By Collins Atta Poku
Ghana is a country with a very vibrant media and ranked as a Free country by the Freedom House Index. The country’s criminal libel laws were repealed in July 2001, a move that was hailed as genuine commitment to press freedom by the government. In the wake of all this, I want to ask, how accountable are the media?
Accountability implies being accountable, accountable to whom? To the public, obviously. While media regulation involves only political rulers and while self-regulation involves only the media industry, media accountability involves press, profession and public. That is exactly what Press Councils are meant to do, but is Ghana’s National Media Commission, the de facto Press Council ensuring there is media accountability in Ghana?
The media is an important player in the democratic dispensation of every nation state. Commonly referred to as the fourth estate of the realm, much academic literature points to a dependency relationship that exists between the media and democracy. The media needs democracy to function effectively just as democracy also needs the media. Press Councils come in various shapes: some do not accept publishers as in Switzerland, or do not accept journalists as in the UK, or do not accept the public as in Germany. But the norm is the tripartite Press Council as in Australia and New Zealand. Ghana’s Media Commission is no different as it is composed of these three key players and even more.
A section of the Ghanaian press at the Press Centre. (credit: myjoyonline.com)
- Association of Private Broadcasters
- Christian Group, the National Catholic Secretariat, the Christian Council, and the Ghana Pentecostal Council
- Ghana Advertising Association and the Institute of Public Relations of Ghana
- Ghana Association of Writers and the Ghana Library Association
- Ghana Bar Association
- Ghana Journalist Association
- National Council on Women and Development
- The Federation of Muslim Councils and Ahmadiyya Missions
- The Ghana National association of Teachers
- The Parliament of the Republic of Ghana
- The Presidency of the Republic of Ghana
- The publishers and Owners of the Private Press
- Trade Unions Congress
- Training Institutions of journalists and Communicators
That is a rich list of relevant organizations and agencies with genuine interest in the media and its role in Ghana’s democratic dispensation. They are ,mandated by the country’s constitution to promote and ensure the freedom and independence of the media for mass communication or information, 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 or by the press or other mass media, to insulate the state-owned media from governmental control and to take measures to ensure that persons responsible for state-owned media afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions. How well is the Commission dealing with its mandate and ensuring media accountability?
Kofi Adams (General Secretary of Ruling Party) and Kennedy Agyapong (MP) in a heated exchange of tirades and insults on live television. (Video courtesy Adom TV)
Ghana’s media landscape is to an extent characterized by foul language and abuse in political discussions and how much is the Commission working to change this? The recent unsavory exchanges between the General Secretary of the ruling National Democratic Congress, Mr. Kofi Adams and Hon. Kennedy Agyapong, the opposition New Patriotic Party member of parliament for Assin North in a live television show is one such example of this low ebb in the media. Strangely the commission has been silent on it, an incident which was both shocking and disgusting in equal measure.
Recently, Mr. Yahayah Kwamoah, a journalist with state-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) had his recording equipment seized and destroyed by presidential staffer Stan Dogbe, an event described by many as embarrassing and shameful. The journalist had gone to the hospital to follow-up on development around the Presidential press corps who had been involved in a serious accident that left one journalist dead and others serious injured. The Commission has been silent on this too.
It is for this reason and more that Ghana’s Media Commission must sit up and ensure that they act on their mandate and ensure that there are high journalistic standards. On the heels of such events the private organization, Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) ought to be commended for petitioning President John Dramani Mahama to demand sanctions against his staffer, Mr. Stan Dogbe among others. The organization also needs commendation for observing the media landscape, finding out those media organizations on which political actors repeatedly make such unsatisfactory remarks and name them to shame them.
The time is up for the National Media Commission, Ghana’s Press Council to sit up and act to ensure media accountability in the face of mounting concerns.