Information, and placed under the Ministry of Education.

Presently, teaching at the school of journalism is regarded as a purely academic exercise and little emphasis is placed on professional training. Present arrangements do not give the GJA the chance to make inputs into the programmes of training and appointment of trainers at the school.

Why should a person without some level of professional experience train journalists? It is a phenomenon that promotes low professional standards, and it is absent in the training of doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and accountants in Ghana.
(This article is the last in the Makers of Ghana’s Journalism series that began in the May 13, 2023 edition of The Mirror.)
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