The 2017 African Media Barometer report, a handbook which analyses the media landscape on the continent makes interesting observation. The seventy eight paged manual which is an in-depth description of national media environments on the African continent serves as a practical tool to lobby for media reforms. According to the report, even though there was freedom of expression including independent media publications in Ghana which were effectively protected and promoted, there were no laws that allowed the public free access to information from official sources. The report noted that even though the media environment was open, free and vibrant, the sector faced challenges of ethics and professionalism.
It observed that the three basic principles of objectivity, cross checking of facts and separating comments from facts were compromised. In his remarks at the launch of the report in Accra, the Acting Resident Director of the Friedrich, Ebert Stiftung, a German foundation, Christopher Forest, commended Ghana for making space for people to express themselves without fear with some even going overboard. According to him, Ghana is the only country in Africa where people can insult the President and get away with it.
At his recent interaction with the media at the Flagstaff House, President Akufo-Addo praised the Ghanaian Media for holding his government accountable and publishing its policies. He noted that even though he has been one of the greatest victims of spewed calumnies, falsehood and outright fabrications, he does not regret his role in the repeal of the discredited criminal libel law. Society, they say begets the media it deserves.
The challenge of the media in Ghana is nothing but its ownership structure. This confers power on whoever owns the media to the extent that owners dictate content. The threat to press freedom today does not emanate from officialdom as it used to be. Now, owners dictate the pace even though some of them know next to nothing about the operation of the media. They therefore use the power of ownership to settle scores and intimidate, harass or dismiss their workers on flimsy excuses. Some do not give employment contract to their workers and would easily dismiss them at the least offense. Even if the media are enjoying much freedom, this is curtailed at the micro level by owners.
As a nation, we need to take a long and hard look at the implications of private media ownership. It is not enough to have a pluralistic media. We acknowledge pluralism has its advantages in the sense that it allows for all shades of opinions, however, the drawback of such freedom is the unrestricted power and dictatorial tendencies of media owners. The inability of government to ensure the passage to the right to information bill is equally worrying. It is said, he who cuts the path knows not where it is crooked. The bill when passed will embolden Ghanaians to hold public officials accountable. Access to data is a pre-requisite to an informed society and for that matter, development.
Efforts must be made at building the capacity and resource the media to enable them to live up to their responsibilities. Poor remuneration of media personnel is another area that is worth looking at. It is pathetic to see media personnel scrambling for handouts popularly called ‘soli’ at events and programmes. Despite the many journalism professionals, who are churned out by the training institutions, only a few are employed by the media houses. Taking into consideration the risks journalists go through in executing their jobs, there should be compressive risk mitigating systems such as insurance packages and protective gears. Unionisation is another option that needs to be explored to protect the right and sanctity of practitioners.
The African Media Barometer Report has come at an opportune time and must be looked at critically to enable us to reap the benefits thereof.
BY JUSTICE MINGLE, A JOURNALIST.