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The Graphic newspapers are in the lead with regard to news values and general principles of the newspaper business
The Graphic newspapers are in the lead with regard to news values and general principles of the newspaper business

Will Graphic’s anchor hold?

A shudder went through the Ghanaian media community with the news that the Graphic Communication Group was contemplating going private after 60 years as a state-owned enterprise. 


What caused the stir was not the announcement itself, but it appeared to confirm months of quiet speculation about the fate of the venerable company. The rumour mill had been turning viciously about Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), but in the age-old media tradition, newsmakers hardly ever make the news, so misgivings about the company stayed in the shadows.

However, it was common knowledge around the world that the newspaper industry was in considerable crisis worldwide. However, many industry watchers and immediate GCGL stakeholders and staff considered the Graphic too integrated into Ghana’s political and economic life to be severely affected by the downturn in the fortunes of newspapers worldwide.

Maybe this was based more on wishful thinking than solid analysis. In truth, even the most successful newspapers have been affected by the factors behind the genre’s decline. The traditional newspaper industry finds itself at a crossroads, grappling with an array of challenges that threaten its survival. From declining print readership to diminishing advertising revenue, newspapers are facing unprecedented hurdles. One does not need any figures to make this point.

Well into the first decade of the 21st century, newspapers were the primary source of hard news for most people. It was common to see groups of people reading newspaper headlines for free at newspaper stalls dotted around town and city centres.

Today, few people lift their eyes from their phones long enough to see a newspaper, let alone read one. The threat from digital media has been deep and wide, and it has led to a decline in print readership.

With the proliferation of digital platforms and the rise of online news consumption, fewer individuals are turning to physical newspapers for their daily dose of information. 
Naturally, as readers migrate to online platforms, advertising money has followed suit.

 The advent of targeted digital advertising has lured advertisers away from traditional print avenues, leading to a sharp decline in revenue streams for newspapers. Ironically, this has happened when production costs have risen astronomically.

The cost of newsgathering, newsprint and printing material, printing and distribution has risen several times in the wake of the post-COVID economic crunch. Of course, the COVID-19 lockdowns accounted for the biggest migration of print readers to digital platforms.

In Ghana, at Independence and for many years after, Graphic had the most extensive distribution network in the country. At a time when most people did not own their own watches, people used to set time with the movement of the Graphic fleet around the country!

That kind of distribution efficiency Graphic had, is a distant memory. Despite all these challenges, somehow, we expected Graphic to survive mainly because it is Graphic. Ghana without Graphic is like the country losing its flag.

Graphic as a company and the Daily Graphic newspaper are emphatic national emblems predating independence. GCGL was established in the Gold Coast as a private business in 1950 by the Daily Mirror Group of Britain. At that time, the company was named the West African Graphic Company Limited.

Graphic launched its first newspaper, the Daily Graphic, on October 2, 1950. Three years later, the company added the Sunday Mirror. The Daily Graphic became so popular that its name became synonymous with newspapers in Ghana. In 1964, the Mirror Group, the owners of the company, sold it to the Ghana government for £6,600.

With its preeminent status in the newspaper industry, GCGL added general printing to its core business and in time, it became one of the most profitable businesses in the country. As a result of its business success, GCGL, despite being a state-owned enterprise, has not been supported financially by the state for decades. In fact, it has paid dividend on a few occasions to the government.

However, the fortunes of the company have reflected Ghana’s economic ebb and flow. In the wake of the December 31 coup and the subsequent revolution in the 1980s, the company had to climb out of a seemingly impossible hole with exchange controls, import licences, and shortage of foreign exchange affecting the supply of newsprint and printing materials.

The difference between then and now is that Graphic newspapers were in a huge demand. Indeed, the company added even more newspapers, including the popular Graphic Sports and Graphic Showbiz to its stable.

The idea of divesting the GCGL of state ownership or “recapitalising” the company, as it was headlined, can be seen as a corporate decision to keep the company afloat, but the cause of the loud murmurings in the Ghana media space was the possible political fallout from such a decision. Since its acquisition by the state in 1964, and despite the early pressures exerted by the one-party state at that time, Graphic newspapers have set the standards for newspaper journalism in the country.

Industry insiders bemoan the falling of those standards over the past few years as the newspapers have had to compete with the value-free ethos of the digital news environment. However, the Graphic newspapers are in the lead with regard to news values and general principles of the newspaper business. Above all, the newspapers have striven to stay politically neutral despite the challenging political ecosystem.

Most of the other newspapers in Ghana do not even pretend to understand the principles of newspaper journalism. They are badly written and edited, poorly designed, openly partisan.

What has kept the Graphic stable on the straight and narrow is the knowledge that we have a multiparty system in which a party in opposition can become their nominal owner at the next election.


It is the potential loss of this neutrality when the paper goes into private hands that must worry Ghanaians. Generally, owners of Ghana’s media houses have not been apostles of journalistic righteousness. Far from being that, most of them have demonstrated a huge appetite for promoting self-interest, partisan bias, and putting profit first. Many media owners do not pay journalists well, or provide for their safety and welfare.

Of course, it is possible that going on to the stock exchange will come with rules for standards and respect for principles such as non-interference in editorial matters from owners and shareholders, but in our weak regulatory environment, no such guarantees are likely to override the negative impulses of media owners.

So, the question of what happens to the GCGL is not only a question for the Board of Directors, managers, and staff of the company, or even of the media establishment in Ghana. It goes to the heart of the constitutional guarantees of media freedom and independence.

It is ironic that 40 years ago, our concern was that state-ownership threatened media freedom. Today, in a more cavalier era, the state may be the safety net for those principles.
In the next article, we will explore what GCGL can do to hold its own in the stormy weather prevailing at the moment. 

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