KAIPTC engages media on effective elections monitoring
By Phyllis D. Osabutey
To ensure a responsible media reportage before, during and after the December Presidential and Parliamentary elections, the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Center (KAIPTC), in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) last week Thursday organized a one-day workshop for journalists in Accra.
The workshop was also borne out of the realization that the conduct of media institutions and individual journalists can impact positively or negatively on the electoral process, and the maintenance of peace in the country. It was on the theme -“Media Monitoring during Elections in Ghana: Lessons from the 2008 and other Elections.”
Addressing the participants, the Head of Conflict and Security Programme of KAIPTC, Mr. Ernest Ansah Lartey said there cannot be any democracy without the media, because to a large extent, democracy depended on a vibrant media.
He said Ghana is currently seen as a model of liberal democracy in Africa because of the competitive, yet very peaceful nature of previous elections. However, challenges still exist regarding the trend of violence that usually characterizes elections, he noted.
According to him, elections have become more competitive because very little hindrance is put in the way of political parties in accessing the media to put across their messages to the masses. The vast media landscape also presents the population with variety of information choices regarding policy options. He, however, feared that this situation also has the potential of polarizing the society into several factions.
In his view, the shortfalls of the media further present a major threat to the country’s democracy, hence, “There is the need for a measureable conflict intervention to make the media operate responsibly especially as we head towards elections.”
Lecturing the journalists on the theme for the workshop, Professor Audrey Gadzekpo, of the School of Communication Studies, University of Ghana, reminded them of their roles as media practitioners.
She said media monitoring during elections helps to assess how the media conduct themselves and fulfill professional responsibilities to public, provides regulators (external and self) with empirical evidence with which to judge and take action.
It also provides election observers/monitors with empirical information for assessing media and the extent to which they are advancing democratic ideals provides the basis with which the media industry and other stakeholders can discuss how to improve and self-correct, contributes to democratic electoral practices, and incorporated as early warning system, she explained.
She noted that media monitoring can be done by external regulators, elections observation missions, elections management institutions, political parties, media houses themselves, civil society groups and academics.
She mentioned the Commonwealth, Carter Center, European Union (EU), National Media Commission (NMC), Center for Democratic Development (CDD) and the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) as bodies that have conducted media monitoring of over five elections.
On the one hand, she said media monitoring has shown an expanded coverage over subsequent elections and by 2008, an increase in the number of media organizations led to more information and platforms including blogs and websites, and special elections programmes.
Other positive results she mentioned included election day live updates and live broadcast of voting, media moderation of debates through talk shows and coverage of presidential and candidates’ debates, monitoring centres coordinated reportage, and an enhanced surveillance role that alerted the Electoral Commission (EC) of problems.
According to her, CODEO in 2008 commended “the relative evenness of the political playing field, especially in terms of media coverage of the election campaigns and other party political activities.”
Also, the Commonwealth in 2008 stated that “The general content of the media’s election coverage demonstrated a rich diversity of opinion. They were vibrant, critical and informative in many aspects of the processes in the lead up to the polling day, notwithstanding a tendency towards sensationalism.”
On the other hand, Prof. Gazdekpo indicated that monitoring showed professional lapses, use of strong language, personal attacks, partisanship, and blurring of editorial lines between paid for ‘advertorials’ and independent reports.
There was also poor fact checking, inaccuracy, lack of in-depth examination of events, incitement and negative/poor taste advertising.
She cited the Commonwealth 1996 observation that “Many of the independent or free press do not hide their political allegiance but rather devote their pages to attacking their opponents, notably the Government, in what might elsewhere be regarded as libelous language.
“We were told that the free press was more concerned with selling papers than with the actual facts of a story and that the print media are under no obligation to provide access to any organization.”
The EU 2008 also adds that “At times some of the tone of the content of these programmes could be defamatory and very harsh towards one of the two major political parties.
“Despite the generally positive nature of most media coverage, there were instances of aggressive and negative campaigning, both in the paid-for-advertisements of the parties as well as in the discussion programmes aired by some private radio stations.”
Another area of lapse, she noted, was that of unequal access to media given to political parties, which particularly remains unequal to smaller parties.
The Communications expert said the have been modest improvements in coverage over time but there is “still, deficits in access, incumbency abuse, professionalism. Incumbency abuse of state media is likely to happen because of the mandate of the state media.”
Thus, she recommended that the breadth of monitoring needs to be increased and results used as basis of media reform generally and not just for elections.
She said the media needs support to strengthen elections/democracy consolidating roles, particularly civic education.
She called on the NMC to strengthen its oversight, monitor media consistently, speed up complaints procedure and act quickly, and also strengthen the sanctions regime.
“Comprehensive broadcast law to regulate the form and content of broadcast material and to empower NMC to take full responsibility for authorization and content”, she added.
Also, she encouraged the media to develop their own codes based on the existing codes with clear sanctions for violators.
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