Feature Article of Thursday, 29 November 2007
Columnist: Kpebu, Sandow Seidu
Society in the past was a mass society whose source of information was explanation of government policies through the media. The media was used as the voice and chief spokes medium of the government. Any disaffection for the government had a negative impact on the reporting media outlet. The issue of trust in politics and information relay came with the advent of the multi-media and internet where there has been a transition from mass society to information society and information could no longer be censored or spanned.
However, there has been significant realignment of the media and it is no longer the voice of the politician but the voice of the voiceless, the voice of the people. News gathering processes have changed, as government bulletins don’t catch the headlines. What do catch the target audience eye are the human-interest stories making the front pages and the leads. People are now so informed that any attempt to skew and to spin information/news is promptly discerned and the hidden agenda unravelled. This invariably leads to distrust in the source of the particular news item; be it the government or the media.
As we celebrate the International press freedom day it is good news that majority of people polled trust the media. Haven said that the onerous task now hangs on the neck of the media like an albatross to aspire to the trust reposed in it. According to an international poll for the BBC, Reuters, and US’s think tank The Media Centre, 61% of people said they trusted the media, as against 52% who believed their government’s explanations of policies and issues.
What is remarkable from the poll is the growing use of the Internet news sources, including blogs, most especially among young people. The Internet is a useful source of news because stories, which could not make it into the newsprint or broadcast for fear of government intimidation and vindictiveness or for fear of loosing revenue from the government, can find space on the Internet. The poll for these giant media houses interviewed 10,230 people from 10 countries on the media and issues of trust.
It is however sad to say that the issues of trust in the media still has a long way to travel, especially in developing countries. This is because politicians and therefore governments in developing countries most certainly enjoy eternal honeymoon without being subjected to intense scrutiny. Journalists unfortunately gang-up to defend governments instead of explaining and analysing news items from politicians. This is in contrast with the western media where governments and politicians are called to account and to justify their actions and inactions.
Journalist in our media houses make a lot of sacrifices in their adventure to get what the public read and hear on air brought in the form and style that it is presented. However, these sacrifices will not be appreciated if the public continually receive span news and media houses jumping to the defence of people in responsible positions but not the public they are supposed to represent and defend against our slippery politicians. It is society that is worth dying for but not self-ego-bloated individual or group of individuals.
The International Safety Institute reported that last year 146 journalist were killed out of this number, 90% were murdered and this year, we are into the second quarter and 31 journalists have so far been killed. As a result it will be a befitting tribute to these lost lives if we continue to sow the seeds of trust that will give us the courage steadfastness, and support of the public to call governments and politicians to account to the people. The media as a matter of duty and social responsibility must continue to hold its own in trust which, is now a commercial item in other words a commodity for the media. The media house that wields much trust will inevitably break through the financial markets.
In the UK and US both Tony Blair and President Bush are on the ropes receiving punches not only because of Iraq, but the media asking the politicians key questions on behalf of the public. The British media for instance treats politicians and government officials as servants and not masters. People now trust the media because politicians now go after journalists pleading with them to get their side of issues across to the people but not journalists going after the politician. What the modern media seems to say is that, we now hold the goodwill of the people as a government if you need our assistance obey our orders and tell the people the truth.
This is not to suggest that the British media is not partisan. They are. But what is apparent is that they take the parties they support to task to make them responsible and accountable. Take The Sun and The Telegraph for instance, The Sun supports the Labour government and The Telegraph supports the Conservative (Tory) party, the main opposition party and the BBC. These are incredibly critical of the parties they support and have always put them in the spotlight to the point that sometimes it is hard to believe that these media houses sympathise with the respective parties.
This is where it is sad to hear about such groupings as coffee shop Mafia in Ghana where journalists smart to undo and to out each other. It is beyond comprehension when journalists for reasons best known to them instead of teaming up to act as collective voice for the people, redirect their energy to ambitions. I am not saying they should always agree on issues but a single issue can have many slants and skewing thereby serving the purpose for rival media houses without necessarily compromising their watchdog role.
The Ghanaian media has gone a long way to achieve the recognition as the most vibrant in West Africa and should not act in a way to undermine this worked for reputation. The Ghanaian media must serve the people but not the government or politicians, governments and politicians will always come and go but the people will always be there.