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Gatekeeping Role Of Media During Elections



Ghana’s democratic credentials as the beacon of hope for Africa are without question. This enviable accolade bestowed on the West African Country largely stems from our record of successfully conducting seven successive elections since the return to Constitutional rule in 1992. As Ghanaians, we often take pride in our recognition as the torch bearers of democracy in Africa. We are always quick to point to the peaceful transitions which saw power beautifully alternating between the NDC and the NPP. While this feat is mostly attributed to the peaceful nature of Ghanaians, we tend to lose cognizance of other equally important factors that have contributed to our largely smooth voyage to the very pinnacle of democracy. Having said that, one critical cog which has helped the smooth running of Ghana’s democratic machine is the solid foundation laid by the framers of the 1992 Constitution particularly in the area of media freedom.

Indeed, the Fourth Republican Constitution is regarded as the most far-reaching as far as freedom of speech and independence of the media are concerned. Refreshingly, the framers of the Constitution in reasoning with proponents of the Libertarian theory allocated double freedom to the media through relevant provisions in the constitution. For instance, Article 21 clause one ‘A’ stipulates that “all persons shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media”. Chapter Twelve has been dedicated to the independence and freedom of the media with Article 162 explicitly stating that “freedom and independence of the media are hereby guaranteed”. It is against this background that the contribution of the media towards the success of Ghana’s democracy cannot be downplayed. As watchdogs of society, there can never be any well-functioning democracy without first, unfettered media freedom.

Generally, literature has established that access to information, one of the main channels of which is the media, is essential for self-determination, for social and political participation, and for development. Thus the power of media enables participation of the governed in their government, thereby making it the cornerstone of democracy. Moreover, a real democratic society is based upon an informed society making political choices.

Therefore, access to information is not only a basic right of citizens but also a prerequisite for democracy itself. Actually, this is the area where the Ghanaian media continue to receive plaudits whenever the country’s shining democracy is cited. But has the performance of the media been an all-around success in this regard? As with every human institution, the answer is obviously no. The imperfections of the media are well known to discerning observers. The promotion of hate speech, sensationalism, speculative and rumour-mongering reportage, blatant disregard for ethics of the profession and irresponsible journalism are just a few of the well-documented sins of the Ghanaian media.

As is to be expected, some of these excesses of the media continue to fuel the debate on whether Ghana as a fledgling democracy requires unfettered media freedom with cue lines normally taken from the appalling history of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Posterity can never forget that it was through pronouncements on radio that an entire generation of Rwandans nearly went extinct. Seriously speaking, the Ghanaian media with all the vibrancy we exhibit cannot fall into the Rwandan trap, hence, the need to be highly professional at all times. As the country, heads into crucial elections on Monday, the necessity for the media to live up to expectation cannot be overstated. Precisely, the stakes in this year’s elections are extra high considering the fact that it is the first time in our democratic journey that we have a former president contesting an incumbent.

History is about to be made and the media as the watchdogs of democracy cannot let the nation and indeed the entire continent down. Journalists on any day are supposed to exercise their freedom responsibly. To put it bluntly, media practitioners have an obligation to be at their professional best by observing to the letter, principles that guide their noble profession. Consequently, they must try as much as practicable to be credible, fair, balanced, objective and reconciliatory in their reportage in order not to stoke an unquenchable political fire in the country.

Thankfully, this clarion call has been well trumpeted by the National Media Commission, the Ghana Journalists Association and like-minded Civil Society Organisations over the course of the electioneering campaign. This scenario can be likened to a candidate going into an examination with all the materials required for success provided by the parents and the school. In that regard, there can be no excuse for failure. For us in the media, we have the framers of the Constitution to thank, for their wisdom that has brought us this far as well as a thoughtful NMC and GJA that give us unrelenting protective cover in our dealings. The final part of the bargain is ours, bearing in mind that there is no media freedom without a functioning democracy. This is the very reason we must put up our best as Journalists to pass the test which awaits us on Monday December 7 and afterwards.


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