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17.10.2007 Editorial

Media and elections-Is endorsing political candidates ethical?

By daily Express-Xoese DOGBE

With the race to lead the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) heating up and the aspirants working hard (albeit in many cases poorly) to garner more media attention than the other, one of the issues that has engaged my mind is what will be the reaction of Ghanaians should one of our popular radio stations come out boldly and say, this is the candidate we support to win the primaries.

Obviously, our democracy and tolerance levels are in no way ready for that. Over the last two weeks I have been asking close friends and professional colleagues (including others currently not practising and living in the States) what they thought about a piece stating my personal assessment of some of the NPP & Convention Peoples Party candidates, and the NDC's Professor John Mills.

While many had very strong views about some of the candidates and agreed that it would serve the good of society if their weaknesses, strengths and suitability to be presidents are revealed, they also agreed with me that the very Ghanaians the information will serve are the very ones who will hit the roof in condemnation. Worse still is the level of labelling and assigning of mundane reasons for writing positive things about and negative things against the other.

For my money, some of the persons parading to become presidents have no business being there, but can I say it without somebody and/or people branding my paper as against? I do respect their decisions to help grow this country, although again, like many others I do not believe the usually trumpeted mantra that they have a vision and are committed to developing this country.

If I cannot state a strong personal position but rather write what I do not believe in, then I'll not write at all. For example I was at a media encounter called by an aspirant and he used the most disparaging of descriptions for me, can I sincerely write a story about the encounter without bringing out his description of me?

No. But if I do, there will be claims that I did it because of this or that, which will largely be unguided and misdirected conclusions.

What about the dailyEXPRESS or any other middle-line publication or news medium for that matter, after careful assessment and analysis, deciding to endorse a candidate?

Forget about the Statesman which was once owned by a politician and the current owners and editor are strong allies of a candidate. Forget also about publications like the Accra Daily Mail which is an NPP tabloid and understandably tilted towards one of the many.

Can the dailyEXPRESS or Daily Guide or Business & Financial Times do that?

In the run up to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, both the Washington Post and the New York Times endorsed Senator John Kerry in their editorials. (See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A447-2004Oct26.html).
And in the past, there have been subtle endorsements of parties and candidates in Ghana. Is the endorsement of politicians running for public office acceptable or should the media refrain from supporting candidates for the sake of objectivity?
What do you think?
Email me at [email protected] or [email protected]

But here are the views of some journalists as expressed on the IJNet (an online journalist's network) forum.

I am not sure but one of these days, I might just drop my list of 'non-desirables' and 'potentials'. That's if your emails approve of it.

The media should try all means to refrain from endorsing candidates for the sake of media credibility. Our role as the journalists and in general the media fraternity is to inform the public and let them make the final decision. Back in 2002, the media house that I currently work for endorsed a presidential candidate. Unfortunately, another candidate was elected as the president. Five years down the line, we as reporters working for that media house are still suffering because of that one gross mistake that our seniors made. Let media be objective and avoid being biased. Thanks... Ruth Maingi

I come from Uganda and I have not seen any newspaper or media house for that matter endorsing a presidential candidate. What is common is that you will know what newspaper supports which candidate just by picking their copy. A government owned media house will obviously show support to the existing candidate. The privately owned media houses may pretend to give equal coverage to a candidate but that is not usually the issue. They always have a candidate they support. I covered the last elections in Uganda and I know which journalist was supporting who and thereafter writing positive stories. I think that it is not right for a media house to endorse a candidate because it misleads the public who are relying on us for information. If we have decided to be watchdogs of society, let us be watchdogs of society. Period. Shifa Mwesigye

I am from Nigeria. The media here particularly the private-owned ones do not openly support a particular candidate although from the tone of their editorials and some stories you can easily guess where their interest lies. I think it is unethical for a medium to openly support a candidate although they may argue that they will likewise deny him in the event of emerging facts that may show such candidate differently. But I think once a medium says it is for one candidate it has limited the space for discourse by the other candidates; there is nothing they can say that would get the support of such a medium which may be tempted to openly promote their choice. Biodun Oye

My Country is Lesotho. The Media should give an opportunity for candidates to present their manifestos or programmes for their reign. They should open debates between members of leading institutions to discuss which candidate stands to lead a country to a better future. The media themselves- I mean individual journalists may not necessarily be qualified to choose for the nation. I believe one should not use unfair advantage over others. The electorate need to be guided but I believe in the media exercising caution when fielding people. I also think the state media should refrain from singing their bosses praises just because they pay their salaries. There are better ways of doing things not assuming that the electorate are a brainless person. Sophia Tlali

Endorsing candidates I think is unethical as the media is supposed to be neutral, but at times it is necessary and important to endorse candidates as in the case of my country Liberia. In the 2005 general and presidential elections which ended with a run-off between President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and football star George Weah, the media got directly and indirectly involved with some openly telling the electorates that voting for Madam Sirleaf would mean well for them and their children since she has international contacts and a wide range of experience and that she was educated. For Weah, the media openly said voting for him would mean ignoring education and encouraging more hardship as he does not have the ability to govern a country since he could not manage the national team the Lone Star of Liberia. Weah was badly defeated because of his low educational background that later became a wide debate amongst the electorates. So the media who is considered the watchdog of society played an important role... at times it is good for the media to educate the public on the danger of electing a certain candidate and on the other hand tell them which way to go because anything bad or good would be for the entire country that the media is a part of. Ora Garway

Nigeria: Newspapers endorse candidates during elections in Nigeria. Some do it as a result of their ownership structure. For instance, the Tribune titles owned by Chief Obafemi Awolowo supported their publisher's political career till his death. Same with the Concord Titles and Chief Moshood Abiola. Many politicians since struggle for independence tended to see newspapers as critical elements in the victory cocktail. In recent times, newspapers owned by politicians who are not running elections have also indicated their preferences for particular candidates.
I believe this support is in exercise of the right of the newspaper to hold opinion and lead public thinking, that is, the right to editorialise. This differs from the objective presentation of news and analysis. The fact that Newspapers are institutionally organised to separate the editorial department from the newsroom indicates that coming out with an editorial that adopts a candidate should not create any rumpus. I believe whatever may be the editorial stance of the newspapers on the candidates; the newsroom must assert its independence and credibility by not slanting the news to favour the adopted candidate. However, this is hardly the case as the newsrooms tend to use the adoption as a cue for reportage. I insist that news editors are not editorial page chairmen and should learn to keep their heads even when other editorial departments are losing theirs.
Kehinde Bamigbetan, Publisher of Echonews Newspapers, Lagos. Nigeria

I am Iranian, in my country there are political newspapers. In elections they are supporting their candidates and I think this is ethical but TV has most important role in elections in Iran. TV in Iran is a media that is controlled by Iran's leader and just supports candidates who are agree with leader's opinion. I think this is very important because in Iran people prefer to watch TV instead of reading newspaper and it has more influence on people. Leila Roudgarmy

South Africa: It is utterly unethical for media to endorse a candidate. What happened to impartial, objective reporting? The press will lose credibility (and sales) by endorsing a candidate aka the party line. Sounds like something from a Communist country, not the land of the free. Isabelle Luker

Kenya right now is gearing up for elections and it would be professional suicide for any media house to publicly align itself with any political candidate publicly, though some doing it subtly. Linda Ogwell, Kenya

I do not think this idea of endorsement for candidates is good. In this part of Africa where I work this can mean that the media may be screwing their reports to favour a particular candidate or political party and this I think can be dangerous for young democracies like ours and certainly we are learning from the matured ones. I do not think this is a good practise. Afia Pokuaa

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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