Is the media a weapon for peace or destruction? … As NCCE, NMC Senior journalists brainstorm as elections approach
News feature by Emmanuel Akli
It is on record that most of the conflicts going on or once engulfed the continent of Africa were caused by media recklessness. Rwanda readily comes to mind when records of the senseless conflicts are being tallied. A journalist is said to have gone on air in Kigali, the political capital and made several hate speeches, inciting one ethnic group against the other.
This reckless act resulted in the death of an estimated 800,000 innocent people, including children and women. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has so far tried and jailed some of these journalists for their roles in the Rwandan genocide.
With this history at the back of our minds, there is always a sign of hysteria anytime elections approach in Ghana, because of the power of the media and how nation wreckers could use it to sow seeds of confusion in the country.
Some of the African countries which think dialogue is not the answer to control the recklessness of the media have also come out with stringent measures to manage the work of the journalists.
In The Gambia, for example, would-be media owners are required by law to provide collateral before a license is granted to publish a newspaper or set up a radio station to disseminate information and also entertain the public.
This means that journalists who are unable to provide the collaterals are barred from practicing journalism, thereby stifling freedom of expression. It is, therefore, not surprising that President Yahya Jameh has got the freedom to do whatever he likes, because the means by which the people could use to express their views on matters of national interest has been put under strict state control.
In Uganda, the government also has legislation where practising journalists must have a certain level of qualification. This means that if one is a Senior High School leaver, he or she cannot practice in the East Africa nation.
Fortunately for journalists in Ghana, the 1992 Constitution has provided the liberal way for the establishment of newspaper houses, including the electronic media, and the practice of journalism in Ghana.
Indeed, Article 162 of the Constitution states: (1) Freedom and the independence of the media are hereby guaranteed
(2) Subject to this constitution and any other law not inconsistent with this constitution, there shall be no censorship in Ghana
(3) there shall be no impediment for the establishments of private press or media; and in particular, there shall be no law requiring any person to obtain a license as a prerequisite to the establishment or operation of a newspaper, journal or other media for mass communication or information.
Clause (4) also reads: Editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by Government, nor shall they be penalized or harassed for their editorial opinions and views, or the content of their publications.
Some journalists in Ghana have, however, taken advantage of these clauses in the Constitution to breach the ethics of the profession, by publishing all manner of stories that sometimes undermine the security and unity of the country.
This waywardness even becomes more precarious during an election year, where people, especially politicians, say all manner of things just to gain political advantages.
In Kenya, an election that was being conducted to elect the president and members of Parliament turned violent and resulted in the deaths of many people in the East African country.
To help avoid some of these calamities from befalling Ghana, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), in collaboration with the National Media Commission (NMC), on Tuesday this week, organised a workshop for media owners and senior journalists.
The NCCE organised the workshop based on Act 452 of 1993, which established the commission. The Act mandates the commission to create and sustain within society an awareness of the principles and objectives of the National Constitution, educate the citizenry on the constitution, and encourage them to defend the constitution at all times against all forms of abuse and violation.
Certainly, if a journalist allows pages in his or her newspaper or a radio platform to be used to disseminate hate speeches, it violates the constitution, and this is where the NCCE comes in.
Speaking on the topic ‘Overview of the Guidelines for fair and equitable reporting,’ a senior journalist, publisher and Board Member of the Ghana News Agency (GNA), Alhaji Abdul-Raman Haruna Attah, however, argued that though Article 162 of the Constitution says there shall be no censorship, it had a caveat, and that the provision was not absolute.
According to him, if a journalist is going wayward, the NMC has the constitutional obligation to rein in that journalist or newspaper house.
He based his argument of Article 167 (b) of the Constitution, which mandates the NMC to take appropriate measures to ensure the establishment and maintenance of 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.
Though Haruna’s argument sounds good, the NMC, which has power to rein in erring journalists, has not been clothed with enough powers to punish offenders who breach the ethics of the profession.
The Chairman of the NMC, Kabral Blay Amihere, who also spoke on the topic, ‘Promoting free, fair and peaceful elections; the role of media owners,’ and chief executives at the same workshop, admitted the limitations of the commission
According to him, sometimes journalists refused to appear before the settlement committee of the Commission, but they had no powers to compel or sanction them. Kabral equally made reference to the National Communications Authority (NCA), which grants licenses to radio stations, but has no power over the content of their programmes.
Though not supporting journalists who breach the ethics of the profession, Ambassador Kabral thinks some of them cannot be blamed entirely
He was not happy with situations where politicians were granted licenses to operate radio stations.
According to him, some of the journalists have little control if their politician owner walked to the studios and starts saying things that do not serve the interest of the state. He did not, however, spare the journalists entirely. According to the former journalism lecturer, the basic principle in journalism was to always crosscheck your facts.
Regrettably, he noted, these days some of the journalists do not adhere to this basic principle, and resort to the publication of all manner of things, some of which tend to create tension in the country.
He made specific reference to what ex-President Rawlings was alleged to have written in the book of condolence that has been opened at the State House in honour of the late President Mills.
To him, the office of the former President ought to have been contacted to ascertain whether he indeed wrote what had been attributed to him.
Kabral also noted that though the private media had no constitutional obligation to give equal access to all the political parties, the ethics of the journalism profession mandates them to do so.
He noted that every journalist practising in Ghana must always preach and write about peace, and not the side of discord. He, however, said if this would be achieved, owners of the various newspapers and radio stations had major roles to play, since the buck always stops with them. The NMC Chairman also condemned the situation where media owners allow their political affiliations to cloud their sense of judgement.
To streamline the operations of the media by making sure that they adhere to the ethics of the profession and nip all infractions in the bud, Kabral hinted that the NMC, with the support of the European Union, had started a process to review the Act that established the Commission to give it biting powers.
He could not give the specific period the Constitutional Instrument (CI) would be submitted to Parliament, but said it could happen before the end of the year, or early next year.
The former Ghana High Commissioner to Sierra Leone noted that the stringent measures that have been adopted by The Gambian government, regarding news paper registration and the general practice of journalism, was not the best way to go, but regretted that Ghana was gradually tilting towards that direction.
But, Dr. Antwi Danso, a professor at the University of Ghana, Legon, does not think Ghana has to got that far, and posed the question: “If we (journalists) abhor the politics of insults, why publish these insults in our papers?”
To Dr. Antwi-Danso, who chaired the workshop, “If you are sent to insult a chief, it is you the carrier of the message who deserves more punishment.”
According to him, there were about 74 hot spots in Ghana, and that placed a lot of responsibility on journalists to ensure peace before, during and after the December general elections.
Meanwhile, the following is a communiqué issued by the journalists after the workshop. Journalists were reminded that the Media is an indispensable actor in society who plays a link role between government and the people.
They serve as a mirror of society, and can therefore, make or unmake governments.
Participants were further reminded that the success of democracy starts and ends with the media.
They have the power to set the agenda and thereby influence societal behavior. Media practitioners should therefore re-assume its agenda setting role not allowed the politicians to lead.
Media practitioners were reminded of the need to alleviate political discussions above personalities and address pertinent issues. They should also adhere to professionalism.
They should be guided by Article 167 (b) which empowers the National Media Commission (NMC) to take all appropriate measures to ensure high journalistic standards.
Participants were cautioned that freedom of expression is not absolute power, as it is subject to other laws that seek to safeguard national security, public safety and morality.
Journalists were reminded that Airwaves are public resources which must be used responsibly and judiciously, in the public interest.
On the issue of abuse of incumbency, media practitioners must distinguish between state activity and political party programmes.
Avoidance of hate speech at all times in the public interest.
Task of adhering to high journalistic standards rests with publishers, media owners and Chief Executive Officers.
Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) Code of Conduct, GJA & NMC Guidelines should be discussed at various newsrooms.
GJA must reorganize its Ethics Committee.
As a befitting tribute to the memory of the late President John Evans Atta Mills, journalists were asked to “STAND UP FOR GHANA” particularly before, during and after the December 2012 Elections.
Need for passage of the Broadcasting Bill.
Review existing NMC laws to bring sanity into the media landscape through legislation.
All Chief Executive Officers and Media Owners must put in place self-regulatory mechanisms and set-up internal mechanisms to periodically monitor and evaluate programme hosts and reporters.
The participants agreed that the Media Development Fund should be placed under the NMC and that its establishment should be fast tracked.
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