A new dawn has broken. The celebrations are over. It is time for real business. And President Akufo-Addo is off the blocks with the naming of his Cabinet to govern the country for the next four years. As the new administration seeks to fulfill its mandate to Ghanaians, the media must also stand in readiness to fulfill their watchdog mandate to the citizenry. So, this is the time to get the cameras rolling, microphones set, and printers in motion to monitor the government every step of the way. The 1992 Constitution of Ghana, specifically Article 162(5), mandates the mass media to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people of Ghana. This is an absolute constitutional mandate the media must never abdicate. As a former Chief Justice, F. K. Apaloo, said in a Keynote Address at the Annual New Year School in 1999, there is, indeed, no modern institution that is more potent in keeping the government in check and exposing its wrongdoing and other acts of misgovernance than the media.
Upholding the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people means two things – first, exposing the evil deeds of government, and second, projecting the good deeds of same. However, extolling the good deeds of the government does not call for ‘prophetic sycophancy’ whereby the media shower praises on the government when none is due; neither does it call for ‘demonic mischief’ whereby the media criticize the government for no just cause. Indeed, upholding the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people, calls for absolute fairness and objectivity. In their quest to support the Akufo-Addo administration to succeed, the media must not necessarily become bedfellows to caress the government because that will break their fidelity to the people of Ghana in whose interest they work. Likewise, in their resolve to scrutinize government business, the media must not necessarily become bed bugs to suck the government because that will stifle their nourishment of the people.
Another critical role the media must play under the Akufo-Addo administration is to deepen democratic governance by encouraging the expression of free speech, divergent views and dissenting opinions as guaranteed under Articles 21(1)(a) and 163 of the 1992 Constitution. But in so doing, the media must be responsible enough not to allow their platforms to be used for destructive purposes, especially by political opponents.
They must also not constitute themselves into regime defenders or regime changers, as the case may be. It is very heartwarming that the liberalization of the media landscape in Ghana has led to pluralism in the industry. But it is also heart-wrecking to observe the development of unbridled politicization and polarization of the media landscape. So media pluralism has, unfortunately, come to hurt, rather than help, the cause of national unity and development. It is time for this kind of ‘mercenary journalism’ to give way to professional journalism.
Again, in discharging their mandate as watchdogs of society and development agents, the media must endeavour to uphold high journalistic standards at all times. This is a professional imperative that can never be negotiated for any consideration whatsoever. So in the desire of media institutions to be on top of the competition, they must not sacrifice substance for hogwash, or accuracy for speed, or quality for mediocrity. Breaking the news first is not as important as getting it right. And need anyone be told that in the media industry, credibility is more valuable than profitability? The clarion call, therefore, is for the media to be prim and proper in the discharge of their watchdog mandate, as they uphold the responsibility and accountability of Akufo-Addo’s administration to the people of Ghana.
This is a charge to keep the media have!
BY KOFI YEBOAH, A COMMUNICATION CONSULTANT