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Political capture of media landscape a major threat to media freedom and democracy in Ghana, says University of Ghana study

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A research conducted by the Department of Communication at the University of Ghana and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MfWA), with funding from the US Embassy and the College of Education at the University of Ghana, found that political capture of the media landscape is a major threat to media freedom and democracy in Ghana. The report highlighted that the media is concentrated in the hands of a few powerful individuals, including political actors, who control public discourse.

The study revealed that media ownership in Ghana is opaque, with a few political faces behind most of the broadcast media entities, which could lead to partisan control of public discourse. The study found that most media organizations in Ghana are not financially viable and cannot fund investigative reports due to cost constraints.

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Journalists work in precarious conditions, with some of them working without contracts or receiving salaries. The report revealed that there was growing insecurity among journalists, with investigative journalists being the most at risk of attacks. Finally, the report recommended urgent action by stakeholders to address the situation and build a robust media landscape for the country.
Below is the full report

Opaque ownership

Throwing more light on the report, Prof. Gadzekpo said the study revealed that media ownership in the country was shrouded in opacity, with political faces found to be behind most of the broadcast media entities.

“Political faces behind broadcast media ownership mean that partisan actors and governments can control public discourse, and this is not good for our democracy,” she stressed.

She added that while there were growing tendency towards media empire-building, the National Communication Authority (NCA) had a laissez faire attitude to questions about transparency of the media ownership.

Financial viability

The study found that most of the media organisations were not financially viable and only hanged on to thin straws to be in business.

“Generally, many organisations in Ghana are not profitable; they are, at best, breaking even and cannot fund investigative reports because of the cost involved,” she said.

Again, she said the study found that the traditional media organisations were heavily dependent on the pharmaceutical industry, especially herbal products, for adverts.

In terms of working conditions of the media, the study found that journalists worked in precarious conditions, with some of them working without any contract or receiving salary at all.

Working conditions

The report further revealed that most media organisations had poor recruitment practices with some of them hiring journalists without advertising for qualified people to apply.

Even worst, it was found that many media establishments did not have structured remuneration system, with conditions of service based on “who brought you.”

Prof. Gadzekpo said it was discovered that in most of the media houses, there was no clear-cut promotion mechanisms.

Furthermore, the report found that salaries of journalists were “shockingly low”, averaging GH¢1000 while some of them received GH¢500 or no pay at all.

“This situation is promoting the culture of ‘soli’ where journalists take money in the name of transport fare,” she said.

She added that while just a handful of media organisations had healthcare systems for their workers, almost all of them had no counselling support mechanisms for journalists who suffered trauma.

Safety of journalists

Touching on the safety of journalists, the report said there was growing insecurity among journalists in the country as violations against them were rife.

It added that while male journalists were found to be mostly at risk of physical attacks, their female counterparts suffered more in terms of online abuse.

“Investigative journalists are the most at risk of attack and state actors, including political appointees and police, are the worst perpetrators of attacks on journalists,” the report stated.

Prof. Gadzekpo said the report also found that many journalists had the feeling that law enforcement agencies and the judiciary did very little to protect their safety.

 findings

The report established that journalists and media owners had a positive disposition towards the constitutional provisions to support the promise of a media for development.

It established that the media were generally inclined to covering national development issues, but they were constrained by financial challenges in the coverage of such issues.

According to the report, although journalists had a clear understanding of their position in society and their roles as watchdogs, there was a disconnection between role conception and performance.

Again, the study found that media training institutions had accreditations from the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission, but some of the authorisations had lapsed and needed renewal.

Time to act

The Director-General of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), Prof. Amin Alhassan, observed that 30 years after the coming into effect of the 1992 Constitution, the time had come for urgent steps to be taken to review

the constitutional arrangements for media freedom.

He noted that although the constitutional guarantees in Chapter 12 of the Constitution, including the establishment of the National Media Commission (NMC) and National Communication Authority (NCA) had helped to ensure media liberalisation, the time had come to review the mandates of those bodies.

“After 30 years, we need to have robust systems that will ensure a free and responsible media, which calls for content regulation.

Going forward, we need to have content regulation; and this is not about censorship,” he stressed.

Stakeholders

The Executive Director of MfWA, Sulemana Braimah, said it was important for stakeholders to work together to build a robust media landscape for the country.

“The strength and wellbeing of a democracy depends on the health of the media; when the media dies, democracy dies, so we need to keep the Ghanaian media in a good health,” he said.

Professional media

The Deputy Chief of Missions at the U.S Embassy, Nicole Ann Chulick, urged all stakeholders to take the report seriously because “a free, fair and professional media is critical for every democracy.”

“We need professional journalists who will be well trained, ethical and professional; and who will ask the tough questions,” she stated.

She observed that without a vibrant media, low voices would be muted further while governance would also lack issue-based discourse.

Ms Nicole also underscored the need for strong safeguards to protect freedom of speech.

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