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Opinions of Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Columnist: E.J Agangezesum Awinea

The Ghanaian media and the 2020 election coverage

The media is the fourth realm of the state The media is the fourth realm of the state

There is no doubt the media has played and continues to play a vital role in shaping the fledgeling Ghanaian democracy. Indeed we have come far as a country, considering the dark days of military overthrow. Today many independent media houses provide a platform for political parties to debate and to comment on government policies. It is common knowledge that the media is the primary means by which public opinion is shaped and sometimes manipulated. These are all laudable initiatives and they must be applauded for that.

However, just as they have the right to critique the performance or otherwise of policymakers and politicians and expose the flaws of society, it is only natural and important that the media do a self-introspection. Critiques and self-examinations are not meant to vilify but to make better, as straighter courses will be charted from the weakness and threats identified via the process.

Needless to say that, the media, like every human institution, has individuals whose primary motive is to benefit from the system instead of shaping it for the benefit of the larger public.

Prior to the 2020 elections, most of the media houses promised Ghanaians an independent coverage of the December polls. There was the Election Hub, Election Headquarters, Election Command Center and many more. The assurance and reassurance by the Ghanaian media of independent coverage of the voting processes gave some respite to many Ghanaian who otherwise may have lost trust in the process.

Despite a few reservations by some opposition political parties about the EC boss, Madam Jean Mensah, on certain issues regarding the elections, the posture of the media, the preparations of the media houses towards the election coverage, jingles and publicities on both social and the mainstream media, gave most independent thinking Ghanaians the confidence in their election results reportage. Most Ghanaians had a silent belief that, even if the EC perpetuates some shenanigans, the media will fish these out. The expectation was that they (the media) will report results directly from the polling stations. Parroting what the EC says is not only flawed and dangerous, but it is indicative of the poor gatekeeping role of the media as the third estate of the republic. It will be very difficult to detect electoral fraud if all you have to, is take results from the EC and project same without further checks.

Maybe some of us have a different understanding of independent election coverage. Notable journalists from some of the media houses indicated that the results they projected were certified by the electoral commission. This is where I think the media failed to give us an independent coverage of the counting and collation of the results. If that is our understanding of independent coverage then, what was the import of the statement of the electoral commissioner when she told Ghanaians that, it was not possible for the commission to rig the elections for any of the candidates since the media does its own independent monitoring?

The independent media in Serbia was able to expose electoral fraud in the 2000 general elections which outraged the people and finally made the Milosevic regime unpopular. The media must note that constitutional dictators thrive on a compromised media, they thrive on a praise-singing media. I must admit, we have too many fine journalists but few activists. Fine institutions but few brave personalities to speak truth to power. What prevented the Peace Council and the National House of Chiefs from coming out publicly to ask the EC to ensure that the right processes were followed before asking the supposed victims for peace? Or the events of Techiman South happened in Togo? The Peace Council should by now be in the position to know that, there can be no lasting peace without justice. In Ghana, the opposition party is accusing EC officials of adding votes to their opponents yet no media house is able to independently verify these claims. I’m not sure the Serbian media would have been able to detect the electoral fraud in 2000 if they adopted the style of coverage we had this year.

Is it not sad that as at now no media house can independently state weather Techiman south has been collated or not. Especially when there is a CI that regulates the same. This is the time activism in journalism is needed. Tell the EC in its face that per what you know there was no collation at Techiman south. Or tell the NDC per what you know that there was collation at Techiman south in accordance with the CI.

Unfortunately, no EC official has been interviewed on the happenings at Techiman south. Did the media play its watchdog role in the collation of the 2020 results? I don’t think so! The presence of the media at the collation center is important in ensuring fairness, transparency and detecting electoral fraud. Some media houses created the impression that they had it all covered in terms of vote counting and collation. It becomes more worrisome when in all these critical moments the CODEO which is supposed to have monitored the elections independently is silent on the matter.

I must however commend the media in creating a level playing ground for the parties to debate prior to the elections. You did your best but your best simply did not give us an independent view on the results as released by the EC. For instance, what mechanism was put in place to cross-check the reports of some of the temporary staff? Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year. It’s a blessing to share with the poor.

E.J Agangezesum AWINEA
Student activist, Writer
Member, UCC student Parliamentary Council
Faculty of Arts
Department of History.
University of Cape Coast.