“Why should we cherish “objectivity,” as if ideas were innocent, as if they don’t serve one interest or another? Surely, we want to be objective if that means telling the truth as we see it, not concealing information that may be embarrassing to our point of view. But we don’t want to be objective if it means pretending that ideas don’t play a part in the social struggles of our time. Indeed, it is impossible to be neutral,” Howard Zinn.
Maybe I should ask myself the same question I asked the media analyst currently consulting for my friend’s firm: Is 70% media neutrality possible in Ghana? That is also to ask whether I am a neutral media person. It is not that I shouldn’t or cannot be neutral; it is that I will not be able to stay neutral at all times. The same goes for those who pretend to be non-partisan. We are all political. That, we can agree. There is a sense in which being political renders you partisan unless you are apolitical.
The media (probably except in the days leading to the Genocide in Rwanda) is expected to be neutral. Even where media houses are owned by known politicians and popular partisan figures, we expect their media organisations and journalists (not the owners) to exhibit some neutrality and the highest levels of professionalism. The media is, after all, everybody’s medium of expression, as guaranteed by our constitution.
At good times, we have called the media our dear friends, an expression that Caroline Boateng of the Daily Graphic finds patronising. The media are our friends only when they promote our cause or blink away when we falter. When we don’t find them friendly enough, they are biased, adversarial and in bed with our enemies.
Ghana’s biggest opposition political party, the NDC, says the Ghanaian media is happy to dance and sing along with the ruling NPP. On Monday 08 January, 2018 edition of TV3’s NewDay Breakfast Show, MP for Adaklu, Hon. Kwame Agbodza, revealed that 80% of the media in Ghana favour the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
Going by Hon. Agbodza’s calculations, it is equally dangerous for our democracy and national development if the remaining 20% of the media are for the NDC. When did we start sharing the media among political parties? How many did the CPP and the GCPP get? Soon, we may need to plant and cultivate more media houses to propagate our agenda and fight our enemies. The media has more noble uses, we thought.
NDC and NPP media
How frightening are Hon. Agbodza’s assertions? We do not expect Radio Gold to sing the praises of the NPP and commend the government’s programmes. Will Oman FM praise the NDC for anything good? This is not peculiar to Ghana. Before he became President, candidate Trump accused the American media, particularly the CNN, of working against his bid. Neutrality and objectivity are much harder hurdles to jump for many media practitioners, just like the umpires who watch and judge their actions.
I have good friends at the top echelons of the two leading political parties in Ghana. Some of them are ministers and deputy ministers in the ruling government. When friends who alive abroad visit Ghana, I am able to tell their political biases from the radio stations they listen to. I lend them my car for as long as they would stay in Ghana, usually not more than three months. They betray their party affiliation by leaving party paraphernalia in the car or setting the radio frequency on a particular channel. The NDC man will immediately reset it to Radio Gold.
I have occasionally probed to find out why he wouldn’t listen to other radio stations, at least to get a contrary view and follow the bigger discussions at a broader level. The NPP fellow comes home with newspapers perceived to be NPP, such as the Statesman and the Daily Guide. We all have our allegiances and sometimes our actions betray us. As a partisan stakeholder, Hon. Agbodza may have followed this trend enough to make the verdict. If he is making the allegation just to satisfy a certain whim, then it is whimsical and most mercurial. This is not an unfamiliar path for his party.
Even when they were in power, the NDC boycotted the Multimedia group for favouring the NPP in their reportage. The decision enraged media watchers and civil society. The Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) described it as “illegal, strange and undemocratic.” Prof Kwame Karikari said it was “a mark of intolerance, dangerous and embarrassing to the government and Ghanaians.” The respected media professor also asserted that the decision undermined the perception that Ghana has free press.
We have had our fair share media crackdowns. Regressive governments beat down otherwise neutral and objective press, jailing a few and threatening those they spared. It has been a long journey. Today, the Ghanaian media scene is bustling with great professional activity by accomplished journalists who are doing wonderful exploits in print and broadcast journalism. Some of our finest talents are behind the greatest brands in the media space. We are also not doing badly in online journalism.
How neutral is our media? In 2015, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) conducted a survey to test the public perception of the Ghanaian media. The civic body found that 62.9% used radio as their primary source of information and 48% found it credible while 30% saw radio as neutral. 19.4% thought it was partisan. The survey also found that 25% of Ghanaians rely on TV for information. 48.8% said television was credible, 37.8% found it neutral and 14.2% thought it was partisan.
What about newspapers? The NCCE made a startling discovery that only 1.5% of Ghanaians read the newspapers for information. 56.8% found it credible, 34.1% considered it neutral while 6.8% saw it as partisan. This is the story of the Ghanaian media. We don’t know how many of them are for the NPP. If they have 80%, then the expression ‘media-friendly’ just got friendlier for all the wrong reasons.
Tissues of the Issues
…with Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin