27.11.2002 Feature Article

The Press and Our Infant Democracy

The Press and Our Infant Democracy
27.11.2002 LISTEN

Democracy thrives best on a good executive, legislature, judiciary and a vibrant press. A lot has been said about the first three so I will devote my piece on the fourth. Journalism is basically gathering information, evaluating and disseminating the facts of current interest. It includes radio, television, newsreel films and new services based on computers. In years back that is at the beginning chapters of journalism (19th century) , it was regarded as an adjunct of politics and each political faction had its own newspaper. With time journalists saw their role as social critics and began to campaign for reforms into how to do their job. They began to see themselves as watch dogs for the public. Aware of their new role the press began to fight for their freedom. The press then became immune to government control and censorship. Infact press freedom came to be regarded as fundamental to individual rights. Press freedom therefore became a condition for democratic self government. The only limitations being libel, pornography, obscenity and creating an atmosphere that can be construed as presenting a clear and present danger to the government of its right to protect the masses. The Ghanaian Journalist just like everyone elsewhere have the responsibility of being a social critic, educator and a public watchdog. Its a pity therefore that in these present times most of our journalists are still practicing 19th century journalism. They have turned their newspapers into doing the public relations business of government. Yes, it is true that as individuals they will definitely have party affiliations, but on the other hand, they should be able to put the interest of society first and act professionally. Most often than not, we blame politicians for our economic failures. In as much as this could be true, I do think that our press houses have failed us miserably. They have not been up to their roles. The end result being that people with dubious backgrounds have gotten the chance of being in very sensitive positions of trust. The Ghanaian press spend ninety percent of their time in sensationalism which will not bring anything good to the country. For our infant democracy to survive the test of time, we need a new breed of journalists. Infact we need pressmen who are prepared to investigate anybody who offers himself to serve the public. In advance democracies it is the little things that bring the big names in politics down. People do not venture into politics when they know that they have certain things hidden in their closets. Our society is only interested in the PHD's that the politicians have acquired. As long as somebody have a doctorate degree we don't care if he or she has ever paid taxes to the community. Another area that the press has failed is their responses to certain statements made by public officers. Their inability to question some of the statements has done more harm than good. One stupid political statement in the West can bring about your demise from politics. Our society is made up of seventy percent illiterates and it is the duty of the press to protect these people. Take a look at certain issues that I find very interesting that the press has been silent on. 1) Current President served under a military government. The question is did he believe in democratic rule at that time? Can he genuinely blame the military for our economic downturn since he was onetime a part of it? 2) After 15 years as financial minister, Kwesi B comes back and proclaims that he's got the key to our problems. What is he going to do different? Force him to prove himself, he should come out with his new economic blueprint. 3) Minister for economic integration recently said 10 industries (one in each region) in ten years. If government is setting up the industries, then what's up with the privatization they've been talking about? What's up with the hundred thousand jobs that was promised? Can ten industries provide hundred thousand jobs? These are just but a few. As long as the press do not live up to their roles and put the public office holders to task about some of their actions and childish statements, every "educated fool" will join the political bandwagon. Politics should not be made an easy career for the educated few. It takes more than just academic qualifications to be a politician. A good politician should be able to think on his feet and it takes the press to bring such qualities out. Like somebody said somewhere, it is only in Ghana that a politician can promise rain without being questioned how he is going to bring it about. With an alert press, politicians cannot mount political platforms and make unrealistic campaign promises knowing very well that the press will be after them. We can only achieve the best for our country, develop our infant democracy and attain economic prosperity if and only if the media will live up to their roles and be on the look out for any excesses by the executive, legislature and judiciary. Anybody who is intolerant to press criticisms do not deserve to be in politics -- period!

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