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Issues in Ghanaian media practice today
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Issues in Ghanaian media practice today

Since 1857 when the Bannerman brothers (Charles and Edmund) blazed the trail by starting the first indigenous newspaper, Accra Herald, which was followed by others like Hutton Brew’s  (1875) ‘Gold Coast Times ‘Ashanti Pioneer’ Kwame Nkrumah’s ‘ Accra Evening News’ (1948) and ‘Morning Telegraph’ (1949) to mention but a few, the media has incredibly discharged its role of educating and informing its audience while at the same time performing its watchdog role amidst harassments and intimidation by various governments. 

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These earliest newspapers and their journalists, just like the press today, criticised government policies and arbitrariness through their publications albeit facing sentences of fines, arrests and prosecutions aimed at preventing local politicians and opinion leaders from using newspapers as a medium of executing their nationalist agenda to gain independence. 

The press in post-independence Ghana similarly experienced harassment from various governments (civilian or military). The military era, in particular, saw heightened attempts to stifle free speech culminating in the era of culture of silence in the 1980s where some journalists were fined or jailed while others lost their lives in defence and promotion of free speech. 

Thankfully, the 1992 Constitution (chapter 12) which provides journalists guarantees to practice their profession freely without fear of harassment, provided the enabling environment for media practice to thrive. This situation has led to an explosion of media outlets in the country. 

Thus, from a single national broadcaster and a handful of newspapers in 1993, the country’s media terrain has witnessed exponential growth in the media spectrum today with over 700 radio broadcast frequencies and more than one hundred TV stations according to data provided by the state broadcast regulator, the National Communications Authority (NCA).  

In addition to this is a considerable rise in digital news and blogging platforms providing round-the-clock news and entertainment to Ghanaians in the comfort of their homes. Ghana’s media today, relatively enjoys a buoyant environment of press freedom ranking among the top ten in Africa last year, although we could perform better. 

The question is, with all the provisions of media freedom guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution, what are some of the challenges threatening responsible journalism in media practice and how well are media practitioners in Ghana leveraging the GJA code of ethics as a guiding document towards ensuring responsible journalism in the country? 

Partisan journalism
A disturbing trend in media practice today in Ghana is the issue of media ownership and its effect on content.  In Ghana, today, who owns the media matters a lot because there is some level of correlation between media ownership and the content that is served to various audiences whether print, broadcast or digital media.

 It is well-known that certain media networks have strong affiliations with either the ruling government’s party (NPP) or the largest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) because the owners are known NDC or NPP members or have strong links with them.  A recent submission put forward by the head of the Media Foundation for West Africa indicates that over 80 per cent of legacy broadcasts in Ghana are owned by partisan individuals and entrepreneurs. 

Although partisan media is not a new phenomenon in the media world, it is assuming a dangerous rate in journalistic practice in Ghana. Tune in to any private FM or TV station particularly in Accra and in other major cities and you need not be told it may either be pro-NDC or pro-NPP station just by the contents they produce.  Unfortunately, journalists in such media stations consistently and openly display support for the government in power and show dislike for the opposition (if it is a pro-government media network). 

The same scenario applies to pro-opposition media networks whose journalists openly demonstrate aversion towards the government in power. This unfortunate and disturbing phenomenon deeply reflects in the partisan nature of their political programmes, newspaper reviews and presentation of news bulletins. Sometimes, journalists in such media houses openly rouse their listeners and viewers to vote for or vote out a political party. 

What kind of journalism is this? How do we reconcile such journalistic practice with the GJA code of ethics that encourages Ghanaian journalists to recognise the public’s right to fair, unbiased, accurate and balanced information given the polarised nature of the average Ghanaian towards the two biggest political parties, the NDC and NPP? 

This partisan nature of our journalism dramatically played out recently in a commercial transport vehicle where the driver had tuned in to a pro-NDC political programme that was dishing out scathing criticism and making all kinds of allegations at the government. 

Feeling very uncomfortable by this, a passenger, having repeatedly persuaded the driver without success to tune in to a music-playing station, suddenly turned the radio on his mobile phone to a pro-NPP station turning the full volume on in the commercial transport. 

You can imagine the chaos that erupted for the rest of the journey. So where does this leave discerning neutral Ghanaian listeners and viewers? 
A more sophisticated form of partisan journalism occurs when some known senior journalists in credible media institutions who have carved a reputation over the years for being independent and non-partisan in the eyes of most Ghanaians have in recent times displayed some form of stance either through scathing tirades or long rambles of sycophantic comments. 

Indeed, such journalists may be practising the GJA code of ethics of upholding the public interest and the right of the public to be informed, however, when such journalistic ‘monologue’ becomes consistent and predictable in delivery, it exposes such journalists as being aligned or conflicted in the discharge of their journalistic duties. 
 
 
Opinions disguised as news
Equally disturbing is the rapidly evolving phenomenon where news anchors virtually stop presenting the news midway and indulge in long bouts of opinionated lectures about the news item being presented before resuming the news broadcast.

Although this is sometimes seen with Western journalists in advanced democracies who occasionally chip in a comment or two during broadcast, some Ghanaian broadcast journalists (particularly the Twi-speaking newscasters) appear to overdo it which is not only annoying sometimes, but potentially may go a long way to influence their listeners and viewers. 

Perhaps that could be a gradual introduction of advocacy journalism within the media body-politics in Ghana but do we need this at this time without the journalist being accused of doing the bidding? 

Others also indulge in needless descriptions using superlative adjectives, metaphors and proverbs in an attempt to embellish the news and make it ‘appealing’ to listeners and viewers. Is that a new form of journalistic practice? 
This ‘cosmetic’ journalism contradicts the GJA code of ethics that encourages the Ghanaian journalist to differentiate between fact, opinion and commentary such that news is presented objectively without any embellishments.

Hate media & combustible media language 

One negative ‘bi-product’ of partisan media ownership is hate media where some journalists indulge in the use of intemperate language while hosting particular programmes and sometimes watching their guests do the same recklessly. 

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Sometimes you listen to some of these programmes which are full of insults, inciteful language and unsubstantiated allegations dished out cold to listeners and viewers and you wonder if regulatory bodies such as the NMC, NCA and the GJA exist.  Intemperate media language potentially leaves audiences puffed up with anger and hatred for either the ruling government or the opposition depending on the direction of the conversation. It is very normal to disagree and express our opinions without being antagonistic towards one another, especially as we inch closer to the 2024 elections. 

We still remember what the journalists at Radio Rwanda and RTLM did in 1994 spewing out hateful and insightful phrases such as ‘the graves are not yet full’ ‘go to work’ Tutsi Cockroaches’ which resulted in despicable acts of wickedness of genocidal proportions meted out to the Tutsis. In Ghana, we have had similar reckless media language in the past which ruffled feathers but we were lucky to have escaped the chaotic backlash that ensued. Such reckless journalism cannot continue unchecked.

To this end, I wish to mention the good works of the Media Foundation for West Africa for monitoring the Ghanaian media terrain, exposing media networks that indulged in such acts and sometimes naming and shaming them. Unfortunately, this is not enough because the act is still ongoing and something more punitive ought to be effected to rein in errant media stations. 

Multimedia journalism 
Currently, traditional media (print and broadcast) is reeling under enormous pressure and desperately trying to survive the intense competition brought about by new media. 

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One way traditional media institutions are trying to survive is through the production of multimedia programming via media convergence. While print news networks are converging online to stay alive and relevant, broadcast media networks (radio and TV) are increasingly deploying interactive social media tools such as Facebook Live,  X, WhatsApp etc. to engage more with their audience.  This is a good adaptation to attract more audiences to their stations.

However, the approach ought to be scrutinised by media regulators in the country because producers and news presenters sometimes blatantly show unwholesome content and gory pictures without blurring the faces of victims which contravenes the profession’s ethics of protecting the rights of minors and in criminal and other cases securing the consent before interviewing and photographing them.

Financial viability of the media
One way the media industry has survived financially over the years has been through advertising. However, a lingering issue particularly with major Twi-speaking broadcast media stations is the seemingly ‘endless’ adverts that run even before news headlines drop. 

Sometimes listeners would have to wait for nearly three minutes before the news is read. While this might be financially rewarding to such media institutions, it may be counterproductive and lead to decreased effectiveness as listeners quickly switch to other stations where the news is hot. 

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Still, with the financial viability of the media, we see an emerging trend within the broadcast media environment all over the country where media professionals are introducing a digital lottery meant to reward loyal listeners and viewers who stand the chance of winning substantial amounts of money during programmes. 
While these innovative strategies are commendable, too much can also put off some listeners.

Within the digital media space, we see more paid ads on streaming content, social media pages, blogs and many more. All these are worthwhile but media managers and practitioners ought to be careful not to sacrifice the core function of journalism on the altar of quick financial gains.

Way forward
While the media enjoys the provisions made in chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution guaranteeing media freedom in Ghana, we must acknowledge that media freedom is not a ticket for recklessness and so media professionals and practitioners need to abide by the profession’s code of ethics. 

The growing partisan media in Ghana in particular is a huge threat to our democracy and the sooner this is discouraged, the better. Secondly, Ghana’s media regulatory institutions such as the NMC and the GJA need to undergo reforms such as laws to empower them to enforce sanctions on errant journalists and media institutions.  

It is commendable that the current GJA president is spearheading efforts to expose individuals and groups who attack and harass journalists in their line of duty but it is also instructive that he leads the effort to do the same in-house cleaning exercise in ensuring responsible journalistic practice. The NMC’s recent efforts in exposing individual journalists and media institutions whose conduct cast a slur on the image of the profession should not be a flash in the pan but must be sustained to sanitise journalistic practice in Ghana. 

Furthermore, government and media-friendly civil society organisations within the industry need to intensify media capacity-building efforts to make journalists discharge their duties more professionally and also strengthen their watchdog role. Charity indeed begins at home. Responsible journalism is the way to go, especially as we inch closer towards elections later this year. 
 
The writer is a lecturer at the Media Studies Department of the University of Media, Arts and Communication (UniMAC)
 

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