The media are critical stakeholders in fostering good governance, promoting development, and holding public officials accountable. It is, however, not just any media that can play such positive roles. In order to be able to play their developmental role effectively, the media have to be free and professional – ethical.
Indeed, a highly unprofessional media may not just fail to contribute to national development, such media have the potential to be agents for promoting conflicts, undue partisanship, corruption and under-development.
In Ghana, the media are largely free. The country is rated among those having a free media environment in the world. A major challenge to the Ghanaian media’s contribution to Ghana’s development has been low professional standards. There have been several public concerns about rampant professional lapses among the Ghanaian media.
The MFWA campaigns for media freedom. At the same time, the organisation implements and/or supports initiatives that are aimed at promoting the requisite professional standards that will enable the media play their watchdog and development roles more effectively. In line with this, the MFWA with funding support from STAR-Ghana is implementing a project titled, “Promoting Professional Standards and Enhancing the Watchdog Role of the Ghanaian Media.”
The project is aimed at improving the professional standards of the media in Ghana and supporting them to play a much more effective role in fostering transparent and accountable governance in Ghana through critical and investigative stories.
The component of the project that is focused on enhancing professional
standards involves the monitoring and reporting of ethical violations in selected media outlets; convening experts to discuss reported incidents of violations and recommending remedial measures. Specifically, it involves the daily monitoring of ethical violations on 25 selected radio stations, 10 newspapers and five news websites across the country. The media outlets that are being monitored were purposively selected based on listenership levels and regional distribution.
Findings from the monitoring will be published on a monthly basis. The monthly reports will highlight ethical infractions committed, indicate the respective media outlets on which such infractions were committed and recommend ways of mitigating such violations.
Monitoring Process and Methodology
As first step to the monitoring process, a media ethics monitoring instrument focusing on 16 ethical principles of journalism was developed. To a large extent, the Code of Ethics of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) served as the benchmark of the instrument. The instrument was subsequently presented at a stakeholders’ forum for validation.
The stakeholders present at the validation forum included the National Media Commission (NMC), Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), Private Newspaper Publishers Association (PRINPAG), Ghana Community Radio Network (GCRN), Editors Forum-Ghana, academics from journalism training schools and journalists from various media houses. Participants at the forum made useful suggestions and recommendations to the draft instrument following which the instrument was unanimously validated and adopted.
Following the validation, copies of the instrument were presented to the media outlets that have been selected for the monitoring.
Next in the process was training of monitors. The search for monitors was widely advertised. Close to a hundred applications were received. After shortlisting and interviewing, 30 applicants with the requisite qualification were selected and trained on the monitoring instrument and its application.
Those monitoring radio stations have been provided with recorders for daily recording of programmes being monitored. Those monitoring newspapers are also provided with copies of the newspapers being monitored. The day-to-day monitoring of ethical violations started in May and will continue to November 2014.
This is the first monthly monitoring report. It covers the analysis of data for the month of May 2014.
A total of 3,254 programme/reports were monitored on 39 of the 40 media outlets being monitored under the project (due to extraneous factors, reports from one radio station could not be received).
These programme/reports were made up of 1,286 radio programmes (including news bulletins and current affairs/discussion programmes); 1,865 newspaper reports (including news, editorials, letters from readers, opinions and features); and 103 reports on news websites (including news, features, opinion pieces, and readers’
The monitoring showed that the subject matter that dominated the
programmes/reports monitored included the following:
Economic issues (national economic forum and matters arising)- 72
Political party activities (press conferences, media releases, intra-party wrangling, etc.) – 48
Labour issues (POTAG and NAGRAT strikes) – 46
Social issues – 42
Security/Crime-related – 39
Presidential affairs (Governance & the president’s speeches ) – 34
Health and Sanitation issues – 30
Education – 23
It is worth noting, however, that even though the issues/subjects discussed (as detailed above) were many and varied; the same issues featured in almost all the media outlets monitored. This suggests that despite the apparent media plurality in Ghana, there is little or no diversity in media content/programming.
The monitoring showed that major news items and current affairs programmes of radio stations in urban centres, especially Accra, were often picked live by some peri-urban and rural-based radio stations. It was also found that the content of major current affairs programmes and some news items on radio were sourced from some television programmes, newspapers or online publications and vice-versa. These two findings could partly account for the lack of diversity in media outputs. 5
News sources were somewhat more diverse. But even with that, most of the items were attributed to the President, government officials and ministers.
Other dominant sources of news included officials and activists of the main opposition political party, New Patriotic Party (NPP); the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC); and pressure groups (including labour groups and civil society organisations).
Specific Findings on Violations of Ethical Principles
From the 3,254 programme/reports monitored during the one-month period, a total of 141 ethical infractions were recorded. The ethical principles that were often violated were Decency in language; Fairness; Balance; Accuracy; and separating Facts from Opinions. Table 1 below presents ethical principles violated during the one month period.
Ethical Violations Recorded on Radio
The 71 ethical infractions by radio stations shown in Figure 1 above were recorded on 13 out of the 25 radio stations being monitored under the project.
Most of these infractions were recorded on current affairs and other discussion programmes. The ethical principles that were often flouted by the 13 radio
Decency in Language
Separating Facts from Opinions
Fairness and Balance
Table 2 below presents the list of radio stations on which violations occurred and the number of incidence of violations:
It is worth pointing out that even though some of the programmes on which ethical breaches occurred lasted longer than others, the duration of a programme did not necessarily influence the number or incidence of ethical violations or otherwise on any of the stations monitored.
Ethical Violations Recorded in Newspapers
With regard to newspapers, all the 33 ethical infractions were recorded on seven (7) out of the 10 newspapers being monitored under the project. Most of the seven newspapers that recorded the ethical violations were privately-owned and politically oriented newspapers.
All the 33 ethical infractions were recorded from news items and features in the seven newspapers. News items recorded majority (29) of the 33 ethical infractions.
The major ethical principles violated in the content of the seven newspapers were Fairness, Balance, Accuracy, Decency in Language, and Inappropriate use of photographs. Table 3 below provides a list of newspapers that recorded ethical infractions.
In the print media (and newspapers in particular), the prominence of a story is determined by where in the paper the story is placed – with the front, back and centre pages being the most prominent in that order. Analysis of the data from 9
the monitoring showed that stories placed on the front pages of the
newspapers recorded more ethical infractions when compared to stories placed on the other pages (back, centre and inside pages).
Ethical Violations Recorded Online
Thirty-seven (37) ethical violations were recorded online. They were all recorded on two news websites – Ghanaweb.com & Peacefmonline.com.
Figure 2 below depicts the frequency distribution between the two portals: Out of the 37 ethical infractions recorded online, 31 were recorded from readers’ comments sections of the two websites while the other six (6) were recorded from news reports.
The ethical principle that was often violated was the use of indecent language. Considering the number of indecent expressions recorded on the comments section of these two websites, it can be said that the gate keeping role of editors in moderating this section of their websites (if done at all) has not been below par.
A preponderance of ethical violations by the media always constitutes a threat to media freedom and survival. Besides, acts of unprofessionalism compromise the capacity of the media to play their watchdog role, and contribute meaningfully to governance and national development. The MFWA, therefore, recommends the following:
• Editors and journalists should endeavour to adhere to the ethical
principles of the profession as espoused in the GJA Code of Ethics
• Online editors should actively moderate the comments sections of their portals to ensure that unethical comments are not put in the public domain
• Media groups/associations should prioritise and undertake continuous
professional capacity building for members
• Media groups and associations should introduce effective self-regulatory mechanisms that promote adherence to ethical standards among journalists
• Journalism training schools should endeavour to nurture a culture of
adherence to professional ethics among students
• Journalism training schools should balance theory with practice in
training of students
• The National Media Commission should be empowered to effectively
deliver on its mandate of promoting professional media practice in
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