By Amos Safo
Recent developments on the media environment in Ghana calls for a second look at the works and ideologies of media organisations and poor working conditions of journalists, visa-vis the ethics and standards of journalism. One key concern is that, apart from the poor working condition, some journalists may lack adequate capacity to appreciate the nuances of their profession or vocation.
Consolidation of ownership
Ghana’s National Media Policy upholds the notion that pluralism of the media needs to be
safeguarded and encouraged. It states that media ownership needs to be distributed and regulated
such that state monopoly is not replaced by other monopolies. This should be true vertically,
with respect to the number of media organizations owned by any individual or entity, and
horizontally, with respect to cross-media ownership.
The policy further states that while non-Ghanaian participation in the media industry can be
desirable, the principle of the media as a public good, serving national interest necessitates
majority ownership and decision-making control by Ghanaians. A significant trend in the
development of mass communications in Ghana is the consolidation of traditional media,
especially radio and television in the hands of a few businessmen and politicians.
According to the Media Ownership Monitor Ghana, one third of all media outlets in the country
are owned by politicians or people affiliated with the dominant political parties. Of course, the
media concentration has been attributed to the huge capital required to invest in a radio or
television station, which effectively rules out ordinary people from owning radio and television.
As a result, the media owned by these powerful people tend to frame news within the ideologies
or philosophies of their owners, thus making it difficult for divergent news to be heard.
Commercialisation of news
An additional concern is the increasing trend of the commercialization of news and other media
content. The debates and counter claims of commercialization of news are almost as old as the
practice of making money by selling news. Scholars describe the commercialization of news as
any action that interferes with a journalist’s or news organization’s effort to promote shared
understanding of issues and events with the aim of making profit.
Concerns over commercialization of news suggests that profit-seeking news media and their
journalists can and do often act against the public interest. There is a general notion among
media researchers that there can be no proper discussion of the evolution of journalism without
taking economics into account; especially during technological developments, such as the
Internet. Internet-based media have provided another platform for some journalists and emerging
citizen journalists to indulge in peddling fake news and other unethical journalistic practices. In
this new era of dual communication, scholars argue that new social media and systematic news
coverage present a powerful challenge to the journalistic profession and its established codes of
Journalism and democracy
Several studies have proved journalism to be the driving force behind the functioning of
democracy through information dissemination. Ideally, the professional journalist draws on
professional practices and ethical codes to source, sort and produce political news. Thus, the
professionalism of journalists is expected to be the platform to ‘speak truth to power’ and hold
public officials and elected representatives to account.
But this critical role of the journalist is under increasing threat by the commercialization of news,
the political ideologies of media owners and the political or personal orientations of journalists
themselves. Like other professions or vocations, some journalists now go into the job with the
aim to get rich quickly. With this mindset, such journalists will do everything, including
appending themselves with politicians to achieve their aims.
One notion of this debate describes the changing media landscape as fueling journalistic
cynicism and the common neglect of the watchdog role. This explains why in Ghana, a radio
station can pre-arrange with anonymous people to call into their programme to pour cold water
on an inclusive educational policy like the free Senior High School. Once the callers did not
identify themselves it became difficult for anyone to authenticate their allegations. In the absence
of verification such journalism becomes nothing short of carelessness, politicization, pettiness,
cynicism, and rent-seeking. Besides, significant technological developments are altering the
relationship between media and the institutions and the processes of democratic governance.
News as public good
Ideally professional journalistic content should pass as what is popularly called the ‘public
good’. Previously education, health and water and sanitation were referred to as public goods
because of their positive or negative impact on the citizens. Positive impact in the sense of when
all citizens have a near-universal access to them and negative in the sense of when majority of
citizens lack them. Now UNESCO has added ‘information’ to the list of public goods. In the
context of development, ‘public goods’ is something to which stakeholders-government,
charities and civil society organisations, journalists and citizens contribute to and which carries
the meaning of need and social purpose. These social, political and economic needs are often the
catalysts for public action.
Public action means the purposive and collective action either for public or private ends. Thus,
the need for public action defines the arena for public sphere, where citizens and their
representatives (Parliament) articulate their concerns through the media. This means that given
their role as watchdogs. the media and journalists are mandated to provide objective, well
researched and unbiased reports for the citizens and their representatives to take action.
Therefore, when journalists’ reports are laden with hatred, cynicism and insensitivity, people
who react would be doing so based on misinformation and disinformation. That is aside the fact
that journalistic codes and standards across the globe underline the principle of objectivity and
Promoting journalistic integrity
The issue of objectivity and fairness continues to dominate reviews of journalism practice across
the globe. During the recent conference in Accra by the Federation of African Journalists
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo urged African journalists not to sacrifice integrity
and the future of society on the altar of an instant scoop. Rather, the media should focus on
reporting the facts and not become willing tools to be used to destroy the reputation of others.
The President urged the journalists to address the phenomena of misinformation and
disinformation campaigns and fake news, which are unfortunately filtering into the news portals
of some of the mainstream media. He further reminded journalists to endeavour to report both
sides of a story, promote truth and avoid passing judgement in their reportage.
Challenges to media freedom
President Akufo-Addo was unhappy about what he described as “emerging challenges to media
freedom.” “It cannot be right, no matter where in the world, that journalists are physically
attacked or prevented from doing their work. Once that happens, it is an attack on media
freedom, and it must be roundly condemned by all,” he added.
President Akufo-Addo argued that the notion among the public that critiquing journalistic
content amounts to an attack on press freedom is untenable. He urged the media to embrace the
fact that having the freedom to criticise and oppose comes with an equal responsibility to accept
public criticisms of their work. “That, for me, is one of the surest ways of improving the public
discourse,” the President said. He however, noted that a vibrant and unfettered media remains the
most effective way to hold governments and society to standards of honesty, self-discipline and
Most importantly, President Akufo-Addo underscored the significant power the media wield and urged African journalists to be reminded of their responsibility first, to their societies. Mr.
Ahmed Salah, a representative of the African Union, reminded African journalists to focus on
development and positive stories about the continent, rather than negative stories, such as
Poor working conditions
One key challenge that is negatively impacting the development of journalism and mass
communication in Africa is low wages, if any of many journalists. Small wonder that the issue of
poor conditions of service was high on the agenda. The President of the GJA, Mr. Affail
Monney, noted that the biggest threat to African democracy is the poor working conditions and
in many instances the absence of remuneration for several journalists. According to him, while
some of the “slave wages for journalists are in arrears”, other journalists worked without any
form of pay, which is a sufficient ground for journalists to underperform or compromise their
objectivity and independence.
Underpaid and under resourced
As far back 2012, IREX, a media rights organization reported on the precarious working
conditions for Ghanaian journalists. The report noted that many private media companies
are “poorly capitalized and are mostly by one-man investors in which the proprietor is often also
a pseudo-politician. In some cases, the proprietor also doubles as the editor-in-chief, sub-editor,
and business and financial manager. The IREX report states that the 2012 findings remain true in
2021. In the current newspaper, the newsroom setups of radio or television station load a single
journalist with three different roles: anchor, reporter and producer in one. Aside from business
and sports reporters, very few journalists are afforded the chance to become subject matter
In addition to being poor and under-resourced, Ghanaian journalists are also often underpaid,
says the IREX report. Journalists have reported instances, where salaries are delayed for months
without explanation, and social security contributions of journalists are never paid by some
media organisations. Others complain about struggling to pay rent, transportation and surviving a month on their salaries. While wages are generally low in the media industry, the small number
of female journalists are paid far less than their male counterparts, besides facing the pressure of
external and internal sexual harassment. This notwithstanding, in its recent report, UNESCO has
raised the issue of encouraging gender balance in journalism and media work.
Solidarity and soft control
As a result of low wages, several journalists tend to depend on inducements such as “soli”,
industry jargon for a “solidarity” payment news sources make to reporters for publicity.
Underpaid journalists also adopt several means to survive the terrain. The alternatives often
include using the media platform as a public relations tool for private companies. Under these
conditions, business “journalism” becomes an extension of corporate marketing, corporate social
responsibility and branding activities. In the end, some journalists are effectively doubling as
public relations officials for companies and individuals, rather than holding powerholders to
The high turnover in newsrooms across Ghana has been blamed on poor working conditions of
journalists. Journalists, particularly those who manage to rise to the top, often leave after a few
years for well-paying sectors. This leads to a “brain-drain” of experienced journalists who would
otherwise provide context, analysis and support for inexperienced journalists. Under these
circumstances several questions come to mind. How many business journalists will have the courage to investigate and report the corrupt or harmful dealings of a company when they have
been taking soli from these companies for years? How many political journalists will have the courage to expose corruption or scandals involving top politicians who contributed to their rent?
Or how many journalists can be critical of the political party that funded their education?
However, not all journalists in the country are corrupt, and not all media houses have been
captured or compromised. There are still journalists and entire newsrooms that continue to fight
against corruption and nepotism in high places. More than ever, journalists and media
organisations need capacity building steered by the state.