By Edmund Mingle, Atimpoku
Tuesday, 01 April 2008
THE leadership of the media and political parties in the country have jointly called for more powers for the National Media Commission (NMC) to enable it to effectively regulate the media landscape.
A joint communiqué issued here on Sunday by representatives of the two groups, said: "The NMC should be empowered to seek an order of the High Court when its recommendations and rulings in dispute settlement are disobeyed".
The communiqué was issued at the end of a two-day workshop for senior media personnel and political party leaders to find ways of improving the relationship between the media and politicians to ensure a peaceful political atmosphere, especially towards the December elections.
Given the importance of the 2008 elections in the consolidation of the country’s democracy, the communiqué also urged the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and the NMC to update their guidelines for election coverage this year.
The workshop had the theme, "Democracy and the media: media-political parties relationship in an election year". Mrs Oboshie Sai-Cofie, Minister of Information and National Orientation, gave the keynote address.
The absence of powers for the NMC to compel offending media to retract stories and apologise after arbitration, the workshop agreed, was undermining the authority of the commission since some offending media houses have disobeyed its rulings.
Strengthening the NMC to improve its checks on offending media practice would be enough to promote and maintain ethical standards without the need to introduce new laws to control the media which would amount to a violation of press freedom, it was agreed.The communiqué stressed the need for a review of the NMC Act to modify its operations to enable it to better play its role in promoting the freedom and independence of the media as defined under Article 162 of the constitution.
"In particular, the NMC must be moved away from group and lobby-based interest representation to one of principled representation," it said.
The communiqué also demanded fairness, objectivity and the avoidance of sensationalism on the part of the media in their reportage. It also asked politicians to be civil and avoid provocative statements in their campaign messages throu-gh the media to the public.
It observed that since the media, the fourth estate of the realm, does not enjoy the kind of immunities available to the first three, the executive, legislature and judiciary, what is required is a regulation in which media practitioners themselves would play a leading role to enable them to ensure that professional and ethical principles are maintained.
It urged media houses to incorporate the GJA code of ethics into the employment contracts of their journalism staff so that it could be enforced at the organisational level.
"Also, there is the need now for a broadcasting act to provide the requisite framework to regulate public, private, community and educational broadcasting," it said.
The communiqué noted that with the continued maturation of Ghana’s democracy, one of the roles of the media was to continue to work to lessen political polarisation and tension in the society, more so, in an election year when there is the temptation on the part of both the media and the political class to resort to rumour mongering, exaggerated claims, provocative utterances and character assassination.
"Fairness, accuracy and balance are the minimum demands to be made of journalists in an election year, whilst at the same time ensuring that basic professional standards are respected," it said.
For instance, it said, practical and sustained efforts must be made by the media to get all sides of a story before publishing it to ensure truth and objectivity in reportage
Media houses must develop in-house accountability mechanisms including the establishment of in-house complaint settlement systems to provide a platform for aggrieved people to make their concerns known.
It also expressed concern about the negative uses of the Internet.
"Any framework for media accountability must take into account the phenomenon of the internet bloggers who are largely anonymous and, nevertheless, play the same journalistic role of informing, educating and entertaining the public."
The communiqué noted that whilst political parties and their representatives should be more open to and accommodating of the media in this election year, it is also important for the media to seek information and clarification of issues from appropriate and authorised sources within the political parties
"The media and political parties should build and maintain mutual trust and confidence in each other to ensure good governance and true democracy," it said.
Topics discussed at the workshop include, "Providing a media of ethics with teeth: The Role of the NMC and GJA", "Addressing the issue of polarisation, lack of objectivity and biased coverage in reporting events", "The media as watchdog of Ghana’s growing democracy: Making the media accountable," and "Media-political parties’ relationship in an election year".
Those who signed the communiqué included Dr. Kwabena Adjei, National Chairman, National Democratic Congress; Ladi Nylander, National Chairman, Convention People’s Party; Dr. Kobina Arthur Kennedy, Communications Director of the New Patriotic Party Presidential Campaign and Haruna Sumani, Policy Analyst for the People’s National Convention.
Others were Affail Monney, Vice President of GJA; Nii Laryea Sowah, Executive Secretary, PRINPAG; Ms. Ajoa Yeboah-Afari, Editor of Ghanaian Times; Christian Agubretu, News Editor of the Ghana News Agency and Mrs Jean Mensa, Administrator of the IEA.
The workshop was organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs under its Ghana Political Parties Programme aimed at promoting and sustaining multi-party democracy and good governance in the country with funding from the Netherlands Institute of Multi-Party Democracy.