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Makers of Ghana’s journalism: National policy

Makers of Ghana’s journalism: National policy

National policy is one of the main determinants or indicators of news. The other determinants include the following – timeliness and continuing timeliness; proximity or nearness to place of origin of the news; economic and cultural interest or values in origin or place of publication; size or magnitude; significance or importance; editorial policy; human interest; newness; and strangeness.


National policy and the other determinants are what make news what it is.

What is national policy?

A national policy is “a policy statement containing principles and a broad cause of action adopted by the government in pursuit of a specific objective.

“They are used to guide decision making towards the achievement of a stated outcome,” according to an online definition.

What is policy?

“Policy is a deliberate system of guidelines to guide decisions to achieve national outcomes.”

“A policy is a statement of intent and is implemented as a procedure or protocol. Policies are generally adopted by a governance body within an organisation.”

The difference between laws, rules and policies is that the law confers or prohibits behaviours. It, for example, enforces payment of taxes, and prohibits and punishes avoidance of tax payment.”

Policies do not have the force of law; but their implementation or otherwise can be rewarded or punished under corporate rules and regulations.

The history of national policy began at the time when human governing bodies of nations set for themselves certain goals and laid out plans about how those objectives were to be achieved.

In the past, social amenities and services such as roads, hospitals, schools, markets, public transport, police stations, water, electricity, telephone facilities and post offices were built out of central or local government policies.


Why is national policy a determinant of news?

 There must be national policy that determines whether the mass media must exist and function, and in what manner it is to function for the general interest of the nation.

A country allows freedom of speech and mass media because the institution performs very important roles in the society.

Journalism exists to inform, educate, form or change public opinion and entertain the public.

The products of journalism are one of the five major needs of man, without which society cannot perform properly.

The human needs include: food, clothes, medicine and shelter.

In history, the state has guided the development and spread of journalism in countries including European ones where newspaper journalism’s foundation was laid.

In Ghana, national policy involvement in journalism started with the decision of the first governor of the Gold Coast, now Ghana, Sir Charles MacCarthy, to print and publish the Royal Gold Coast Gazette in 1822 that began as a handwritten newspaper.

Under that policy, the objectives of the founding of the first newspaper in Ghana and the second in West Africa, included public information, public education, public opinion formation, trade and public entertainment.

Founding and operation of the Station ZOY, the first radio station in the Gold Coast in 1935, came out of a policy decision by the colonial government.

Governor Sir Arnold Hudson decided to establish the Station ZOY as a means of providing information and education to the public as well as serve as a source of public entertainment.

There were ground breaking national policy decisions in post-independence Ghana that dictated and shaped the media landscape.

Notable among them was the declaration and law that made Ghana a one-party state in 1965.

The development had devastating effects on the mass media in Ghana.

It led to the banning of all opposition newspapers in the country where, then, only state funded and operated newspapers, magazines and radio and television operated.

Those media houses included: Daily Graphic and The Mirror, Ghanaian Times and The Spectator; Radio Ghana and Ghana Television.

When the National Liberation Council (NLC) overthrew the regime of Dr Kwame Nkrumah in February 1966, it decided as a policy to permit the private newspapers to function alongside the public mass media.

Within the period of its existence, 1966-1969, the NLC, for the first time, established the Press Complaints Commission in Ghana with Mr Martin Therson-Cofie as its Chairman.

During the second republic, the regime of Dr KA Busia (1969-1972) abolished the Newspaper Licensing Decree that had been in existence since 1963.

The government of General IK Acheampong re-introduced newspaper licensing through NRC Decree 161 of 1973.

AFRC, the military regime that overthrew General Acheampong, abolished newspaper licensing through the Newspaper Licensing (Repeal) Decree in 1979.

Newspaper Licensing Law 211 brought back newspaper licensing in 1988 but was later repealed through PNDC law 299.

Here was an attempt by the PNDC administration to establish a National Media Commission in Ghana under PNDC Law 299.

An office was established and situated along the Kojo Thompson Road in Accra with Mr Kofi Badu as the chairman. However, that media commission was short-lived.

A major national policy decision that altered significantly the mass media landscape in Ghana was the adoption and promulgation of the 1992 Ghana Constitution.

That constitution abolishes newspaper licensing by Article 162 (3) which states: “There shall be no impediments to the establishment of private press and media; and in particular, there shall be no law requiring any person to obtain a license as a prerequisite to the establishment and operation of a newspaper, journal or other media for mass communication or information.’’

Under Chapter 12, headed “Freedom and Independence of the media”, the Constitution accords the media and media practitioners certain rights and privileges.

In Article 162 (1) and (2), it states “Freedom and independence of the media are hereby guaranteed. Subject to this Constitution, and any other law not inconsistent with this Constitution, there shall be no censorship in Ghana”.

Article 167 (c) makes it as one of the functions of the National Media Commission (NMC) “to insulate the state-owned media from governmental control.”

It is ironic that the broad freedom and independence that the 1992 Constitution confers on the media in Ghana has, since 1993, worked to lower professional standards of journalism rather than raising it.

Compared with earlier National Media Commissions in Ghana, the NMC of the 1992 Ghana constitution has functioned for more than 30 years.

It is stable and consistent but has it performed its duties well?

Article 167(b) charges the NMC “to take all appropriate measures to ensure the establishment and maintenance of the highest journalistic standards in the mass media, including the investigation, mediation and settlement of complaints made against it or by the press or other mass media”.

Has the NMC been able to do so?

 The NMC has failed to properly monitor mass media performance in Ghana in its 30 years of existence.

I believe that there is the need for a change in national media policy.

The NMC needs to be reformed in a way that makes it perform well.

It must establish a unit that would monitor media performance and issue periodical assessment reports.

Secondly, the insulation of the state-owned media from total governmental control has proved defeatist.  Article167 (c) must be amended for the State-Owned Media (SOMs) to serve as the organs of government.

In their present form, the SOMs, especially the print media, now function like private media houses with no responsibility to the public.

They are state corporations and must serve public interest. Glaring contrasts are the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) of the United Kingdom and the Voice of America (VOA) of the United States.

Both are media houses operating in the two most democratic countries in the world. Yet, the BBC and the VOA reflect government opinion while being objective and balanced in their news presentation.

The American Constitution and the regulations of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) do not insulate the VOA from governmental control.

For the BBC, the British Constitution also does not insulate the BBC from control of the British government.

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