The last twenty years have been the best for the media in Ghana. The media became very active, when Ghanaians in a 1992 referendum voted for a constitution and democratic governance. The constitution, in chapter twelve, guaranteed freedom of speech and of the media.
Subsequently, a number of private newspapers emerged that same year. Private radio and television followed in 1995 after deregulation of broadcasting. Now, after more than twenty years, we have hundreds of privately owned media stations across the country. They include newspapers, radio, television and new media.
The picture was very different for all that period preceding 1992. Governments since the Gold Coast days, through the early post independence governments and the various military regimes that interrupted them, exercised censorship by various means. Licensing decrees were used. In extreme cases, journalists were arrested and jailed for their work. The reign of the PNDC regime was the longest of those difficult periods for the media.
How have the media performed over the period? Some reviews of the media in the fourth republic exist. One of such reviews is a paper, “The State the Media in Ghana: Ten Years of Constitutional Rule”, published in December 2003 by the Ghana Journalists Association and KAB Governance Consult. This article also attempts a review from 1992 to now; applying Harold D. Lasswell’s traditional functions of the media in society as basis. The functions are surveillance of the environment, correlation of the parts of society and transmission of the social heritage, from one generation to the next, and entertainment.
The mass media performs the surveillance function by monitoring and scanning society or their environments for any changes and developments to inform their audiences about those changes. We access this function when we listen to the news.
Both the state owned and the private owned media have performed the function quite well over the last two decades quite well, and they continue to do so. Examples of the function are when they brought us news that Ghana has discovered crude oil, changes in government, disasters and even the death of a president, and indeed, news from every part of the world.
Correlation of the Parts of Society
The media also bring to us the connections that exist among various events in the news, and that is the correlation function. Examples are the op ed features, analyses, essays documentaries, panel discussions on radio and television, etc. The Ghanaian media’s performance in this area today certainly is better than it was in the days of state monopoly over broadcasting and dominance of the print media. That is so because media plurality which has given voice to various interest groups.
However, I think media could perform far better than they do now with the correlation function. They are so focused on politics in a manner disproportionate to other important aspects of society. Too many producers of current affairs programmes make up their panels with political party representatives and followers. These programmes often turn into face-offs between the ruling party and the largest opposition party; here, political party interests reign while expert analyses and judgement are relegated. This excessive partisanship denies the Ghanaian public balanced and well informed analyses of important issues.
Transmitting the Social Heritage
Today’s news will become history for future generations. The news becomes record of events and issues that contribute to shape our culture. For that reason, the media have a responsibility to provide accurate and complete account of those events and issues. The Ghanaian media again has served the society well.
The Daily Graphic, Ghana Television and Radio Ghana stand out in performance of this function. That may be a result of many years of state support and funding. But for many others of private ownership, substandard quality of production remains big concern. The problem continues to engage the attention of communication and media scholars and experts.
This is probably one function the media perform very well. They produce a considerable amount of pop culture, and now we can say the media is a growing culture industry in Ghana. Hip-life, is the outcome of that industry. It is a Ghanaian music genre, a fusion of hip-hop and highlife. The popularity the Azonto dance achieved was a media creation.
With movie’s they continue to entertain us. But their themes have remained mainly, simple family issues and domestic violence. We are yet to experience producers take on major issues that challenge the status quo and confront deeply held stereotypes. Rising popularity of foreign content seems to suggest that the needs of Ghana’s growing middle class are not being met by local producers.
There is no doubt the last twenty years have been the best period for the media so far. While the constitution provides protection, developments in media technology have driven down costs of investments. These factors have enabled the media to play their role in society and continue to do so. However considerable mismatch exists between quality of production on one hand, and technology and costs on the other hand. The media ought to take on those challenges, for only they can do that for themselves and for the society.