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Tue, 25 Jun 2024 Feature Article

The Role Of The Media And Media Coverage Of Elections Under The Fourth Republic Of Ghana

The Role Of The Media And Media Coverage Of Elections Under The Fourth Republic Of Ghana
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Elections are the backbone of every democracy. It gives the people a chance to express their views about the kind of leadership they are experiencing and what they would want to experience through the power of the thumb. Akoh and Ahiabenu, (2012) posit that the media has the onus of covering elections impartially and providing balanced and fair coverage of elections and electoral processes. But the effectiveness of this exercise cannot be fully appreciated if it is done without the involvement of the media, the conveyers of information and the channel through which the people convey their grievances to power players and vice versa. “The news media have been an important catalyst in the democratization process,” (Afful, 2016)

Ghana has had eight successful elections in the fourth republic since 1992 and the role of the media in these elections cannot be downplayed. Afful, (2016) opines that political messages and actions of politicians get to the public through the media. Perception and voting decisions are made possible by political stories supplied by the media. Although free elections are critical it is not enough for democratic governance. Blumler and Gurevitch (2005:104) observe that to ensure some level of political awareness, public discussions and media participation, a democratic society needs extensive and intelligent news media to report on public affairs.

The media, Stromback (2005:332) acknowledges normatively, play three significant roles in democracies namely: ensuring the supply of information in societies, serving as a platform for public discourse of varieties of political ideas and media establishment positioning itself as an effective watchdog overseeing activities of political leaders. Although this assertion by, stromback aligns with the role of the media according to the 1992 constitution of Ghana, the last seven elections have shown that, media coverage of elections in Ghana has varied, largely based on some external factors such as the level of technology available at the time of coverage, the ownership structure of the media, framing and agenda-setting role and several other factors. Media coverage has also varied over the years in terms of the depth of reportage, gender coverage and many more

However, the media's influence can be a double-edged sword, with the potential to either foster peace or incite conflict. This article examines the media's role in past elections in Ghana, highlighting statistics on media influence, challenges of the media and outline recommendations for ensuring a free, fair, and peaceful election in the upcoming December 7, 2024 general elections.

THE MEDIA'S ROLE IN PAST GHANAIAN ELECTIONS

1992 Elections: The Birth of the Fourth Republic

The 1992 elections marked the transition from military rule to democratic governance, establishing the Fourth Republic of Ghana. The media's role was crucial but constrained by state control and limited press freedom. At that time, the state-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) was the primary source of news, and private media was virtually non-existent. The GBC's coverage was heavily biased towards the incumbent, Jerry John Rawlings, and his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC). This bias was evident in the disproportionate amount of airtime and positive reporting given to the NDC compared to opposition parties.

The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) criticized the lack of access to state media for opposition parties, highlighting a significant limitation in media freedom. As a result, the 1992 elections faced allegations of unfair media practices and lack of balanced reporting, contributing to widespread claims of electoral irregularities.

1996 Election: An Improve Over 1992 Elections

By all account, the media’s role and coverage of the 1996 elections was a marked improvement over the 1992 elections. By 1996, the private media had begun to establish a solid footing. A handful of private FM stations, generally critical of the Rawlings regime, were broadcasting on air. Electoral coverage by the independent radio stations and newspapers helped to offset favourable coverage of the NDC in the state-owned print and electronic media. Gyimah-Boadi argues that independent media outlets were ‘largely responsible for keeping the election relatively competitive and saving opposition candidates from total despair about their chances against the incumbents, who had ample resources and the vocal support of the state-run media’. Newspapers like the Daily Graphic and Ghanaian Chronicle played pivotal roles in offering balanced reporting and investigative journalism.

2000 Elections: A Democratic Milestone

The 2000 elections were a turning point, with the media landscape becoming more diverse and vibrant. Independent media houses, such as Joy FM and Citi FM, played a critical role in providing balanced coverage and investigative reporting. This period saw the first peaceful transfer of power between political parties, from the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to the New Patriotic Party (NPP). The media's role in ensuring transparency and accountability was crucial, contributing to a peaceful electoral outcome. Research by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development and other local institutions provided valuable insights into the media’s impact on the 2000 elections. Studies showed that media role and coverage significantly influenced voter turnout and public confidence in the electoral process. For instance, a survey indicated that 70% of the Ghanaians trusted the media as a reliable source of information during the election period. (Oxford Academic) (Springer Link)

2004 Elections: Consolidation of Ghana's Democratic Process

In the 2004 elections, the media continued to consolidate its role in promoting democratic processes. The proliferation of private radio stations and newspapers expanded the information landscape, allowing for greater scrutiny of the electoral process and holding political actors accountable. Media houses like Citi FM, Joy FM, and Peace FM became influential in shaping public discourse and facilitating issue-based campaigns.

The National Media Commission (NMC) reported a significant reduction in electoral malpractices due to increased media monitoring and coverage. According to the Media Foundation for West Africa, 85% of media content related to elections was deemed factual and impartial, contributing to the credibility of the electoral process.

2008 Elections: Narrow Margins and High Tensions

The 2008 elections were one of the most tightly contested in Ghana's history, with the final presidential results showing a narrow victory for John Atta Mills of the NDC over Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP. The media's coverage was instrumental in calling for calm and patience during the tense period of vote counting. Despite isolated incidents of violence, the media's emphasis on peace and stability helped prevent widespread unrest. The media played a watchdog role, closely monitoring the electoral process. According to the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CCD-Ghana), numerous media outlets, including Joy FM, Peace FM, and TV3, provided live coverage and real-time reporting of the election proceedings.

A report by the International Republican Institute (IRI) highlighted the media's positive impact in reducing post-election violence through balanced reporting and public sensitization. However, there were concerns about the emergence of partisan media outlets that sometimes propagated inflammatory rhetoric, which posed challenges to media neutrality.

2012 Elections: The Advent of Social Media

The 2012 elections saw the significant impact of social media on political communication. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter became essential tools for political parties and candidates to engage with voters. The media's role in fact-checking and countering misinformation was critical. For instance, during the disputed election results, where Nana Akufo-Addo challenged John Mahama's victory, the media facilitated informed public discourse and highlighted the legal processes involved, which culminated in a peaceful resolution by the Supreme Court.

According to a study by Penplusbytes, over 60% of the electorate relied on social media for election-related information, highlighting the shift towards digital platforms. The media's use of social media for real-time reporting and citizen journalism enhanced transparency and voter participation.

2016 Elections: Technology and Transparency

The 2016 elections saw significant advancements in the use of technology to enhance transparency and credibility. In the 2016 elections, the Electoral Commission (EC) introduced biometric verification, and the media played a crucial role in covering the implementation of biometric voter registration and electronic results transmission systems. Comprehensive coverage by media houses like Graphic Online, Ghana Web, and Ghana News Agency ensured transparency and built public trust in the electoral process. The peaceful election and transition from John Mahama to Nana Akufo-Addo underscored the media's contribution to stability. This technological adoption aimed to reduce electoral fraud and increase confidence in the electoral process.

The Ghana Journalists Association reported that 95% of media houses used technology for real-time election reporting, contributing to a more transparent and accountable process. The media's role in scrutinizing the electoral technology and educating the public on its use was instrumental in ensuring a credible election.

2020 Elections: The Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic Amidst Media’s Roles

This election, which saw the incumbent president Nana-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) secure a second term against former president John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), was notable for the media’s impact on the electoral process.

The 2020 elections were conducted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, posing unique challenges for the media. Restrictions on movement and social gatherings limited traditional campaign activities, increasing the media's role in virtual campaigning and voter education. The media adapted by leveraging digital platforms for election coverage, debates, and interviews.

A report by the African Elections Project indicated that 85% of election-related content was disseminated through digital platforms, reflecting a significant shift towards online media. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the media effectively ensured the electorate remained informed and engaged, contributing to a peaceful and credible election.

STATISTICS ON MEDIA INFLUENCE
Media Reach and Impact: According to the National Media Commission (NMC), radio remains the most widely consumed media, with over 70% of the population tuning in regularly. Television follows closely, with a reach of approximately 60%, while internet and social media usage have surged, particularly among the youth, with over 50% of Ghanaians accessing news online.

Public Trust: A 2020 Afrobarometer survey indicated that 61% of Ghanaians trust the media to provide accurate news, highlighting the media's critical role in shaping public opinion.

Electoral Violence: Research from the West Africa Network for Peace building (WANEP) shows a correlation between media narratives and electoral violence. In regions where media emphasized peace, there was a notable decrease in post-election violence, with incidents dropping by 30% compared to areas with inflammatory reporting.

CHALLENGES AND THREATS OF THE MEDIA
The challenges and threats in the digital age, such as misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, hate speech, cyber-attacks, and digital surveillance are enormous. These phenomena can undermine the credibility and quality of information and manipulate or deceive the public. They can also fuel polarization, violence, and instability, and erode trust and confidence in democratic institutions and processes.

Misinformation and disinformation are two terms that are often used interchangeably but have different meanings and implications. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is unintentionally or inadvertently created or spread, without malicious intent. Disinformation is false or misleading information that is intentionally or deliberately created or spread, with malicious intent. Both misinformation and disinformation can have harmful consequences for individuals and society, especially in the era of artificial intelligence (AI), which can generate and disseminate realistic and convincing content at scale and speed.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a broad term that refers to the use of machines or systems that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as learning, reasoning, and decision-making. AI can be used for various purposes, such as education, health, entertainment, and security. However, AI can also be used for nefarious purposes, such as creating and spreading fake news, deep-fakes, bots, and trolls, which can influence public opinion, manipulate emotions, and sway votes.

Therefore, it is imperative for the electorates to stay informed and updated on verified news and information, and to verify the information themselves. Here are some suggestions on how to do so:

Use multiple and diverse sources of information and media, and compare and contrast them for consistency and reliability. Avoid relying on a single or biased source, or echo chambers that reinforce your existing views and preferences. Refer to Fact-check organizations such as Dubawa Ghana, Fact-check Ghana, and other reliable sources.

Check the source, author, date, and purpose of the information and media content, and verify their credentials, reputation, and agenda. Beware of anonymous, outdated, or sponsored content, or content that lacks evidence, references, or citations.

Evaluate the accuracy, relevance, and completeness of the information and media content, and look for facts, data, and logic that support or contradict them. Beware of opinions, rumors, speculation, or emotions that are presented as facts, or facts that are taken out of context, distorted, or omitted.

Create and share your own information and media content responsibly and ethically, and respect the rights and dignity of others. Avoid spreading or amplifying false, misleading, or harmful content, or content that violates the law, norms, or values of your society.

Act upon the information and media content critically and constructively, and use them to inform your decisions, opinions, and actions. Avoid being passive, indifferent, or apathetic, or being influenced by external pressures, incentives, or threats.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ENSURING PEACEFUL ELECTION IN 2024.

Promoting Ethical Journalism
The media houses and journalist must adhere to high ethical standards, ensuring accuracy, fairness, and impartiality in their reporting. The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and National Media Commission (NMC) should intensify training programs on ethical journalism, particularly focusing on conflict-sensitive reporting.

Combating Misinformation and Disinformation

With the proliferation of social media, combating misinformation is critical. Media houses should establish dedicated fact-checking units to verify the authenticity of information before dissemination. For instance, Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), The Fourth Estate, Ghana News Agency among others have established Fact-Checking units that aim to enhance fact-based public discourse, debates, and decision-making in Ghana’s democratic governance and development processes. Collaborations with international fact-checking organizations such as Full Fact (UK), FactChecking.org (USA), FactCheck (Australia) among others can enhance these efforts.

Fostering Dialogue and Inclusivity
The media should provide platforms for inclusive dialogue, allowing all political parties and candidates to present their views. Special focus should be on marginalized groups, including women, youth, and persons with disabilities, to ensure their voices are heard.

Enhancing Collaboration with Security Agencies

Collaboration between the media and security agencies such as Ghana Police Service, Ghana Armed Forces, and Ghana Immigration Service among others can help in early warning and response to potential electoral violence. Regular briefings and information-sharing mechanisms can ensure coordinated efforts to maintain peace.

Civic Education and Voter Awareness
The media in collaborations with National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), Ghana Journalist Association (GJA), and Electoral Commission of Ghana should intensify civic education campaigns, focusing on the importance of peaceful elections and the electoral process. Programs like "Election Watch" and "Vote Wisely" can educate voters on their rights and responsibilities.

Monitoring and Reporting Electoral Conduct

Media houses in collaboration with the government of Ghana and other relevant stakeholders should deploy well trained journalist, and election observers to monitor and report on the conduct of elections. Real-time reporting on irregularities can deter malpractices and ensure a transparent process.

Encouraging Responsible Political Communication

Political actors should be encouraged to use the media responsibly, refraining from hate speech and inflammatory rhetoric. The National Media Commission (NMC) should enforce regulations that penalize media outlets and individuals who violate these standards.

CONCLUSION
From the birth of the Fourth Republic in 1992 to the 2020 elections, the media in Ghana has evolved from a state-controlled entity to a diverse and dynamic force crucial for democracy. Each election cycle has seen improvements in media freedom, fairness, and the adoption of new technologies, highlighting the media's critical role in shaping Ghana's democratic landscape. The media’s role in ensuring peace during elections cannot be overstated. As Ghana prepares for the December 7, 2024, elections, the lessons from past electoral processes provide a roadmap for the media to follow. By promoting accurate information, facilitating dialogue, and adhering to ethical standards, the media can significantly contribute to a peaceful and democratic election. The stakes are high, but with responsible media practices, Ghana can continue to set an example for democratic processes in Africa.

REFERENCES

  1. African Elections Project. (2020). "COVID-19 and Media's Role in Elections."
  2. African Elections Project. (2020). "Digital Media and COVID-19."
  3. Akoh, B., & Ahiabenu, K. (2012). A Journey Through 10 Countries: Online election coverage in Africa. Journalism Practice, 6(3), 349-356.
  4. Citi FM. (2004). "Election Coverage and Public Discourse."
  5. CDD-Ghana. (2000). "Media Coverage of the 2000 Elections."
  6. CCD-Ghana Report: Center for Democratic Development, Ghana, 2009
  7. CDD-Ghana. (2016). "Real-time Election Reporting."
  8. The Chronicle. (1996). "Media Coverage and Public Debate."
  9. E, Afful (2016) Journalism, Election Campaigns and Democracy in Ghana”
  10. E.Gyimah-Boadi,’Ghana: the challenges of consolidating democracy’, in Richard Joseph (ed.) , State, Conflict and Democracy in Africa (Lynne Rienner, Boulder, CO, 1999)
  11. Ghana Journalists Association. (1996). "Media Access and Electoral Fairness Report."
  12. GBC. (1992). "Election Coverage Analysis."
  13. GJA. (2016). "Technology and Transparency in Elections."
  14. Ghana Elections Project. (2016). "Media and Technology in Elections."
  15. International Republican Institute. (2008). "Media's Role in Electoral Processes."
  16. IRI. (2008). "Media's Role in Post-Election Tension Management."
  17. Journal of African Elections: Media Influence in Ghanaian Elections, 2009.
  18. Joy FM. (1996). "Media Evolution in Ghana's Elections."
  19. Media Foundation for West Africa. (1996). "Media Pluralism and Election Coverage."
  20. Media Foundation for West Africa. (2008). "Partisan Media and Electoral Impact."
  21. National Media Commission. (2004). "Election Media Monitoring Report."
  22. National Media Commission: Coverage of the 2008 Elections in Ghana.
  23. National Media Commission. (2020). "Election Reporting in the COVID-19 Era."
  24. Peace FM. (2004). "Media's Contribution to Democratic Consolidation."
  25. Penplusbytes, (2012). "Social Media's Role in Elections."
  26. Penplusbytes. (2012). "The Impact of Social Media on Election Reporting."
  27. Stromback, J. (2005) “In the search of a standard: Four models of democracy and their normative implications for journalism”. Journalism Studies 6 (3), 331-345.

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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