in ghana journalists just dont get it

KUMASI, Ghana Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie used to wonder why Whitehorse journalists didn’t do more to “promote the territory.


Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie used to wonder why Whitehorse journalists didn’t do more to “promote the territory.”

Reporters have a vital role to play in society, Fentie would say, but in his opinion Yukon news establishments — some more than others — seemed preoccupied with being unduly critical of government initiatives.

He would love the media in Ghana.

Reporters here have jumped on the Ghana at 50 anniversary bandwagon, extolling their nation’s flagship status as the first sub-Saharan country to break from colonial masters.

The ruling New Patriotic Party can do no wrong — at least, not that you hear on the radio, read in newspapers or see on television.

Its elected ministers are forever “urging” various sects of society — doctors, teachers — to improve things.

So the media tell us.

The pro-government trend is not simply about political partisanship, but also a general willingness to submit to perceived authority.

Nevertheless, the spin is flabbergasting.

And reporters jeopardize Ghana’s prosperity by buying into it.

For instance, Ghana suffers from a hydroelectricity shortage resulting in random blackouts across the country almost every day.

Rather than pressure government for a solution to such a pervasive social problem, reporters become mouthpieces.

In April, when Energy Minister Joseph Kofi Adda announced the blackouts would become more frequent, the media didn’t criticize the change in policy.

They didn’t question whether mining companies would suffer the same power outages, or whether there would be compensation for businesses paying to fuel their diesel generators.

Instead, at Adda’s behest, Ghana’s oldest and most popular daily newspaper, the Daily Graphic, reported that Ghanaians needed to “change their attitudes” about the problem.

It urged people to buy better light bulbs.

It’s as though Ghanaian reporters still believe they’ll go to jail if they dare dissent.

Before 2000, a criminal libel law was in effect — a criminal law, not a civil law, which threatened any reporter who published unfounded criticism about an elected official with arrest and imprisonment.

The law was amended in 2000.

Reporters can now be sued, but not imprisoned for libel in Ghana, as in other democracies.

The explosion of new radio stations and newspapers that followed the amendment had a dual effect.

Coups d’etat were no longer possible because revolutionaries would never be able to take control of every radio station, explained Ato Kwamena Dadzie of the Ghana Journalists Association.

But without a licensing body, anyone with an agenda could purchase a media outlet to further political ends.

And people did.

Ghana’s most prolific private media — such as the Daily Graphic and its chief rival, the Statesman — are owned by political aficionados who blatantly use their publications to support the New Patriotic Party.

Most ironic are published calls from the government to Ghanaians to “resist corruption.”

True story: the president’s brother and minister of Defence, Kwame Addo Kufuor, recently toured his constituency in Kumasi with a busload of journalists.

Kufuor visited schools, shook hands and then drove reporters to his mansion, where food and beer were served on his immaculate front lawns.

He denied he was jockeying for his party’s leadership in advance of the 2008 election.

Later, Kufuor gathered the reporters in his marble-floored living room.

He had no control over what sort of stories they would write, he said.

Then Kufuor gave the press corps a wad of cash — 10 million cedis, or roughly $1,200, to divide between them. Then he left.

Not one of the journalists objected. In fact, they squabbled when the cash was not split equally.

None of them thought accepting money from the minister created an ethical problem.

 It’s common practice in Ghana for journalists, who make meagre salaries, to receive ‘tax and transport’ envelopes when they attend government press conferences.

None of them considered Kufuor’s money a bribe; and none of them included the “dash,” as it is called, in their reports of his tour.

Instead, the country’s most prolific radio station, Joy FM, reported online that Kufuor “wept bitterly” upon discovering that a school library had not yet received promised books and computers, and blamed local bureaucracy.

Not one journalist asked Kufuor, the Defence minister responsible for the army, about the soldiers who, the previous week, supervised the government-ordered demolition of business structures and shanty houses in Kumasi’s indigent neighbourhoods.

Not one reporter asked Kufour about aid for poorer neighbourhoods in his own riding — somehow skipped during his tour — which had recently been ravaged by floods.

Western journalists must guard against imposing homegrown cultural values on the societies they visit, especially in poor regions like West Africa.

But Ghanaian reporters who are willing to glorify their nation’s status as a model of democratic prosperity had better start acting like reporters in successful democracies: stop taking bribes, get critical, report the bad with the good and hold the government accountable.

Otherwise, they should stop pretending.

With files from Trisha Estabrooks

Former Yukon News reporter Graeme McElheran is currently living and writing in Ghana.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

City council meeting in Whitehorse on Feb. 8. At Whitehorse city council’s March 1 meeting, members were presented with a bylaw that would repeal 10 bylaws deemed to be redundant or out of date. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Out with the old

Council considers repealing outdated bylaws

A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon will have “delayed spring” after heavy winter snowfall

After record levels of precipitation, cold spring will delay melt

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

Most Read