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Does the Ghanaian press fulfil its mandate?

 BY KWEKU GYESI ESSEL


SINCE THE emergence of modernity nations have found the media an inseparable part of their progress or development because of its roles of informing, educating and entertaining the public. These roles are prominently expressed in political discourse, national identity, and popular culture. Traditionally, when we talk about the media, we are considering journalists and the newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations they work for. However, the advent of the internet has brought in its trail the online media.

The media is described as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, which relates to the idea that the media is equally important in public life as the aristocracy (the people considered to be in the highest class of society because of their power, money and wealth, who include politicians and members of the judiciary), the Church and the ordinary people or the masses, who form the three traditional estates of society.

Available records have it that the news media in Ghana, the then Gold Coast, emerged in the nineteenth century and gave voice to popular campaigns for independence, national unity, development, and democracy throughout the twentieth century.

Colonial newspapers

It is said that the first newspaper to show up in the country was The Gold Coast Gazette and Commercial Intelligencer, published from 1822-25 by Sir Charles MacCarthy, the Governor of the British Gold Coast settlements. In their article titled ‘The Role of the Media Towards Achieving Independence’ published in 2014, Frank Asante and Faith Junko Ogawa called the first newspaper ‘The Royal Gold Coast Gazette’. It was used as a tool by the colonial government to provide information to European merchants and civil servants in the colony. It was also aimed at promoting literacy, encouraging rural development, and quelling the political aspirations of the growing class of native elites by securing their loyalty and conformity with the colonial system. The Gold Coast Gazette and Commercial Intelligencer was handwritten.

Information made available by Pressreference.com states that the local African elites saw the need for their own use of the print media and that need was made manifest in the mid-century by the publication of The Accra Herald by Charles Bannerman, son of a British lieutenant governor and a princess from the Asante royal family. The Accra Herald, also handwritten, was circulated to some 300 subscribers, two-thirds of them African. Enduring for 16 years, the success of Bannerman’s paper, whose name was changed to The West African Herald, stimulated a proliferation of African-owned newspapers in the late nineteenth century, among them the Gold Coast Times, Western Echo, Gold Coast Assize, Gold Coast News, Gold Coast Aborigines, Gold Coast Chronicle, Gold Coast People, Gold Coast Independent, and Gold Coast Express.

These were mainly weeklies and they were used to explain the indigenous enthusiasm for newspapers in terms of an overall strategy by native elites to gain political power. The early Gold Coast weeklies were critical of the colonial government, denouncing specific officials and opposing policies. The editorial positions of these papers expressed an adversarial stance but the British adopted a comparatively tolerant approach to the local press in the Gold Coast on certain occasions. Dailies could not survive due to regularity of publication until 1931 when Dr J.B. Danquah established The West African Times, which later became The Times of West Africa, as a true daily.

As quoted in Asante and Ogawa (2014), the Asante Pioneer was set up in 1939 as the mouthpiece of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). Earlier in 1935, the Gold Coast Governor then set up a small wired relay station named ZOY to transmit BBC programmes to colonial residents and some privileged native elites. It was mainly to counter independence agitations. The station later became the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. Later the Information Services Department was established principally to go round communities showing news on World War II. Dr Kwame Nkrumah established television in Ghana in 1965 with the assistance of Sanyo of Japan.

It must be noted that the Methodist Church also played a role in the growth of journalism in the country. In 1888, the church launched the Gold Coast Methodist which later became known as the Gold Coast Methodist Times. It was initially meant for evangelization but was later transformed into a nationalist paper under the editorship of  Rev S.R.B. Solomon who later changed his name to Rev S.R.W. Attoh Ahumah, a clergyman of Asante and Ga parentage.

Frustration of the African elites

Frustrated in their attempts at exercising political power within the colonial order, indigenous elites became increasingly opposed to colonial authority in the early twentieth century. The gentlemanly dialogue of nineteenth century newspapers transformed into full-blown anticolonial protest in the newspapers of the 1930s. Newspapers demanded that citizens be given political rights, improved living standards, and self-government. As the political agenda of Gold Coast journalism radicalized, newspapers began reaching out beyond the circle of elites, appealing to rural leaders and the urban poor with a more accessible language and fiery oppositional outcry.

It must be noted that certain non-Gold Coast natives stoked the fire for independence in the Gold Coast in special ways. One of them was Nigerian Nnamdi Azikiwe, who used his African Morning Post to increase the criticism of the colonists in the country. He later on moved to Nigeria and as result of his efforts he became the first president of that country.

It should also be noted that women made significant contribution to the independence struggle and prominent among them was Miss Mabel Ellen Dove, a journalist, freedom fighter, political activist and prolific writer. She was married by Dr J.B. Danquah and also she became the first female member of the Legislative Assembly in the Gold Coast.

In 1948, political activist Kwame Nkrumah started The Accra Evening News, a publication stating the views of the Convention People’s Party (CPP). Largely written by party officials, this newspaper, described in colonial circles as inflammatory, incessantly repeated the popular demand for “Self-government Now!” while launching angry attacks against the colonial government.

In contrast, the London Daily Mirror Group, headed by British newspaper magnate Cecil King, established The Daily Graphic in 1950. The Graphic sought to maintain a policy of political neutrality, emphasizing objective reporting by local African reporters. With its Western origin, The Graphic sought to position itself as the most professional newspaper in the Gold Coast at the time, and this objectivity has remained the hallmark of the Daily Graphic till now in spite of its nationalization and rebranding.

Attainment of Independence                                

Led by the anti-colonial press and Nkrumah’s CPP, Ghana achieved independence in 1957, becoming the first colony in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence from the British and won political autonomy in 1960. As the leader of independent Ghana, Nkrumah became president in 1960 when a new constitution established the nation as a republic.

Crafting an African form of socialism, Nkrumah saw media as an instrument of state authority, using newspapers as propaganda tools to build national unity and popular support for the ambitious development projects of the new government. Influenced by Lenin, Nkrumah orchestrated a state information apparatus through a hierarchical network of institutions, including the Ministry of Information, Ghana News Agency, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, and his own press, Guinea Press, Ltd., that published two daily newspapers, one free weekly, and several specialized publications. One of these, Nkrumah’s own Evening News, became a “kind of Pravda of the CPP,” dominated by party news and adulations of Nkrumah.

Rejecting the commercialism of the private press as politically irresponsible, Nkrumah harassed the remaining private papers and eventually purchased The Daily Graphic in 1963, incorporating the paper into his state apparatus. The Kumasi-based Ashanti Pioneer, founded in 1939 by John and Nancy Tsiboe, remained defiant in the 1950s and early 1960s, animated by regional opposition to Nkrumah. After repeatedly subjecting the paper to censorship, eventually Nkrumah shut down the paper in 1962. The editor of the Pioneer was detained for seven months and the city editor spent four-and-a-half years in detention in Fort Ussher Prison for criticism against the government.

Nkrumah overthrown

In 1966, Nkrumah was overthrown by a military coup lead by the National Liberation Council (NLC). In contrast to state domination under Nkrumah, the NLC took a more libertarian approach to the news media: releasing independent journalists from prison, closing down the more blatant instruments of state propaganda, and lifting forms of censorship and bans on foreign journalists. However, most media were then owned by the state and therefore obliged to change their editorial positions overnight, extolling the virtues of Nkrumah and African socialism one day, then lambasting the violence and corruption of his regime the next. While the NLC publicly encouraged “constructive” criticism and the free flow of information, the main newspapers continued to experience indirect forms of state patronage and influence.

Ghana has been ruled by a series of military regimes and democratic republics since the late 1960s. In the midst of this political shifts, the media have been subjected to alternating policies of libertarian tolerance and revolutionary control. In 1981, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings seized power from the democratically elected government of Hilla Limann. Following in the footsteps of Nkrumah, Rawlings summoned the media to actively promote revolutionary ideals of the ruling party PNDC (later NDC) while whipping up popular enthusiasm for the participatory projects of the state. The editorial staff of the state media were reshuffled or dismissed and the editorial policies of the state media were strategically shaped to suit the interests of the new regime. Throughout the 1980s, the state media apparatus applied a variety of techniques of official and unofficial censorship, including repressive laws, public intimidation and harassment, bans on oppositional publications, and arrest and detention of dissident journalists. In order to avoid state harassment, many newspapers avoided politics altogether and focused on sports reporting instead.

Fourth Republic in 1992

In 1992, Ghana returned to democratic rule, which is the Fourth Republic, with the ratification of a new constitution. Rawlings was twice elected President, first in 1992 and then again in 1996. In the democratic dispensation, Rawlings lifted the newspaper licensing law, allowing for the reemergence of the private press in the early 1990s. Newspapers such as The Independent, the Ghanaian Chronicle, The Free Press, and The Statesman gave voice to the angry opposition silenced in years of repression, prompting Rawlings to repeatedly denounce the private media as politically irresponsible and selfishly motivated by profit. Throughout the 1990s, the two state dailies, Ghanaian Times and Daily Graphic, continued to represent the interests of the ruling-party NDC government.

After nineteen years of Rawlings and the NDC, Ghanaians elected John Agyekum Kufour of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) as their new president in December 2000. While urging the media to be responsible, President Kufour advocated free expression, political pluralism, and an independent media as important elements of liberal democracy—a dramatic shift from Rawlings’s furious condemnations of the private press.

Print media

Currently about 40 newspapers are published in Ghana. The state funds two daily newspapers and two weekly entertainment papers. Daily Graphic and its entertainment weekly, The Mirror, are produced in Accra by the state-funded Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL). Ghanaian Times and its affiliate, Weekly Spectator, are produced by the state-funded Times Corporation, also in Accra.  Graphic and Times operate offices in all 10 regional capitals and both are distributed throughout the 10 regions via company vehicles, particularly pick-ups and vans, especially in the case of Graphic.

In the 1970s, the government used the air force and Ghana Airways flights to minimize delays in delivery to the regions. The GCGL has resumed the delivery of its papers by air to the three northern regions. The independent newspapers provide national political coverage but have limited circulation as most of them are found in only in Accra and the the regional capital.

Some of the most influential independent newspapers are The Ghanaian Chronicle, Daily Heritage, Daily Guide, Statesman, a politically biased paper run by the ruling New Patriotic Party and its counterpart, The Democrat run by the opposition National Democratic Congress and the Business and Financial Times

English is the official language Ghana and a such all newspapers are published in English. This has not always been the case. During the colonial period, missionaries published materials in local languages and a few indigenous entrepreneurs published newspapers in the Akan languages of southern Ghana. After independence, local-language newspapers were produced in literacy campaigns by the Bureau of Ghana Languages, or else by churches for evangelical purposes. These papers have had limited circulation and livelihood. While newspapers have neglected local languages, many FM radio stations have introduced very popular local-language programmes in Accra and in the regions.

It must also be noted that the GCGL published newspaper in Twi in the beginning of the 21st Century but it could not survive because of poor patronage due to the people’s lack of competency in the local language. The company also published and circulated for free a wholly advertising paper, Graphic Advertiser but that one too could not survive.

Press Laws

Chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution guarantees the freedom and independence of the media. Article 2 explicitly prohibits censorship, while Article 3 preempts any licensing requirements for mass media. Editors and publishers are shielded from government control, interference, or harassment. When the content of mass media stigmatizes any particular individual or group, the media are obliged to publish any rejoinder from the stigmatized party.

According to  Asante and Ogawa (2014) journalists welcomed the liberal provisions of the constitution, hailing the 1990s as a new era of free expression in Ghana. Many private newspapers that had been prohibited by Rawlings’ own 1989 newspaper licensing law suddenly reappeared, full of antigovernment criticism and eager to exercise the new freedoms. Despite the letter of the law, the Rawlings government continued to pressure the state press and intimidate the private press, resorting to more indirect techniques of control. State journalists whose opinions or news stories diverged from the ruling party line were chastised, demoted, or sent away on “punitive transfer” to remote offices in the regions, often to places where they did not speak the local language. As the private press investigated corruption among Rawlings’s own cabinet, many state officials retaliated with civil and criminal libel suits against private journalists. Since journalists are prohibited from reporting on a story once it has gone to court, such libel cases had the effect of stalling the investigation while channelling the controversy out of the public eye and into the court system where state officials might expect a more sympathetic audience.

The deployment of the legal system against the press dates back to the colonial period. Many specific laws used to silence and intimidate the press in recent years bear very close resemblance to those crafted by the British to squelch anticolonial criticism among indigenous elites in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning in 1893 the British passed a series of Newspaper Registration Ordinances to keep track of all editors and publishers and prohibit any offensive publications. In the 1930s, the British responded to the rising tide of nationalist agitation by instituting the Criminal Code (Amendment) Ordinance, defining broad categories of sedition, including racial or class antagonism. The British were quick to bring cases of libel or sedition against journalists who criticized colonial officials or policies in print.

Signaling his commitment to free expression and independent media, President Kufour repealed the seditious criminal libel law in 2001″ Denouncing the pressures of commercialism, Kufuor warned the press against falsely damaging the reputations of public figures. He, therefore, called on Ghana Journalists Association to “check any excesses” in the press.

State-Press Relations

Since the establishment of the state media, state journalists have enjoyed a privileged relationship to government sources, information, documents, and resources. This privilege is both formal and informal. The government requests the presence of state journalists at daily “invited assignments” to state events and press conferences. At these events, state journalists are provided with official commentary as well as the printed speeches, facilitating the quick newswriting necessary for daily newspapers. Many state officials will only talk to state journalists, never private ones, especially those perceived to be against their regime.

Until very recently, private journalists were not welcome at the seat of gevernment. Not only were they not invited to cover state events, they would be turned away if they showed up to cover the story.

Attitude Towards Foreign Media

Ghana maintains a liberal approach to foreign media and correspondents. Resident in the capital are representatives of Agence France Presse, Associated Press (AP), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Bridge News, Cable News Network (CNN), Canale France Internationalle (CFI), Panafrican News Agency (PANA), Reuters, Union of Radio and Television Network of Africa (URTNA), and Voice of America (VOA). Most of these are local Ghanaians with distinguished reputations in Ghanaian journalism and strong global connections. In general they carry out their work without government interference or harassment. Outgoing information is not censored.

Incoming information is also free-flowing, though somewhat limited to elite audiences due to cost. Foreign publications such as Time and Newsweek are sold at the larger news kiosks. Foreign newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post can be purchased in major hotels. BBC News is broadcast on GTV and local radio stations. CNN is available to cable subscribers.

New Agencies

Lamenting the distorted images of Africa in the international media, Nkrumah set up the Ghana News Agency in 1957 to provide more balanced representation of local, national, and continental news, and it is still in place. Reuters initially provided guidance and technical assistance but the Agency was fully Africanized in 1961. GNA was the first wire service to be established in Africa south of the Sahara and long considered the most efficient news agency in the region. As part of the information apparatus, GNA was central to Nkrumah’s effort to monopolize the production and distribution of news at home while monitoring the flow of information and images from Ghana to the outside world.

GNA maintains offices throughout the regions and districts of Ghana, channelling news stories to the head office located in the Ministries neighborhood of Accra. The Agency used to have international bureaus in major cities in 10 countries, including Lagos, London, Moscow, Nairobi, and New York; however, funding cuts have forced all but the London office to close. Over 140 organizations and diplomatic missions subscribe to the news service, which provides home news, foreign news, African news, features, and advertising. GNA has news exchange agreements with Reuters, Agence France-Presse, TASS, PANA, Zinhua (Chinese News Agency) and DPA (German News Agency).

Broadcast Media

There are now countless radio and television stations across the country after the introduction of the broadcast media in 1935. Today there are numerous FM stations in the national capital, Accra, alone and at least one in the nine regional and about 160 district capitals, broadcasting in mostly Akan, Ga, Ewe, Nzema, Dagbani, Hausa, and English, with Akan being used more widely. Some of the popular RM stations are JOY FM, Peace FM, Okay FM, Kasapa FM, Adom FM, Radio Univers transmitted on the campus of the University of Ghana, and Oman FM.

Nkrumah introduced television in 1965 and only Ghana Broadcasting Corporation operated television services. Currently known as GTV, the TV station broadcasts across the country until privatization of the airwaves in the 1990s.

After the privatization of the airwaves, the government gave approval to the allocation of frequencies to private television stations. Two private channels, TV3 and Metro TV, went on the air in 1997. In the Greater Accra Region, Multichoice Satellite System offers subscribers access to BBC World Service Television, CNN, Supersports, and M-Net, a South African commercial network offering mostly western movies, music videos, and television serials. Now there are numerous private TV stations like GHone, UTV, NET 2, Atinka, and Fire TV, some of broadcast only religious programmes such OBTV owned by Bishop Daniel Obinim.

Education and Training

Three programs provide journalism training in Ghana. The majority of journalists in Ghana are trained at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) in Accra. GIJ was founded in 1958, offering two-year diploma programs in both Journalism and Public Relations/Advertising. GIJ also provides a number of short-term courses in advertising, public relations, writing skills, and photojournalism. It now offers degree courses. Established in the Pan-African context of the Nkrumah period, GIJ still emphasizes that students should be trained to become “truly African in their professional outlook.” GIJ has trained journalists from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Swaziland, Namibia, and South Africa.

The second training institution, the School of Communication Studies, was founded in 1974 at the University of Ghana at Legon. The School offers a postgraduate training and a master’s-level degree in journalism and mass communications. The School of Communications Studies publishes the quarterly journal, Media Monitor, dedicated to the discussion of media issues and promoting high professional standards.

Now there are private journalism schools such as the African University College of Communications AUCC) and Jayee.

Is the media in Ghana living up to its mandate?

In the colonial era, the local press agitated for independence. The semblance of such agitations is seen in some newspapers and radio and TV stations being at the back of either the government or the opposition and, in the partisan context, at the party in power or opposition, depending on where they stand. In both 2000 and in 2016 some private newspapers and broadcast stations waged war against the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) to boost the campaigns of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) and succeeded in both cases to get them out of power. In both cases, the private press, excluding those singing the praise of NDC such the Democrat, portrayed to the whole world that they could never be friends with the NDC.

The media is supposed to expose corruption. We can see that they exposed corrupt deals in the NDC government, which the government denied but they insisted on their claims. Now some of those exposés in the John Mahama administration are proving to be true. Take the …..case for example. The recent BOST sale of contaminated oil is also being hyped by opposition papers.

It is unfortunate that the state-owned press are mild when it comes to corruptiuon exposés in government but they are stronger in all other areas because they have more newspaper space and flexible and well planned air time to render more public service than the private press who are more for commercialization. However, both presses allow public participation in their programmes by way of letters to the editor, rejoinders and articles written by members of the public in the case of newspapers; and phone-ins and studio discussions in the case of the radio and TV stations in which some people talk about corruption.

The press also carry news items that inform the public about all manner of things and happenings such as accidents, deaths of prominent people, significant events like national celebrations, and school events. Some public announcements are also to inform us about particular issues.

There are also articles, documentaries and studio discussions that are meant to educate the public by explaining certain processes in sectors of the economy such as how to increase agricultural yields or prevent some diseases or manage them.

Now because of the media people able to easily participate in the public discourse concerning politics, customs and traditions, religion, education, travel, health and what have you. Now we can say without equivocation that but for the broadcast media which is commonplace, the Ghanaian public would have more ignorant than anyone would have thought because generally, Ghanaians do no like reading . The radio and TV and also the new media, internet, in the forms of WhatsApp, Twitter and the like have made most people well informed about many issues.

As for entertainment, the print media provides both text and pictures and the electronic media provide both the speech and action, sometimes live as in the cases of some concerts or awards events. Now every TV station has entertainment package to offer in the form of sports, music, telenovelas, movies and documentaries.

Conclusion

It can be said that the Ghanaian media may be seen as not meeting the standards once they are compared to the BBCs, CNNs, the Reuters and the like but they are doing their best. Where they falter, the National Media Commission (NMC) is available to address the issues but where victims of defamations, for instance, feel not satisfied with the steps taken  by the NMC, they can go to court for redress. Since it is difficult to have a perfect system, what we can do is to keep observing the Ghanaian media scene to decipher whether industry players are living up to their calling.

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