Journalists, media stakeholders decry abuse, lowering professionalism standards

During the 2020 elections, a popular television station in Ghana rushed into projecting the outcome of the country’s parliamentary elections.

The TV station projected that the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) had won more seats in Parliament than the main opposition, National Democratic Congress (NDC).

“…We can say for sure that based on the breaking news coming through now; 149 for the NPP and 126 for the NDC in the parliamentary results coming through in all 275 constituencies. We can make that projection here on your Election Command Centre,” a news anchor said authoritatively during a live broadcast.

That information turned out to be a hoax. The final result (NPP-137; NDC-137 and independent candidate-1) would show a hanged Parliament with the NPP having just a seat more than the country’s largest opposition party.

Over the years, radio and televisions stations in Ghana have been trying to outdo each other in calling the country’s elections amidst outrage from the losing party.

While the cardinal sins of journalism including inaccuracies, prejudice and stereotyping, mixing facts with opinion traverse the Ghanaian media, some people also use it to justify brutalities on journalists.

There is a noticeable trend of a relentless cycle of attacks on journalists and the media by security agents. For instance, as of the second half of 2021, the MFWA had recorded nine (9) cases of violations against journalists and the media in Ghana, most of which were perpetrated by security personnel.

Issues of professionalism and safety of journalists were on the table when stakeholders in the Ghanaian media met at the Angie Hill Hotel in Accra on October 24.

Organised by the MFWA with support from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the forum on Media Professionalism and Safety of Journalists in Ghana formed part of activities that marked the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

Most participants held the view that journalists must hold themselves to higher standards of professionalism.

Setting the tone for the discussions, the Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Sulemana Braimah, bemoaned the rush in broadcasting or publishing stories without verification.

He was, however, quick to add that even if journalists got it wrong, it did not justify the violence against them.

“We can’t ignore the fact that in recent times the gravity of attacks on journalists is increasing,” MFWA’s Executive Director said.

Mr Braimah’s position reflected in the statistics the MFWA collated during a monitoring of the Freedom of Expression landscape from June 2020 to May 2021. The MFWA monitored the media in Ghana for adherence to media ethics and professionalism.

Transgressions

The project monitored 26 media organisations comprising 10 Akan language broadcasting radio stations; 10 newspapers and six news websites.

More than 22,270 contents were monitored with 2,710, representing 12% found to have ethical violations.

A Programme Officer of the MFWA, Kwaku Krobea Asante, who presented the report of the project observed that pro-partisan media houses were more likely to violate ethics.

The top five ethical violations were issues about indecency, inaccuracies, prejudice and stereotyping, mixing facts with opinion, good taste, and public sensibilities.

“Most of the ethical violations were recorded at prime time. Pro-partisan radio stations are being turned into weapons for verbal attacks and propaganda against political opponents. Playing of highly offensive voice notes on air sent via WhatsApp platforms,” he catalogued the transgressions.

On violence against the media, while about 60% of the victims of media brutality were journalists, media workers and media houses, over 90% of the cases have not been redressed perpetuating the culture of impunity of crimes against journalists and the media.

The Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC), Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafo, who has spent more than 35-years of life in the newsroom, classroom and boardroom could not resist the temptation to lecture on ethics.

He condemned attacks on journalists “You don’t need to act well to be treated. The fact that journalists act in a certain way doesn’t mean they should be maltreated.”

With the public opinion divided over journalists use of subterfuge to obtain information, his rule of thumb was that anytime you resort to subterfuge, it should be in the public interest. “But you also do it at your own risk. If you’re caught, you’ll be dealt with,” Mr Boadu-Ayeboafo warned.

“There can be no sense of responsibility if there’s no freedom. If you’re free, you must also take responsibility for your actions,” he said.

Over the years UNESCO is among the institutions that have led the charge for a safer and more secure environment for journalism practice in the country.

Its representative in Ghana, Diallo Abdourahamane, noted that it was important not to compromise on the freedom and safety of media personnel.

“It should be our collective responsibility to protect journalists. The strengthening of national mechanisms on safety for journalists is very important in promoting the safety of journalists,” he explained.

During a panel discussion, Zakaria Tanko Musah, a lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, said journalists who failed to adhere to ethics undermined the profession.

“If we fail to adhere to the code of ethics, then we play into the hands of the political actors and the politically exposed people who will want to regulate the media because of a lack of professionalism.”

But Muheeb Saeed, the Program Manager of Freedom of Expression at the MFWA, had a contrary view.

He observed that attacks on journalists had not entirely been triggered by unprofessional journalism.

Making reference to the MFWA’s monitoring report, Mr   Saeed pointed out that ethical breaches were recorded more on politically affiliated radio stations but in reality, journalists from these media houses were not the victims of the brutalities.

“The star victims of press freedom violations in Ghana have always been or have often been one of the most professional and respected journalists in the country.”

He cited the example of respected investigative journalist and Editor of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni, who received a barrage of threats, forcing to him seek refuge outside the country.

“Most of the attacks have come as a result of people refusing to accept that journalists have to do their work of exposing evil in society.”

Adding to the discussions, journalist and private legal practitioner, Samson Lardy Anyenini, noted that some media houses lacked professionalism to the extent that they did not have editorial policy.

He said it was not enough to be called a journalist because one could read and write.

Who is a journalist?

Vivian Kai Lokko, Head of News at Citi TV/FM, agreed with Mr Anyenini. She observed that media business was a capital expensive venture hence most owners were not willing to pay the professionals to do the work.

“You see SHS graduates who leave school wanting to do media, you see anybody on the street very fluent in the local language gets pulled in the sector and when they commit these unprofessional things, we just let them retract or the media houses apologise… that is the problem.”

In Ghana, journalists are not licensed to practice.

She wondered why the regulator is not pushing for such people to be taken out.

The Forum saw over eighty (80) participants in attendance. The attendees included the Country Representatives of UNESCO Ghana and DW Akademie, representatives of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Ghana Journalist Association, security services, Civil Society Organizations, students from selected communication universities, human rights organisations and journalists.

Share this story!

Related Stories