Panellists at a workshop on how to effectively report on the December elections have cautioned journalists not to declare election results, saying that only the Electoral Commission (EC) has the constitutional mandate to do so.
They said the media had the right to make projections regarding who was likely to win, based on the general direction of events, but not to put out figures and declare them as official when the EC had not done so.
The caution could not have come at a better time, taking into consideration the pockets of violence that have characterised the electioneering so far and in particular the tension that ensues after our presidential and parliamentary elections while we wait on the EC to announce its certified results and, accordingly, the winner.
The tension is somehow unavoidable because in elections such as the upcoming December general election, voters in the constituencies collectively decide on the person to represent them in Parliament, while the voting population of the country chooses just one out of a number of presidential candidates to be President of Ghana.
Supporters of the various candidates have good reasons for their choices, for which reason they go to great length, including campaigning, to get them elected into those political offices.
Therefore, the declaration of the results of such elections by the legally mandated body, in this case the EC, confirms the choice or otherwise of a group of voters and it is for this reason that the news media should not act in any manner that will seem to suggest or send the wrong signals to anybody that a candidate has won an election when the EC had not so declared.
While the news media can be said to be generally aware of this scenario and none would intentionally announce the election results to bring about chaos in the country, it is still necessary for all media and individual journalists, particularly those who would be deployed on election day, to exercise great caution.
This is because the journalist’s penchant for being the first with the news can sometimes override the need to cross-check facts and figures, particularly in situations where there is an unnecessary delay and the public keeps persisting media houses with calls to know the results.
Thus even as the media and individual journalists come to terms with the problems that could come about if they fumble with news about the election results, it is also important to draw the EC’s attention to the fact that unnecessary delays in the release of election results often give room to speculation, suspicion and accusations against the EC and, sometimes, the government in power.
The EC, no doubt, has its own challenges, including the timely transportation of its officials and electoral materials to certain outlandish areas and the communication of results to the collation centre during national elections.
Meanwhile, for the first time, the biometric register will be used for voting and the EC Chairman, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, has outlined the expected challenges to include climatic and technical issues.
It is the expectation of all that he and his team will work around the clock in the run-up to the elections to ensure the early declaration of results.