Feature Article of Sunday, 22 March 2009

Columnist: Haruna, Mahama

Role of Journalism in the Development of Ghana

As a trained Journalist who is interested in the contribution of journalism towards Ghana's development, I have been rummaging through books and other areas of intellectual discourse on this issue.

Also fortunate to have been taught at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) by renowned Mass Communication experts and seasoned Journalists such as Kwaku Rockson- Acting Director, GIJ, Yaw Boadu- Ayeboafoh- former editor and now General Manager newspapers of Daily Graphic, Boakye-Dankwa Boadi- deputy editor Ghana News Agency (GNA)-Head Office, Isaac Newton- Former Director GIJ, Mr Fritz Andoh- editor Catholic Standard, and George Sarpong- Executive Director, National Media Commission (NMC); I have come to appreciate the role of journalism in national development.

The role of journalism entails a significant obligation and responsiblity, the discharge of which requires journalist to have high ethical standards and to practice sound professional journalism with intelligence, accuracy, objectivity and fairness all aimed at developing people and subsequently nations. The media as as whole is expected to be well-focussed on development issues, educating the public and entertaining instead of turning itself into an instrument of blackmail, intimidation, tyranny and an agent of confusion, conflicts, anarchy and chaos.

Although Chapter 12 Article 162 Clause 4 of the 1992 constitution states "Editors and publishers of newspappers and other institutions of mass media should not be subject to control or interference by Government nor shall they be penalized or harassed for their editorial opinions and views on the content of thier publicatons", I am of the opinion that events elsewhere especially on the African continent should be a guiding principle to Ghanaian Journalists who prefer to be interested in reporting on divisive political issues, ethnicity and religious differences.

Every country has it's Ethnic and Tribal values which Journalist must at all times respect. Article six of the Ghana Journalist Association Code of Conduct states 'A journalist should not originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation". Like wise the Natonal Media Commission hand out on broadcasting standards states, "Broadcast programmes should avoid all indecency and incitement to ethnic, religious or sectional hatred and disaffection". There have been several instances elsewhere in which irresponsible journalism have brought wars, conflicts, confusion, chaos and anarchy instead of development.

In Rwanda, newspaper articles especially those of Hassan Ngeze of the 'Kangura' newspapper as well as inciting propaganda messages from 'Radio Mille Collins', a Hutu dominated Radio station led to the genocide in that country. The Nigerian civil war was sparked by 'Radio Bamenda' in Northern Cameroon after a broadcast that a Hausa/Fulani man had been killed at the Enugu Railway Station in Eastern Nigeria dominated by the Ibos.The Hausas in Northern Nigeria especially those in Kano then attacked 'Sabonjida' a suburb of Kano dominated by the Ibos

This brought mayhem and the consequence was the desertion of then Military Governor of Kano, Colonel Chumeka Odumegu Ojukwu from the Nigerian army to lead to lead a seceded Biafra.

Also in the same Nigeria a report from "This Day" newspaper filed by a female journalist by name Isioma Daniel which said Prophet Mohammed (SAW) would have chosen one of the ladies as wife after watching a Miss World Beauty Pageant which was to be staged in Nigeria resulted in Muslims rioting living about one hundred people dead.

In our own country some people have blamed the media for hyping the Dagbon conflicts as well as others like the Nanumba/Kokomba, Bawku and the Ga chieftaincy conflicts. The media has also been blamed for the rise of the political temperature in the country especially during periods of election as well as the numerous incidences of lawlessness and disrespect for authority.The perceived bad blood between some major ethnic groups in the country some say, is being fueled by the Ghanaian media.What about the cocaine issues being reported on daily basis especially when then previous government was in power?

The above examples should enable Ghanaian Journalist to consider properly the range of ethical values at stake and be in the best position to make the most appropriate personal decision having considered all the benefits and consequeces. Every responsible Journalist should know that matters involving Chiftaincy, Land dispute, Religion and Ethnicity inflame passion. When it comes to these, emotions rather than reason takes over.

As indicated earlier, a major role of journalism is to focus on development issues. The question we must ask ourselves today is whether journalism is doing this role in our country?

Ghanaian Journalists face the stiff challenge to change the sometimes-negative percepion of Ghana. They must report enough and accurately about Ghana. Ghanaian Journalists have the challenge to report very extensively the good happenings and successes in the country.They must develop in themselves a sense of patriotism and pride in thier Ghanaianess, success stories and the many endeavours in national development.

I am not suggesting that bad things should not be reported. I am suggesting that in reporting on the bad things which is their duty to do, Ghanaian Journalist must exercise discretion on the material they report on in particular they must report on what is useful and relevant for the development and well being of thier country and it's people bearing in mind that the reporting of irrelevant and bad happenings for thier own sake is damaging to the country's image and reputaion and should therefore not get undue prominence.

It is the role of Ghanaian journalist to assit in restoring the lost confidence of people in the country by focusing on their achievements however small instead of thier failures only and on good government polices to encourage strong leadership and good governance instead of blaming government leadership all the time for any failure.

Ghanaian Journalist have a duty to recognise the many transformations and economic reforms and successes and report them to give hope to Ghanaian people that it is possible to transform the country to great economic development and prosperity. They should also sensitise Ghanaians to change their mindsets from negative thinking to positive thinking- that they have the power to transform thier lives and economy, instead of always thinking that they are unable and that they need to be help by foreigners.

Ghanaians especially the youth would like and need to emulate role models. Often the roles models they see, hear about and know are foreigners outside Ghana who have been made prominent by Journalists in Ghana. There are many role models in Ghana- in the field of Business, Science and Technology, Manufacturing and Commerce, Aviation, Sports and even Journalism but these are little known. At times Ghanaian Journalists are relunctant to recognise these role models and have treated them with indifference and even assisted in dismantling them.

It is my deep conviction that Ghanaian Journalist should pay tribute to those people who have been instrumental in creating achievements and in making good things happen. This will assist in creating role models to whom the youth and the many people aspiring to assist positively in their development of their nations can look forward to.

Journalist should use the power of the media positively to promote Ghanaian family and cultural values. They should help Ghanaians to see Ghana through their own eyes for the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

The Exeutive chairman, N and PP media of Tanzania, Reginald Mengi delivered a paper on the "Chanllenges of Journalism in Africa" at the CNN African Journalisr of the year 2005 Awards in Nairobi Kenya. He noted, "Africa is fighting an Economic War. In this war African journalist have a big role to fulfill in supporting thier nations and governments. In particular if journalists report objectively about the bad in a balanced way and reports more positively and assist in the exploitation of the good for a way forward, they would be fulfilling a big role in improving foreign investor perceptions"

He continued, "African media counter-reporting of foreign media's prejudiced and biased reporting on African is key to improving foreign investor percptions whatever the leadership and good governance, whatever the structural reforms and economic growth, whatever political and social stability foreign investor perception will not change if the African journalists do not adequately , extensively, and prominently report on African success and achievements inputs to the international community, In this economic war, African journalists should make journalism a partner with and not an adversary of government leadership".

In Ghana, the voice of the rural poor are not mostly heard. A large population of people who live in rural areas cannot tell thier stories because they are not reached by journalist. They are voiceless, it is the duty of journalist to go to the rural areas to collect information and to learn about the hard work being done there and the many successes of these hardworking people and to give suficient coverage of these efforts and the problems they face.

People must adequately be informed about national disasters, campaigns against the spread of epidemics and currently HIV/AIDS, and wanton degradation of the environment. These issues are of global concern and cannot be dealt with effectively without the inducement of our currently un-informed majority who also happen to suffer the scourges the most.

By: Mahama Haruna.