Has Ghana imported some professional journalists to help fight COVID-19? This question keeps occurring to me, considering how the media has handled the Coronavirus pandemic.
Why and how did the Ghanaian media criticised of unprofessionalism, irresponsibility, and partisanship, suddenly metamorphose into a professional, responsible and generally non-partisan media we have seen since the outbreak of this pandemic? What has suddenly changed?
Beyond its role of informing, educating, and entertaining, the mass media has bigger responsibilities towards national development. The 1992 constitution recognizes the importance of media towards national development. That is why Article 162(5) guarantees, “all agencies of the mass media” the right to “at all times uphold the principles, provisions, and objectives of this Constitution, and shall uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of Ghana”. Media scholars believe the media performances surveillance, correlation, cultural transmission, and entertainment-relaxation functions.
Over the years, most Ghanaian media houses have come under severe criticism for its partisan handling of issues and also for allowing politicians to take them for a ride. The media instead of performing its surveillance function of keeping the government accountable and responsible rather play to the tunes of these politicians by pushing political agenda for their own interests. The media’s superficial and sensational handling of issues put its correlation function, of giving accurate interpretation of issues they bring to the people and how they interconnect, in limbo.
How about its cultural transmission function? The Ghanaian media has been criticized for infiltrating our society with values, and traditions alien to Ghana. Talk of the many telenovelas on our screens. The media seems to prioritize their commercial interests over preserving societal interest and values.
For entertainment-relaxation function, one may think our media has been top-notch. They entertain with music and many other programs. But it is important for us to know that this function goes beyond playing music and comedy shows. It most importantly has to do with the media calming nerves in tensed situations and bringing society back to life in slacking moments. Now tell me, has the media performed this role well? Has the media not raise unnecessary tension in this country? Some media houses in Ghana, instead of calming nerves incite citizens in tensed situations because of their egocentric and mostly political interests. These among other factors make the professionalism of the Ghanaian media very questionable.
But the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus pandemic has shown us a different face of the Ghanaian media. A face many of us have never seen: a responsible, education-oriented and facts-driven Ghanaian media. Maybe not the best, but from where we are coming from, the media has been extraordinary and applaudable in its reportage of this pandemic. I strongly believe that the media has been the spine of Ghana’s fight against COVID-19.
For the past three months, with little or no incentives, radio, and TV stations, newspapers and even online portals have been sensitising and educating people on the dangers, and preventive measures of this pandemic. Four things make the media’s reportage of COVID-19 extraordinary.
First are the consistency, intensity, and uniformity of messages about the pandemic. Tune in to every radio station, TV station, or pick every newspaper and the most issues discussed are Coronavirus related. The information given is almost the same everywhere: washing hands, social distancing among others and this has been going on consistently for months. People cannot run away from COVID-19 education because it is everywhere.
Second, the Ghanaian media has become more responsible now than ever, at least since I was born. Journalists and other media persons have become responsible with the information they give out to the people on COVID-19. To ensure accuracy, they rely only on appropriate sources like the Information ministry and the Ghana Health Service (GHS) as well as on expert opinions on issues related to COVID-19.
Third, the media has, to some extent, toned down on its partisan handling of issues, putting the spotlight on the common enemy, the pandemic.
And fourth, the media’s ability to communicate the dangerousness of the pandemic without spreading fears and panic.
What does this tell us?
The Ghanaian media has proven that they always rise up to the occasion. We have seen them, in recent years, show their potency in the fight against illegal mining (galamsey), the fight against political vigilantism, and now against COVID-19. They have shown that they can practice true journalism: treat issues responsibly, devoid of partisan interests but in the ultimate interest of society. It appears however that, the media always wait for abnormal times to show their professional and advocative side. They only put on their professional, responsible, and nonpartisan lenses in such situations as COVID-19 after which they go back to be unprofessional, irresponsible, and partisan. One can, therefore, anticipate that once things get back to normal (post-COVID-19), the media we are used to will resurface.
But should that be the case?
It is important for the media to know that Ghana has always been in abnormal times. A country cannot be said to be in normal times when most citizens struggle to put food on their tables. We cannot be in normal times when there are no beds in our hospitals. A country with a high unemployment rate, high poverty rate, yet a high corruption rate cannot be in normal times.
Imagine the media, with this same intensity, consistency, and uniformity we have seen in recent months, fighting against corruption, poverty, and underdevelopment. Imagine the media educating citizens to be development-oriented, and to hold their leaders accountable, irrespective of their partisan line. Ghana will be a different place, trust me.
Yes, COVID-19 is dangerous and should be handled professionally, reasonably, and responsibly as the media has done. But there are much bigger enemies: corruption, poverty, underdevelopment, and unemployment. These have been highly detrimental to our country for over sixty years. Fights against these enemies are not only important but very necessary. Consistency, intensity, uniformity, professionalism, and responsibility of the media are the weapons we need. It may be difficult but possible.
Source: Isaac Piyuori, Student Journalist, GIJ