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Opinions of Thursday, 21 June 2018

Columnist: Alex Blege

The media: Fourth estate and fifth columnists

Professor P.A.V. Ansah of blessed memory in quoting the famous BBC broadcaster, John Tusa, on the latter’s lecture on the media as fourth estate and fifth columnist, added: “Fourth Estate or Fifth Column – it is not an antithesis, it is a choice. The media can be both at the same time. And quite rightly too”.

Professor P.A.V. Ansah was writing at a time when the Fourth Republic of Ghana has just been delivered in nappies and the media was trying to find its feet in the realm of Chapter 12 of the also newly birthed 1992 Constitution. We’re in different times now. Things have changed. Ghana is touted as having a vociferous media.

The media in Ghana plays a major role in shaping public opinion, accountability, transparency, and good governance at all levels of administration of the country whether it is in a public or private institution – as long as the issues that have to be dealt with border on public interest.

Recent events in Ghana about corruption among officials in public and private offices makes the media a fourth estate as well as a fifth column. According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (New 8th Edition, International Student’s edition) fourth estate refers to newspapers and journalists in general and the political influence that they have. Fifth column on the other hand refers to a group of people working secretly to help the enemy of the country or organisation they are in.

As a fourth estate the media reports on issues that make the news. Sometimes the media use various strategies in gathering news for the public. Most of the time, some news consists of acts of people that they will not want others to know about. Thus, journalists or reporters apply strategies that are unconventional.

As fifth columnists, instead of working against the country, the media must stand up against individuals or organisations who through different means harm the interest of the public. For instance in cases of human rights abuses, corruption, nepotism, violence against journalists, poor infrastructure and dereliction of duty of public officials, just to mention a few.

Also, where the state is complicit in acts that promote abuse of power and infringes on the rights of the citizenry, the media must then again stand as a fifth column to ensure that this is exposed and addressed.

The works of the media on scandals and corruption have always come under one scrutiny or the other – either among journalists, or the public, but as Gerald Priestland one time BBC correspondent said, “Journalists belong in the gutter because that is where the ruling classes throw their dirty secrets”. This is what makes the media a fifth column – one that is against every form of corruption, abuse of office, nepotism, dereliction of duty and so on.

The principles and the core values that define the work of the media will not change in spite of technological changes; instead, technological changes will either deepen or blur the lines but there won’t be any significant change of the core values. The media will always have an obligation to tell the truth, to be loyal to citizens, to monitor those in power, gather and process the news for the comprehension of the public, and create a platform for public criticism and comment. In all of these the media will stand as a fourth estate and a fifth column for the holistic development of mother Ghana.

The above does the following for this country: strengthen and deepen participatory democracy from the national to the grassroots level, facilitate transparency, encourage accountability and promote good governance.

The work of the media or media persons which expose arbitrary abuse of power or corruption will always cause those who are the subjects of the story to knit their brows and try all means to brow beat the media or the media persons. In all of this, what really matters is the goal to ensure that wrong doing is exposed for the total development of this country.

With one’s head above the parapet, the media in Ghana must stand as a fifth column in favour of the oppressed and the state and a fourth estate to ensure that good governance and participatory democracy is the order of the day. As long as we live in a world where human beings and not angels operate, wrong doing and corruption will prevail, the media must work as a fourth estate as well as a fifth column for the total development of this country.

Professor P.A.V. Ansah couldn’t have put it better!