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Opinions of Saturday, 12 September 2015

Columnist: Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

Why is the media so obsessed with the opposition?

As I sat behind my desk in my study to write this article Sunday and I had a call from a journalist from Kasapa FM who introduced herself as Adobea.

She said Clement Apaak, a staff at the Office of the President, was on radio on Saturday claiming I’m British and Ghanaian and vote in both countries, “so the argument that the NPP is making for a new voters’ register has no basis.”

Gabby: “Is it wrong to be British and Ghanaian and vote in both countries?”

Adobea: “Well, Dr Apaak says, so NPP has no case to demand for a new register.”

Gabby: “Frankly, I don’t get the connection.”

Adobea: “But is it true that you are British?”

Gabby: “Is it against the laws of Britain or Ghana to vote legally in both countries?”

Adobea: “You know this will be big news Monday morning. So we will call you at 12 for our afternoon news, sir.”

I was reluctant because I thought a little research would have helped establish that this Apaak angle is a non-story. However, I granted her station the interview. The first question asked was that Clement Apaak said he had seen documents showing that I hold dual nationality. My response to the journalist was to thank Dr Apaak because he has only helped the case of the NPP.

He is saying that there is indeed evidence that I am Ghanaian, hence, entitled to vote. In that case, there should be no controversy. If, I may add, the evidence he refers to include my Ghanaian passport and a dual citizenship card, first acquired in 2004 (my first year of voting in Ghana), in accordance with Section 16(5) of the Citizenship Act, 2000, (Act 591).

Even though I had witnessed previous elections in Ghana under the 4th Republic, usually as a journalist or a campaigner, I stayed away from voting until 2004, the year I acquired official documents to back my constitutional status as a Ghanaian national. Regulation 1(1) d of CI 72 (2012), the law used for the 2012 voters registration, said categorically that you must be “ordinarily resident” in an electoral area before you can get your name onto a register of any constituency.

The few Ghanaians abroad who have been allowed by the EC to register and vote have always been limited to presidential polls, because they do not satisfy this residency requirement.

When I first registered to vote in Ghana in 2004 my polling station was the Association International School, Airport Residential Area, because I lived just two streets away in the area, which is part of the West Ayawaso Wuogon constituency. I have since moved to East Legon, but still a resident of the constituency. So, apart from having evidence of being a Ghanaian national, I also have a residential address.

So, how does my situation apply to an Ivorian, for example, who is not even domiciled in Ghana, but was simply enticed by a cross-border special NHIS registration exercise to get a free National Health Insurance Card (for which even non-Ghanaian tourists are entitled to apply) and was then enabled to use that card to get on to our electoral roll?

How does my situation vindicate the several names and photographs found on the voters’ registers of both Ghana and Togo, but on the Ghanaian register their details were clearly fraudulent; indicating stapled and scanned photographs, rather than the normal digitalized images?

How does such a purely criminal act, with alleged complicity of the staff (or contractors) of Electoral Commission, answer the dual nationality question?

It is not about how many countries a person may be a national of; it is about being able to prove that you are indeed a Ghanaian national before you must be allowed to register to vote. This is where the EC has failed Ghana.

The issue can never be for those of us who have taken active steps to show that we are, in fact, nationals of Ghana and, therefore, entitled to register to vote.

Sadly, this story by Apaak over my nationality status was what made top news on Ghanaweb Saturday and the Kasapa journalist predicted would be headline news in Monday newspapers. It is part of a much bigger problem, in my view.

The problem is that the ruling party in Ghana has almost perfected the art of diversionism – getting the people to ignore what matters and to focus on the non-essentials. What is even more problematic, and to the frustration of observers, particularly foreign journalists looking in, is that, a large section of the Ghanaian media takes pride in making a conscious effort to play a vibrant, consistent role in allowing the National Democratic Congress to get away with it.

Every research conducted in Ghana over the last two years, at least, has brought up five things that are of major concern to Ghanaians: (1) Unemployment (2) Cost of Living (3) Corruption (4) Education and (5) Health.

But, even when these matters do find their way into the news, they are hardly treated in a way that yields results. The media prefer to highlight unexamined stories by people who appear to have taken a contract to attempt the futile task of destroying the NPP seemingly from within.

I am afraid Ghanaian journalists are losing their ability to influence politics constructively. They seem to live in a media bubble, where they continue saying what they think sells and at the risk of addressing the main concerns of society. It is as if they know the people are yearning for an alternative. They see the NPP as the only practical alternative so there is news in making the NPP look bad.

In 2012, the NPP and the media managed to make that election about the NPP and its free SHS policy. This helped to shift attention from the NDC and their abysmal record. Drip by drip the media is taking us there once again.

But, this time the focus is to make the NPP look as if it cannot be trusted with power because they are too busy fighting each other. But, let us get something straight. A party’s candidate had no choice but to work with the party executives the delegates of the party had elected into office.

The President of the Republic, on the other hand, is cloaked with the authority to appoint those he wants to work with and may also sack anyone of them he thinks is not working to his script. If in doubt, just take a look at Buhari. Journalists in Ghana must get back to basics and put the focus where it must be: on government. They risk losing their relevance.

In the task of advancing the quality of democracy, where the media are not principled and consistent in keeping the government on its toes, they blunt their own capacity to influence policy. There are over 200 radio stations in Ghana, over 15 main TV stations, and some 30 newspapers on the newsstands daily.

The irony in Ghana is that the plurality in media houses has not necessarily translated into addressing a plurality of concerns. The media have been sucked into a restricted space of dualism, where they believe they must “balance” things up and doing so means they must always find news about the opposition New Patriotic Party to balance matters about government.

Thus, plurality has, ironically, led to a concentration of attention on a few issues of public interest. It is puzzling why this obsession with “balance”. The NPP does not determine which taxes I pay. They do not determine whether your electricity will be on tomorrow and yet the media have concluded for us that they must keep feeding us on a diet of ‘problems’ in the NPP to balance problems in the country.

The opposition, in my view, is relevant in as far as they are either taking the government on or offering an alternative. While their internal issues can be sensational and of concern, should those matters be given more or even equal coverage like matters to do with how our country is governed? Our mass media operators must recognize that their audience find them predictable and are now looking more and more to alternative sources, usually to the social media, for their news.

A fundamental issue for our media and our democracy is how the people behind the news respond to the phenomenon of fragmentation of audiences. The new media is filling the space being created by the traditional media and political parties frustrated by what is going on must also be conscious of this.