During Ghana’s 2016 elections campaign period, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) constituted a five-member media expert group to support the organisation’s engagement with owners and managers of radio stations to help ensure adherence to professional standards in the coverage of the elections.
The group, designated as the Eminent Media Persons Group (EMPG), is made up of Ms. Ajoa Yeboah-Afari, Chairperson of Editors Forum, Ghana (EFG); Prof. Amin Alhassan, Dean of the Faculty of Agribusiness and Communication Sciences at the University for Development Studies, Tamale; Mr. Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC); Dr. Doris Yaa Dartey, member of the NMC and Deputy Chairperson of EFG; and Prof. Kwame Karikari, Board Member and former Executive Director of the MFWA.
With support from the Embassy of France in Ghana and STAR-Ghana, the EMPG held separate meetings with 30 radio station owners and managers in the Greater Accra, Northern, Volta and Ashanti regions ahead of the December 2016 elections.
The meetings, which were held in the respective offices of the radio stations, discussed plans for the coverage of the elections among the radio stations and offered recommendations to the stations. The group also discussed with the managers and owners, general challenges faced by the stations and the broadcast industry in general, existence or otherwise of editorial policies, human resource capacity issues, financial challenges and prospects, and sustainability of stations.
At the end of the media visits, the group held a review meeting to discuss the key issues that came up during the visits, challenges they identified, and recommendations for improving the sector.
Key among the challenges and issues identified by the EMPG however are: generally low professional standards and rising spate of ethical violations; weak capacity in radio management skills among a considerable number of radio station managers; absence of documented editorial policies in many radio stations; absence of human resource policies; absence of business plans among several radio stations; absence of programme development plans; weak capacity of journalists; and poor remuneration and delays in the payment of remuneration of journalists.
Other challenges identified were the high cost of operations; over-reliance on advertising revenues as only means of financial sustainability; weak media economy and consequent financial sustainability challenges especially for radio stations located in deprived areas; and limited support from professional associations and regulatory bodies.
For many of the radio stations visited, while they were providing coverage on election-related issues, there were no concrete, documented plans for the coverage of the elections.
On a very positive note, the team observed with satisfaction, a great deal of commitment among staff and journalists towards their work and towards ensuring that they contributed toward a peaceful election.
In the light of the challenges identified during the visits, the group is calling for major reforms in the country’s broadcast media sector and makes the following 10-point recommendations:
- There is an urgent need to reform and strengthen the media regulatory frameworks in the country including the National Media Commission, Ghana Journalists Association, Ghana Independent Braodcasters Association, among others.
- There is an urgent need for a broadcasting law to streamline and regulate operations in the industry. The processes towards the passage of the Broadcasting Law should, therefore, be expedited.
- There is a need for a Content Standards Guide for radio stations to enhance professional standards.
- The National Communications Authority should adopt measures that will ensure transparency in the allocation of frequencies.
- Media organisations should endeavour to have documented editorial, human resource, advertising and programme policies and plans that are also respected in practice.
- Stakeholders in the media industry should thoroughly examine the rising influence of social media and the implications for professionalism and thrust for mainstream media.
- There is a need for capacity development for both managerial and editorial staff of media organisations, especially radio stations.
- Media sector support organisations should prioritise support for the sustainability of local radio stations in economically-deprived areas.
- District level and other rural-based radio stations should endeavour to focus more on covering issues and news about their local communities and desist from seeking to copy what is done by stations in the big cities.
- Professional bodies, editors and other actors should consciously and assertively promote ethically informed practice.
The MFWA commits to working with all stakeholders towards the realisation of these reforms and the consequent strengthening of the Ghanaian media. It is our hope that all stakeholders will also commit to efforts towards having a strong, vibrant and professional media industry in Ghana.