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Opinions of Monday, 18 November 2019

Columnist: Joseph Wemakor

The role of media in promoting effective citizen participation for achieving the SDGs

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of globally accepted critical actions by nations, policy formulators and global citizens targeted at bringing poverty to an end, safeguarding the planet earth and its wellbeing end championing the enjoyment of peace and prosperity for the world’s people of all race, colour, creed, decent just a few to mention.

Sustainable Development Goals, as a holistic approach to improving lives and the dignity of all humans is encompassed in 17 critical goals with the Millennium Development Goals as the pedestal on which they are laid. Ghana was part of the countries that directly involved itself in the SDGs development (gh.one.un.org) and they reflect the aspirations of Ghanaians at large.

If Ghana is to achieve her own the SDGs then five critical overarching themes, (5Ps which span across the 17 SDGs) : people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships must be attained and the media has a role to play. To ensure that SDGs work and are achieved, there is the need to tackle it in the spirit of partnership and pragmatism with the media playing critical roles.

Investigative journalism by the media as a way of helping achieve SDGs

Journalists and the media at large can help achieve the SDGs by investigating and delving into issues that relate to challenges that the SDGs seek to tackle, but are not being tackled, bringing the issues to the public domain through their articles and news items and documentaries on TV and radio just to mention a few. This will compel policy formulators, government and other stakeholders to act. For instance, reports by the media on the poor state of public schools, low quality of meals served under the school feeding program and the low performance of candidates at the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) for instance have all pushed government to streamline its activities in the education sector to address the shortfalls so as to achieve the SDG goal 4 of quality education.

Reports, news items, write ups must touch the root causes of poverty and paint a true picture of the current situation in the areas of hunger, health, education, gender equality, water & sanitation, energy, economic growth, industry, innovation & infrastructure, inequalities, cities & communities, consumption & production, climate change, natural resources, and peace & justice so that, as a nation, we make the right choices now to improve life, in a sustainable way.

Government as a critical stakeholder at the heart of efforts towards the attainment of SDGs has many policies that cover all the 17 SDGs. The media can help achieve these goals by having access to these policies, critically examining them in terms of content, plans towards their achievement, targets set and whether they have been achieved and report on them by giving examples on the ground to support it, especially where government seems to be failing or lagging behind. This will serve as a wakeup call to officers in charge and government institutions mandated to act. Making recommendations in such journalistic works would also help provide alternatives that government and other stakeholder may adopt if they are laudable.

The media through investigative journalism and reporting should be able to share with government and the general public solutions that have been developed to help other countries achieve the SDGs. The truth is that solutions exist everywhere which Ghana can tap into. Such stories and others can inspire us all and help start and enrich discussions on the SDGs.

The promotion of the use of clean fuel by the media can help achieve SDG2, the reality is that, such a promotion and public education has the tendency to reduce health risk associated with unsafe fuel. This way, the media is helping achieve SDG3 - as it helps achieve good health and well-being.

Creation of Social Awareness, public participation and media programs

Social awareness of the citizenry about the SDGs, their importance to the life and success of the ordinary Ghanaian is important. However, many do not know about the SDGs and what is means if attained. This calls for journalist and the media in particular to effectively communicate and educate the general public on radio, TV, the internet and in the newspapers. This way the media can help educate the society. This should focus on why public participation is important, policies and legislations put in place to make the difference. This will help achieve some transparency, public involvement in planning as well how these goals can be achieved.

The social consciousness of the citizenry about sustainable development championed by the media will go a long way to help realize the goals. Well planned and crafted radio and TV programs by journalists will be a novel way to carry along society and its understanding of the SDGs and what they can do and the opportunities there for them.

Such programs will help achieve the needed education, information and social awareness about SDGs. For example, a program “SDGs and our Future” can be an excellent initiative for TV and radio which has huge coverage area so that, the critical issues, opportunities, prospects, challenges and the role of the citizenry and government towards the attainment of the SDGs can be discussed. This way, society is made part of the discussion and decision making process at the grassroots.

The media can play an important role by also tapping into and getting funding from donors interested in reports, programs within the media landscape and news items on media awareness campaigns which focus on SDGs so that, more issues can be covered under the SDGs in the media. The media must also shift attention from so much politics and be more interested in public service journalism, this way; the media will be in a better position to provide SDGs related issues to the general public which will help affect their well-being and involvement.

This calls for journalists and the media in particular to effectively communicate and educate the general public on radio, TV, the internet and in the newspapers. This way the media can help educate the society. This should focus on why public participation is important, policies and legislations put in place. It will help achieve some transparency, public involvement in planning as well how these goals can be achieved.

Championing the call for Civic Alliance

Another novel strategy that can be deployed by the media to help achieve the sustainable development goals is for journalists to further come out with stories on Non-Governmental Organizations and other Civil Society Organizations that are championing the attainment of the SDGs at the micro level and engage them to bring to the fore, their challenges and achievements as well as what government is not doing or is doing but not too well.

Such issues can help government decide to form a Civic Alliance which is collaboration between civil society organizations and government to help the former in their quest to help contribute to the attainment of the SDGs milestones. E.g. Civic Alliance-Ghana could be formed so that, this organization can serve as an umbrella organization that brings together all organizations in Ghana or aboard that are one way or the other are helping implement programs and projects towards the achievement of the SDGs in Ghana. This can further help improve coherence between the work of NGOs and government in this direction to achieve goal congruence and better use of resources. To be successful in this regard, the media must champion education on this and be able to help policy formulators to see the benefits of such an alliance.

Put politicians on their toes: Ask the tough questions

The media in Ghana must ask politicians and leaders the tough questions and bring to the fore the negative implications of poverty, low quality education, poor and inaccessible health care, low incomes paid to workers and the like. These issues are detrimental to and hinder efforts development, economic independence and stagnant the already ailing standard of living of the masses. Painting the picture as it is, will compel government to begin to act knowing very well that, the media is a powerful sector within the economy.

Many across the globe including Ghana are found within the poverty bracket and suffer from hunger, poor health care and wellbeing, low quality education, low levels of equality in terms of gender and how to reduce it, clean energy and the ability of the citizenry to afford it, availability of decent work leading to economic growth. Constant reports or news items on these issues would help keep government on its toes. The public will be well informed and demand that government meets their needs by providing these essential services of the highest quality. This way, the media is contributing to the attainment of the SDGs.

Media must show interest in the Activities of National Development Planning Commission

Ghana can boast of a National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) which is expected to champion Ghana’s development agenda with the SDGs in mind as guiding principles to attain the agenda 2063 (Ministry of Finance, 2019). Determinedly, purposefully, unrelentingly transformative, to improve lives now and for generations to come, and to leave no one behind." (Ministry of Finance, 2019). This indicates the hope and immense benefits Ghana will enjoy when the SDGs are applied to the latter.

To help achieve the SDGs, the media must focus its report and coverage on the work and inputs of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC). Accurate and timely reports, feature stories, documentaries on the activities of the commission and how they feed into the SDGs would further ensure that government is proactive; the work of the commission is better understood by the commission and the citizenry and is equally challenged to focus efforts on attaining the development goals and agenda in this regard.

Ghana can boast of a National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) which is expected to champion Ghana’s development agenda with the SDGs in mind as guiding principles to attain the agenda 2063 (Ministry of Finance, 2019). Just as the development plans are technical so are the SDGs. The media can help achieve the SDGs by breaking the silence on these issues.

To help achieve the SDGs, the media must focus its report and coverage on the work and inputs of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC). Accurate and timely reports, feature stories and documentaries on the activities of the commission and how they feed into the SDGs would further ensure that government is proactive; the work of the commission is better delivered.

Enlighten the public on interconnectivity between SDGs

The SDGs are intertwined and so as one is being achieved, it triggers positive outcomes and a spillover effect. Reports by journalists and for that matter the media on poor education if tackled will for instance help empower the girl child and have the tendency to bridge the inequality gap, empower women and reduce poverty in the long run. This means that, there seems to exist some synergy across the SDGs.

The media can help government and the citizenry see the connection between goals through well researched and written news and reports on the SDGs. The ability of the citizenry and government to vividly see such connections may further impact the commitment of effort and resources toward their achievement.

The media must educate itself and not misinform

It is important to state that, what the Ghanaian media currently knows and does not know about the SDGs can make or unmake the efforts of other stakeholders. How we report on the SDGs and what we also report can further help affect the attainment of the SDGs. This means, the presence of the media in Ghana has a telling effect on policy, the action of government and the effect of the former on the ordinary Ghanaian. This shows that the media as a key SDGs success factor must play its role perfectly to help among other things spread information and knowledge to the masses using every tool available today.

Journalists and the Ghanaian media can help achieve the SDGs by investigating and delving into issues that relate to challenges that the SDGs seek to tackle, but are not been tackled, bringing the issues to the public domain through their articles and news items and documentaries. This will compel policy formulators, government and other stakeholders and to act.

Reports by the media on the poor state of public schools, low quality of meals served under the school feeding program and the low performance of candidates at the WASSCE for instance have all pushed government to streamline its activities in the education sector to address the shortfalls so as to achieve the SDG goal 4 of quality education.

Reports, news items, write-ups must touch the root causes of poverty and paint a true picture of the current situation in the areas of hunger, health, education, gender equality, water & sanitation, energy, economic growth, industry, innovation & infrastructure, inequalities, cities & communities, consumption & production, climate change, natural resources, and peace & justice so that, as a nation, we make the right choices now to improve life, in a sustainable way.

Government as a critical stakeholder at the heart of efforts towards the attainments of SDGs has many policies that cover all the 17 SDGs. The media can help achieve these goals by having access to these policies, critically examining them in terms of content, plans towards their achievement, targets set and whether they have been achieved and report on them by giving examples on the ground to support it, especially where government seems to be failing or lagging behind. This will serve as a wakeup call to officers in charge and government institutions mandated to act. Making recommendations in such journalistic works would also help provide alternatives that government and other stakeholders may adopt if they are laudable.

The existence of a good policy foundation and social consciousness about sustainable development can go a long way to help in the implementation of the Agenda 2030.

Development of special Interest and capacity on SDGs

Journalists can take special interest in one or two SDGs and develop critical understanding of the SDGs chosen, this way, the capacity of the media will be improved and reports on SDGs will be filled with new well thought of insights and wisdom which will help transform the understanding of citizens and carry them along to appreciate the issues and how they go a long way to help them and us all. The media can seek for help from the United Nations for example to plan and hold training and workshops on SDGs for journalists and how they can use their skills and profession to empower all and government towards the attainment of the SDGs. Such engagements will help to a large extent build the capacity of the media.

The media in general and journalists including me must learn to give a voice to those who are impacted by the current challenges that the SDGs intends to help. Thus, if we are reporting on issues related education, we must involve those who are facing the issues such as teachers, pupils, parents in the report and news items. These persons are those who are in the best position to explain the impact of poor education, infrastructure and the like. When the media do this, everyone gets to see, feel and value the need to act and get the problem solved and by so doing, we are contributing to dealing with the SDGs such as the SDG 4 which seeks to attain quality education for all.

The SDGS are intertwined and so as one is being achieved, it triggers positive outcomes and a spill over effect. Reports by journalists and for that matter the media on poor education if tackled will for instance help empower girl child and have the tendency to bridge the inequality gap, empower women and reduce poverty in the long run. This means that, there seems to exist some synergy across the SDGs.

The media can help government and the citizenry see the connection between goals through well researched and written news and reports on the SDGs. The ability of the citizenry and government to vividly see such connections may further impact the commitment of effort and resources towards their achievement.

Synergies across the goals, the inter-linkages between the SDGs create co-benefits that can be leveraged for effective policy and investment decision-making, and trade-offs. Government’s promotion of clean cook stoves (SDG 2), will reduce health risks (SDG3). Such explanations and connections if made known to the citizens will help build interest in the SDGs.

It is clear that, the media in Ghana has a critical role to play by educating, providing the needed platform and programs on TV and radio to initiate public debate and discussions on SDGs as well as empower citizens with novel understanding of the SDGs, the opportunities it presents to us based on our current developmental shortfalls and also hold the government and other governmental agencies working within the web of contributors towards the attainment of the SDGs accountable.

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