Among the many accolades heaped on Ghana by global governance bodies, aside our democratic credentials, peace and stability is a free press. The media has a special place in the Ghanaian democratic space. The Constitution describes the ‘media as the fourth estate of the realm’.
The Constitution bestows on the media a very important responsibility which include the right to educate, entertain and hold public officers accountable for their (in)actions. Part of the media’s educational role is setting the agenda for national conversation. That is, the media has the power to get us talking about the most important issues that impact positively on the collective good of the nation.
But, as time has proven the question of who set and the kind of agenda set is coming up for debate. Obviously, the media does set the agenda, courtesy the stories they cover in the dailies and which many times become the content for the many radio stations especially those who broadcast in local languages.
The media has come under criticism for focusing on sensationalism rather than human and development centred stories (serious news). That is, irrelevance has replaced the quest for relevant contents. That, media houses, it seems, are focused on selling newspapers or attracting large listenership through sensationalism than deep, serious news (stories that will advance the course of the country).
This trend has been observed by broadcaster Nhyira Addo. In the November/December, 2014 edition of Radio/ TV World Magazine under the topic: ‘Are We Fair To Our Audience?’ the co-host of Joy FM’s Super Morning Show writes: ‘Our radio today is replete with over-sensational and tabloid style programming and content. This media subculture has become so pervasive that the media brands that once excelled as objective and edifying sources of out-of-class-room education have been found peddling sensationalism’.
A trend which needs to be mentioned in relation to the above is what I describe as the ‘Hot News Syndrome’, where the media moves to the next ‘hot’ issue because the one under discussion has grown stale. Tune into the morning shows on radio and TV each morning and hear the stories read and discussed. Politics remain topmost. Partisan political arguments, which sometimes add nothing to the lives of the ordinary person except widening the cleavages of political divide and increasing political antagonism, fill the pages of newspapers and radio discussions. Be reminded that the ‘Hot News Syndrome’ mostly thrives between one week and two weeks.
Social, economic and people centered issues are given mention for just a few minutes and the host and panelist sink their teeth in what they consider ‘important’. If you should ask why that is the situation, the popular answer is that they give the listeners what they want: Politics.
Musician Wanlov of the FOKN Bois drums the point on the Hot News Syndrome aptly in an interview with Nkenten Pages, an art focused newsletter ‘We’ve become bad news junkies. As soon as it comes out, we are so interested in the news, and so interested in telling the news to someone else, and then getting angry with each other, talking about it… And then next we want a new high. We have forgotten. We are only using our short term memory. We’re not thinking of the future. We’re just in the moment, getting a new fix each week: what’s the new bad news out there?’
Take for instance the resent issue of flooding and the unfortunate deaths recorded. The discussion run for at most two weeks then got overtaken by this Ebola Vaccine Trial. This Ebola Vaccine controversy will rage on for another week and a new ‘high’ shall emerge. Already, the Dzamefe Commission report on the World Cup Fiasco is bubbling and with time, it shall get us all ‘high’. One can argue that these three outlined stories are human centred and have both social and economic implications. Agreed. However, what remains to be answered is whether we discuss these issues to its logical end or we blow hot air and move on.
For example, why would we spend our time discussing a party which has decided to run the highway of self- implosion when we could have discussed the failing healthcare system or update Ghanaians on the current state of dumsor.
Tied to the above point is the seeming lack of follow ups on major issues that affect us. The media, after expending hours on an issue will leave it and won’t bother to follow up on promises made by government and public officials who are charged to solve our problems.
Except some few media houses who carry out their own investigations on such matters, most don’t. For example, many promises have been made to solve the energy crisis. How much of the promises are being fulfilled? What is the state of the proposed solutions- the gas pipelines, the infrastructure? Will be crisis be over by early 2016 as promised?
However, the birth of social media activism is bridging and redirecting focus on some of the pertinent issues that need addressing and spoken about. Debates, Awareness creation and sharp critiquing of certain developments are providing content for some media houses. For instance, the talk about dumsor on social media led to the organization of Dumsor Vigil which saw international media coverage. Again, the 1st July, 2014 ‘middle class’ demonstration which gave birth to Occupy Ghana was organized through social media after discussions on corruption, mismanagement and the seeming aloofness of government to tackling and finding solutions to the challenges. Trending serious topics/issues on Twitter and Facebook has attracted the attention of mainstream media.
The media in this century have their work cut out- to impact on the society by the stories they choose to cover. The capitalist business orientations of the country means that profit considerations come first so the media will fancy covering stories that ‘interest’ the audience than one which would not. If the name of the late ace broadcaster, Komla Dumor’s is mentioned today, it is because of his good work during his stint in the profession.
The media has a responsibility to set the agenda. Not just any agenda but one which has a profound impacts on the progress of us all-the people and the country.