Expert calls for redefinition of watchdog concept of the media

By Patience A. Gbeze, GNA

Accra, Sept. 15,
GNA – Dr Wilberforce S. Dzisah, the Rector of Ghana Institute of Journalism,
has urged political journalists to be factual, balanced, fair, and above all to
endeavour to serve the Ghanaians with undiluted information.

Speaking at a just
ended three-day seminar for Journalists on Effective Election Campaign
Reporting at Sogakope in the South Tongu District of the Volta Region, Dr Dzisah
said the media has the responsibility to be answerable to society.

“We cannot claim to
be the mirror of society if our reports are slanted, jaundiced and tainted with
the very ills for which we berate others and try to hang. Media accountability
must be seen as both horizontal and vertical,” he added.

The Seminar was
organised by the Ghana Institute of Journalism in collaboration with the
American Embassy in Ghana to enhance objective and balanced political reportage
during and after the 2016 general elections. 

He stressed the
need to redefine the traditional function of the media within the context of
attaining balance and journalistic objectivity in the country’s election
coverage.

He said the
watchdog function of the media appeared to focus only on official wrongdoing
because from a traditional point of view under liberal theory government is the
sole object of media vigilance.

He noted that
conception need to be recreated whereby the media are conceived as being a
check on both public and private power.

Dr Dzisah said that
modification diminishes the case of ‘market freedom’ since it could no longer
be equated with independence from all forms of power.

“The issue is no
longer simply that the media are compromised by their links to big business: the
media are big business. The media are assumed to be independent, and to owe
allegiance to the public, if they are funded by the public and organised
through a competitive market.

“This theory
ignores the many other influences that can shape the media, including the
political commitments and private interests of media shareholders,” he
added.  

Dr Dzisah said
while that poses a major challenge, the ethical responsibility imposed on the
media and by virtue of the professional training should be the guiding light,
adding, “we must not lose sight of the wider relations of power and the
influence exerted through news management.

“The most
debilitating component is the ideological power of leading groups in society as
well as our addiction to ethnic and tribal allegiances.

“While Article 162
of the 1992 Republican Constitution in principle insulates the state-owned
media from governmental control, we must equally be worried about the threat
posed to the private media by shareholders/owners.

“We are yet to see
unfettered freedom and independence of the private media by way of legislation
that shields private media from corporate owners…catechism subscription of to
the free market is not the best way to secure fearless media watchdogs that
serve democracy.

“Instead, practical
steps should be taken to shield the media from the corruptions generated by
both the political and economic systems of both public and private spheres
within the nation. Therefore in our election coverage of the various political
party candidates and their parties, we must go behind the veil to establish a
sense of legitimacy,” he added.

Mr Kwesi Jonah,
Senior Research Fellow at Institute of Democratic Governance, blamed the
current tension in the country on the growth of vigilante groups, political
pluralisation, interpret language, competing interest, media ownership and
unholy alliance between the hosts of programmes, reporters and politicians.

He said context is
very necessary composite in giving clarity and urged political reporters to add
good political context to their story, adhere to principles of balanced and
fairness and always ensure that their stories are popular with the people and
have a democracy enhancing values.

Mr Kwesi Gyan
Apenteng, Chairman of the National Media Commission, presenting a paper on
“Reporting Electoral Conflict”, said lots go into training and peace-building
in places where elections go on successfully.

He said elections
should be celebrations of democracy and must come with joy and not tensions and
fears.

Mr Apenteng noted
tensions go up because the citizens hear and see things that are frightening,
thereby defeating the peaceful and joyful nature of elections.

“Elections by
itself is a mechanism to resolve a conflicts. Elections, though it is good, we
do not it because it is nice; it is a serious business and the journalist must
begin to understand what is at stake, what the people want their leaders to do
if elected,” he added.

He attributed
election conflicts/violence in developing countries to high unemployment levels
in those countries and stressed the need to strengthen weak institutions that
are to ensure that elections are free and fair.

He suggested the
need to develop a tool for peace journalism, which would drive on voter
education, peace-building and watchdog functions of the media.

Ms Sara Veldhuizen
Stealy, Press Attache at the American Embassy in Ghana also reiterated the need
for political journalists to go about their reportage professionally by asking
questions, analysing them and interpreting them factually.

GNA

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