The independence of the media is so crucial in every democracy anywhere in the world. The media’s role in all democracies, is to dig and reveal all actions that threaten the survival of all democracies.
Democratic powers are exercised on behalf of the people. Unfortunate, the wrongs that rose during the various forms of rules that preceded the invention and aspiration of democracy as the best form of rule, still have the tendencies of being perpetuated by power wilders. Corruption remain an important subject in all democracies. In addition, the abuse of human rights among others, remain subjects that the media had kept highlighting over the years.
These functions were effectively played because it was agreed so to be. The politician, having realized the role of the media, has decided to position himself in that important “arm”. What could be the aim apart from having knowledge of what the media intends to do and having the influence to interfere in it?
Societies have had cause over the years to speak up and to condemn actions of political actors because the media brought those actions up for the information of the public. Unfortunately, this very important and sacred role is under threat.
There are those who have questioned the interest of any state controlling a media house. In Ghana for instance, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, has remained the property of the Government of Ghana. The British Broadcasting Corporation has remained a property of the British Government among a host of other media houses owned by various states. Some of the arguments for state owned media houses remained that at every given time, there must be a media that can enable the government reach out to its people if all other media houses should fail to honour such calls.
In order to lessen that control, many have suggested that sources of funding for such media houses are diversified just so they do not fall at the whimsical ends of operatives of government who have an interest in the government and what the media does to the image of that government.
The media which is regarded the fourth estate of the realm, which plays a role that is to immensely benefit the generality of the public, is under threat. The independence and professionalism expected, is being chipped away through careful investments in the area by those who are to be checked.
The 4th estate of the realm can only be independent if the various outlets that make that realm are owned by independent people. The situation we have in Ghana is that those who are supposed to be checked with regards to their conduct in public and how they use the taxes of the public, are those setting up media houses and eventually providing direct working opportunities for these media men.
It makes it completely difficult then to stand in the middle when the interest of your employer is at stake. Can you imagine how a journalist working for Chairman Antwi Bosiako (Wontumi), the Ashanti Regional Chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) can report on anything negative about him on his radio and TV channels? That would mean losing his or her job in a country where landing a job can take forever.
In a similar fashion, how possible is it for a journalist working for a media house owned by the Chairman of the National Democratic Congress be able to raise any issues that are considered negative to his image, discuss them and make recommendations that they know would jeopardize his interest?
The media is expected to stimulate discussions through their engagements. They are expected to provide a balanced discussion and to allow all affected parties the opportunity to state their cases before the public without prejudices.
Unfortunately, this has come under severe threat. You openly see journalists who are more actors in politics than the politician. Such a journalist is mindful of the source of his daily bread. Failing to stand on the side of the politician who is up for public scrutiny would mean the possibility of losing his or her livelihood.
For instance, the owner of a media house who is a politician, comes under public scrutiny for engaging in corruption which if allowed to stand, may result in protracted litigation and possible imprisonment. The journalist working for such a man is aware that an imprisonment means the station closing down as there would be no other source of funding. Your guess is as good as mine should such a journalist have an opportunity to write or speak on that matter.
It is such a challenge that the fourth estate of the realm has become dominated and being allowed to function by functionaries and operatives of the first and second Arms of Government (Executive Members and Legislative Members).
Until our various media houses are outside of the control of political actors, this phenomenon would worsen. It has gotten to a point where truth is sacrificed for political interests. The media has no position on matters that affect their owners and the general public. The implications are such that in the end, the facts and truths are lost on the people.
Today, it has become the task of citizens to rather engage in discovering information in an attempt to differentiate between the truth and the lie. They have been left to their fate because the media actors have no interest in uncovering and speaking on the issues. Even when they do obtain the information, it is no longer about balancing the public interest, but balancing their personal interests along those of their “masters” and where they feel releasing such information would cause personal harm, they abandon it.
Some have equally joined in the concealment and distortion of the facts. Today, journalists are those who lead in the spirit to equalize instead of asking if what was done was to be done at all no matter who was involved.
This challenge promises to stay with us for ages. As stated earlier in the text, the politician is a cunning character if allowed to dance at every platform. The politician wishes to create the news and be at where the news is processed so he can tell what is sent out, and wishes to be at where the news is discussed so that he can equally shape the public opinion. Here, the politician is making the news (he must be discussed), he owns the media house that processes the news, and is a panelist on the platforms where the news is discussed. What else could you expect out of a system like this other than what we see today?
There is no longer any surprise element in the operations of the media to the politician. This has led to the develop of comfort for the politician, and in the end, society and democracy would continue to pay for the crimes of journalists who have decided to safeguard their political employers over the interest of the public which they ought to advance. Integrity and professionalism is what we require to win this fight.
The question I leave you with is, is the Ghanaian journalist who is employed by a media house owned by a politician willing to place integrity and professionalism over the interest of his employer with his job in mind?