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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Another GJA Awards Night Is Here With Us!

The well-decorated State Banquet Hall became very tensed that fateful Saturday night when the GJA Vice-President, Mr. Roland Affail Monney, was called to announce the Journalist of the Year. A few categories were awarded and it was now time for the ultimate. The public address system for the occasion was one of the lousiest I have ever seen at any such important public gathering and some of the speakers’ messages were barely audible to the very attentive listeners. But the room became so quiet at that very moment that the GJA vice president’s voice rang out as clearly as a church bell in the heart of the New Year eve.

It was however the unexpected that was heard after the seemingly hours of attentive listening, prolonged suspense and uncomfortable anxiety. The sponsors were asked to keep their package, for no one merited it. Reporters who had finished with the introduction to their stories and were merely waiting for the name of the ultimate winner to complete their leads were given another job to do – to find a suitable lead for a no-show night. The fact that no journalist was qualified enough to be named journalist of the year ignited countless arguments in the wake of the awards and questions about the credibility of Ghanaian journalists were raised. To me, it was a night of shame for Ghanaian journalists because present at the ceremony was a delegation of senior media practitioners from other West African countries.

From whatever angle one would look at the outcome of the 13th GJA awards, one fact stood tall. The incontestable fact is that the standard of journalism in the country is sinking. In 2007, Reporters Without Boarders, a worldwide media watch organization, ranked Ghana 29th out of 169 countries in terms of media freedom. With the guarantee of media freedom by the 1992 constitution and the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law in 2001, one would have thought that journalistic standards in the country would rise, but the polar opposite is what is happening. The media landscape is now torn between a band wagon of governmental praise singers and those who are so antagonistic to government that they have lost their sense of objectivity, with pride.

The profession is also replete with half-backed and semi-literate practitioners who know next to nothing about contemporary issues. The few enlightened ones are also so partisan that they are hardly taken serious. The media is said to be the fourth estate of the realm and the 1992 constitution enjoins journalists to hold government and public office holders accountable. But this cannot be said of the Ghanaian journalist of today. The regrettable truth is that most media houses, including some state owned media organization are now either pro-NDC or pro-NPP, and one wonders where this nation is heading for with the absence of credible watch dogs.

The rather shameful outcome of the 13th GJA awards should serve as a grim reminder of the reality we are running from. Mediocre, irresponsible and unethical journalism does not win awards. The GJA and the judging panel deserve tons of commendation for not undermining the integrity of the award by giving it to anyone at all. The best way to salvage the image of journalism in Ghana is to come to the realization that the profession is not about fame and wealth creation. Journalism is not a propaganda machinery for politicians and promotion of fetish and parochial interests in exchange for monetary gains.

One major concern that emerged as a result of inability of get the Journalist of the Year is mode of selection of awardees. Similar awards, including the CNN African Journalists Award, rely on the submission of entries by journalists. Some social commentators have suggested that the awards committee should work all year-round to monitor the performance of hardworking journalists and reward them even if they fail to tender in entries for consideration. Interestingly in this year’s award, eleven categories, including the Journalist of the Year, are to be nominated by members of the GJA and the general public. In as much as media consumers can assess the quality of the media they enjoy, cheap but popular programmes are likely to receive thousands of nominations to the detriment of very creative, educative and innovative media programmes. The judging panel should watch out for this.

The 13th GJA Awards and matters arising out of it have now receded into history but as we face yet another awards night, the leadership of the GJA must do their level best to preserve the prestige and integrity of the awards. The GJA has announced new categories such as Best Morning Shows for radio and television, Best rural radio station, Best Radio programme in Akan, Dagbani, Ewe, Ga, Hausa and Nzema. This is very commendable because the recognition of such important categories will motivate, especially producers of programmes in local languages, to make excellence their hallmark.

One other issue the leadership of the GJA must not gloss over if the GJA awards are to be seen as one of the most prestigious awards in the country is the packages for award winners. Journalists are among the least paid workers in the country. Both the private media and the state owned media practitioners are not given salaries that match their immense contribution to national development. Journalists are the growers of businesses and corporate organizations must therefore contribute to making the GJA awards an outstanding one. If the numerous beauty pageants will always have luxurious cars for their winners, it will not be out of place if the GJA Journalist of the Year walks home with a three-bedroom house or a car in addition to the sponsorship package to study.

One category that has always been conspicuously missing in the GJA awards is the reward for adherence to ethical standards. The foremost objective for the formation of the Ghana Journalists Association is to promote professionalism and high journalistic standards. It is, however, unfortunate that activities of most media organizations leave much to be desired in terms of ethical standards. This notwithstanding, there are others who have tried their level best to remain as professional and ethical as possible. The GJA must include in their awards, if possible, a very enviable award package for the most ethical media house of the year. This will not only reward excellence but it will encourage others to adhere to ethical standards thereby bringing sanity into the media landscape.

The Ghanaian media played an invaluable role in election 2008. Some media houses threw journalistic ethics to the dogs and nearly erased the democratic gains Ghana had made over the years. One the whole, however, the media did their best and this was widely acclaimed by both local and foreign election observers. Some media houses and journalists distinguished themselves in the 2008 elections and their efforts must not go unrewarded. This category of the awards should be reserved for only election years so that journalists and media practitioners must put in their best during elections. The fact that the media hold a great stake in the outcome of an election cannot be overemphasized.

Finally, the leadership of GJA should use this year’s awards to redeem their image. They should widen their tentacles for sponsorship so that every award winner will go home with something worth their effort. Above all, the process of selecting award winners should be so transparent that only deserving media practitioners will be rewarded; not those who are known by people who matter as far as the GJA Awards are concerned.

May the best and hardworking journalists win and may Mother Ghana be the ultimate winner!

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [azureachebe2@yahoo.com].

The Writer is the SRC President-elect of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra.