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ARE GHANAIAN MEDIA PLAYING PROPER ROLE IN NATIONAL AGENDA SETTING?

General News

The nature of our conversation today demands a brief personal narrative. Not long ago, I was facilitating or teaching a college-level course relating to the media influences on American culture. As part of the course’s introduction, I asked to understand the students’ knowledge of communication media or mass media in general.

The nature of our conversation today demands a brief personal narrative. Not long ago, I was facilitating or teaching a college-level course relating to the media influences on American culture. As part of the course’s introduction, I asked to understand the students’ knowledge of communication media or mass media in general.

 

Right away, almost everyone started explaining media mostly in terms of social media (not surprising), newspapers, TV, and radio. Majority of the students left out other important elements  of mass media, such as music, movies, magazines, and all types of books, including religious literatures—Bible, Koran, Torah, and so on. It was clear at this point the students in question were a bit surprised or confused that Bible, for example, is a form of media.

So, the next question was: what exactly is media? After the class explored the various perspectives or theories about media, we all settled on a working definition that “any channel or medium designed to reach large mass of people either at the same time or at various points in time qualifies for media.”

In that sense, religious publications also fall under the media. The point here is if all these preceding assumptions about media are true, (which they are) then we must not lose sight of media’s pervasiveness and their strong influence in human lives as well as in all societies. Media’s importance to the US democracy explains the reason Washington DC alone has press corps of about 7,000 accredited news reporters covering national politics there (Pew Research Center, Journalism & Media).

Unhealthy completion

Media shape or influence the socio-cultural structure, political, and the psychologies of the people much the same way the people also shape the trajectories of the media in a given society.

Like most present-day societies, Ghana’s birth story cannot be properly told without the pivotal role media played to that effect. More so, Ghana today is a multiparty community so it should not surprise anyone that the media are flourishing all over the place. But one unsettling development that needs an impassive attention is the extent to which many Ghanaian media practitioners nowadays are trying hard to out-compete one other to be noticed, in many cases for wrong reasons. 

Admittedly, Ghana, like many other places, has a media environment that is fragmented more than ever before mostly because of the online/social media revolution. Regardless, it is an established fact that media in all stripes play consequential role in nation-building and its advancement to such an extent that multiparty system, for instance, devoid of robust media or without serious effort to provide continuous flow of information to the people is a prologue to a tragicomedy.

Tragedy & comedy

Sorry to say this, but it is clear that a sizable part of the Ghanaian media today reflects both tragedy and comedy or lack of sense of urgency with regard to 21st century journalism based on substantive issues presentation and critical analysis free from personal attacks, cynicism, and  uncontrollable practice of “commercial bias.” In fact, as we speak, the Ghanaian media terrain has taken “commercial bias” to higher levels.

It should be noted that there is nothing illegal about a media firm trying to make money or profit to stay afloat and relevant in a highly competitive Internet-age news business where no well-defined “gatekeepers” exist.

By the same token, the social-media-enabled phenomenon, bordering on lack of news gatekeepers in the media industry, does not mean the practitioners or presenters of news should ignore one of the cardinal principles in contemporary journalism, suggesting that news presentations should be consistent with objective reality or fairness.

Value

Back to the story of students in the media class referenced earlier, it was clear many of them were taking the course without having any conceptual understanding of its relevance to their lives in general. Almost similarly, considerable numbers of Ghanaian media practitioners today are in the news business not because they value journalism as a noble calling or special profession to be taken solemnly. But, like some students who take some non-major courses or general elective courses in school just to help speed up their graduation time, a great deal of the nation’s media people are in the field for the sake of it, or have no clue about the proper role and the ethical underpinnings of vibrant media. 

The result is the mass media culture we have here in Ghana where news coverage is mainly set to serve endless cycle of entertainment, sensationalism, as well as giving priority to soup opera full of gloomily false prophesies that tend to cripple the public’s capacity for critical thinking and analysis.

Growing up in Kumasi in the early 1980s, it was a joy watching serious-minded or truly seasoned Ghanaian journalists such as Cameron Duodu, Kabral Blay Amihere, Kweku Baako, Elizabeth Ohene and a few other media professionals today doing what real journalism is all about: That is the ability to help focus on or set the sociopolitical agenda while critically analysing issues of national importance and reporting the real news for the people to decide for themselves.

National agenda

It is a frightening spectacle to observe some of the media entities today report whatever they want, whenever they want, all in the name of free speech without considering the fact that the comic and unexamined media practices undercut the efforts to promote social order and development.

Rather than echoing the Mahama-NDC’s cynical drumbeats of “Times are extremely hard politics,” why can’t many of these media outlets show genuine devotion and interest in national issues such as how to keep Ghana clean; suggest effective ways to sustain and improve the Free SHS; educate Ghanaian motorists about safe/defensive driving to help prevent the reckless carnage on the nation’s roads; and wage unstoppable war against the existential threat of galamsey?

Some of us know functional and progressive-minded media when we see them. No doubt, media have immense power to shape national agenda and public opinion in every society, but the thorny question now is how most of the Ghanaian media are going about using the power of their influence in selfless ways to lift up the Ghana. That is the puzzle we all need to re-examine or unlock as the nation is trying to “perfect” its democratic credentials.