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Opinions of Monday, 12 September 2016

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur

My perspective on Ghana media landscape

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By Arthur K

The Ghana Journalists Association just completed a glittering celebration of our best journalists. Amongst the awardees were quite a few of my friends-Alhaji Abu Issa Monnie, famous, Ms. Adu etc.

All the winners were deserving and I congratulate them heartily. Looking at the ceremony and the hoopla surrounding it, one may be tempted to describe it as our golden age of journalism. But it is not. It brought to me the image of people celebrating on the deck of the Titanic as it headed for the ice-berg.

While for the most part, this is not the era of persecution of journalists and owners like Kugblenu, Thompson, Haruna, Baako, Pratt and Ephson, it is a dark era. Mark my words.

This era will not be defined by the work of the great journalists. It will be defined by the MONTIE contemnors; the insults of women on air, the threatening of ethnic groups and judges, the muzzling of dissent and the cheering or deafening silence that accompanied these.

The debasement of our common standards of decency. The bastardization of institutions and the silence or acquiescence of good men and women in all these.

The Ghana Journalists Association, in existence since 1949, has a cardinal principle "to promote the attainment of high professional standards, integrity and media accountability". Can GJA promote high professional standards and be blind to accountability for shoddy journalism?

The truth is that under this republic, the media has moved from an institution that needs to be protected to one that, all too frequently does harm or is used to do harm to our collective interest and to individuals. As Radio Milles Colline in Rwanda and many other media outlets have demonstrated, the media, used the wrong way, can destroy societies.

Unfortunately, too many in our media have become weapons for attacking institutions or the enemies of big men or private interests.

The 1992 constitution has adequate provisions to guarantee press freedom and accountability. Articles 162 and 163 guarantee press freedom. Then, article 164 states, " The provisions of 162 and 163 of this constitution are subject to laws that are reasonably required in the interest of national security, public order, public morality and for protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons". Superb language!

Then in article 166, it established the National Media Commission, to protect the media and to regulate it in the public interest. Article 167 b lays out the role of the National Media Commission, requiring it " To take all appropriate measures to ensure the establishment and maintenance of the highest journalistic standards in the mass media, including the investigation, mediation and settlement of complaints made against or by the press or other mass media".

These are impressive constitutional provisions. Unfortunately, both Parliament and the National Media Commission has gone to sleep. Parliament has passed no enlightened laws to promote the development of our media. The NMC, which was envisaged by the constitution to be the big force for good in our media environment has shrunk. Most people sent there go as agents of private interests instead of as guardians of the public interest.

If Ghana was a private concern interested in return on investment, we would be demanding refunds from Parliament and the National Media Commision. Let Parliament pass laws to protect good journalists and the public from those that will harm the innocent, protect the guilty and bully the timid. We deserve better.

Let the GJA find its voice against the mercenaries who are debasing the image of all journalists and let the NMC awake from its slumber and be the force it was meant to be.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter". He never met the Ghanaian media. 1988 Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, who knows about African journalism first hand, wrote, "Writing is for men who can think and feel; not mindless sensation seekers out of nightclubs and bars.

But these are bad times. We are condemned to work with upstarts; clowns who no doubt got their training in a circus and then turned to journalism as the appropriate place to display their tricks".

Let journalism and the good journalists keep out the clowns and the upstarts.

Let us be free and just in our public space.

God bless you all.

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