Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Payment For Media Accreditation For Elections Coverage


There is an ongoing debate about a statement from the Electoral Commission [EC] to the effect that journalists or media houses that will want to "Observe the Elections" and will be accredited to do so by the EC, will have to bear the cost of the accreditation tags that will be printed for them. It suggested that it may costs about GH¢10.00 per tag. In all honesty, there is nothing wrong with this decision. One would have had a big issue with the EC if it had said that no journalists will be accredited to observe the elections. Or if the Commission had said since it is the institution organising the elections, it will be issuing guidelines on what journalists can and cannot report on or about, during the elections. But obviously, the Commission cannot even dream of saying so. Being accredited to observe the elections means such accredited persons may have privileges to get closer to electoral processes in a way that non-accredited persons cannot. The EC as a public institution is mandated to conduct elections. This mandate of the Commission must be performed in a credible and transparent way and in accordance with the Law.This is the mandate of the EC. It does not include a burden to ensure that the media cover the elections. The Media and Journalists also have their mandate - to provide timely, credible and accurate information to the public - including information during elections.

There is no doubt that during elections, the media's work is crucial for electoral education, information, transparency and accountability. But fact is, that is the mandate or the responsibility of the media. That is what the media exist to do and should do. So when the media cover the elections, they are not doing the EC or Ghanaians a favour. They are performing their role. It is in recognition of this important role and other roles that the constitution guarantees media freedoms. It is the reason why we fight for press freedom. It is in recognition of the same important roles that journalists as a professional group - not teachers, doctors, nurses, pastors, professors - have the option of being accredited to observe the elections. The question which arises then is, if the process of producing accreditation tags, that which will distinguish journalists as special people during the elections for them to do the work that they must do, costs money, who should bear that cost? Is it the EC and by extension the tax payer?

Certainly, No. Is it then the media organisations? And the answer is an emphatic Yes. People have argued that the EC must bear the costs of the accreditation tags because it is the institution organising the elections. Well, then we may as well say the EC should bear the costs of transporting accredited journalists to the various constituencies and polling centres. The EC is discharging its mandate. The media should perform theirs. For those who cannot afford the cost of the tags, this is where their GJA dues should work for them.

Maybe the GJA should consider paying for members working with less endowed media organisations.

BY SULEMANA BRAIMAH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE MEDIA FOUNDATION FOR WEST AFRICA.

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