The Changing Media Landscape in Ghana
By Jiahui Hu
Taxi drivers in Accra don’t play the latest hits. In lieu of pop tunes, fast-talking radio hosts discussed the news in deep, rolling voices that swelled louder as topics turned contentious. English speaking riders can pick up words sprinkled into the native-language monologues —“corruption”, “NDP”, or “NDC” (The two political parties in Ghana). The sound of news is ubiquitous in the capital, emanating from airwaves in cars and restaurants, sometimes audible in the busiest streets. But print journalism — often the original source of reporting — is slow. A vendor may stand in the streets at busy intersections, swaddling copies of The Daily Graphic, the largest newspaper in the country. Commuters instead reach for dried fruits, nuts or starches. Even in a country of 28.1 million, the circulation of the Graphic totals only 100,000, or less than 0.4% of the population.
The press in Ghana is one of the most democratized in the world, 26th according to Reporters Without Borders. But the press is still in flux. After Ghana’s independence in 1947, the government purchased the Graphic from the original British founder Cecil King. Since then it has sought to tell the “African story” and write the facts about Ghana. Large newspapers, such as the Graphic, still collect the news, but ethnic-language radio stations reach the people. And more newcomers — often funded by politicians seeking to tell their side of the story — add to the competition. In Ghana, there is a “big space” for journalism, said Ebo Afful, vice rector of the Ghana Institute of Journalism. But with more politicized commentary, more advertisements, and not much growth in hard-hitting stories, he wonders if the media is doing what they should to help the country.
Khadijah Abdul-Samed grew up in Tamale, a predominantly-Muslim city in Northern Ghana, without many newspapers. But she and her family tuned into Radio Savannah, a local station, to hear their news for the week. Khadijah remembers seeing farmers, even today, peddling to the fields with radios attached to the back of their bikes. “When you look at radio, it is much more accessible and less expensive to get,” Abdul-Samed said. Language also matters. Though English is the official language, many Ghanaians would rather listen to their ethnic language than read English, Abdul-Samed later added. In Ghana, the state sponsors 11 additional tongues, the most widely spoken of which are four branches of Akan.
Abdul-Samed recalled that around the turn of the millennia many citizens in Tamale began to take an urgent interest in national politics. Radio fueled this fire. A local chief was murdered, and townspeople suspected the government. For the first time, a northern native also rose to the position of Vice President. “A lot of people wanted to find out what the government was doing for northerners,” she said. “People were really aggressive about listening to the news, and more news agencies began to spring in the northern region.” She added that due to the increase in listeners there are several channels rather than one today.
However, on the radio facts are woven with lies. John Atta Mills, the president of Ghana from 2009 to 2012, passed away in 2012. Before then, radio stations had reported at least five times that he died. For political gain, radio hosts and smaller partisan print papers reported that the president had died. Many radio stations and news rooms are owned by politicians who are pressured to open media outlets for publicity. “When one party opens a radio station, other political parties are forced to do the same to establish radio stations and media houses,” Abdul-Samed said. “Because, if they don’t do that they won’t have the chance to tell their side of the story.”
At a desk stacked two feet high with paper, Abdul Rahman al-Hassan Gomda has led the newsroom in the Daily Guide, the country’s largest independent newspaper, for the past decade. The largest, the Daily Graphic, is owned by the government. For him, political intervention in the news kept it alive, but also threatens its viability today. Because the Guide is owned by politicians affiliated with the NPP, companies fear putting their advertisements in the paper and being blacklisted by government agencies if the NPP does not win, he said. Though less common than with the radios, some politicians do buy papers for a political gain. The papers become propaganda machines, and their consumers are those who buy into the propaganda. Gomda calls it a “death knell” for journalism in the country.
Then comes the issue with broadcast stations. He gesticulated as he explained what accounted for much of the Guide’s decline in circulation. “Radio stations take the paper every morning and go through it,” he said. “The morning news is an exhaustive review of the content of the newspaper in the radio stations.” As a result, Ghanaians have no reason to grab copies of the paper themselves. Circulation of the Daily Guide is at a mere 30,000 to 35,000.
For many in the industry, the next step is to push reporting to a new level — to analyze rather than summarize. However, with higher levels comes higher costs. In Ghana, the tradition is to report back to the people what politicians say, often without rigorous analysis or fact checking. “What is lacking is the analytical aspect and trying to analyze what was said and breaking it down for the audience,” she said. “Newsrooms could invest more in fact checking to start,” she said. Speaking after a recent visit to the Washington Post in the United States, Ayambha said, “the media houses in Ghana are very under resourced.” The next generation, she hopes, will have the money and the training.
At the Daily Guide offices, a one story building down a small road from the current President’s residential home, Gomda and his team of 40 reporters will continue. The paper’s political ownership has no effect on its journalists’ work, Gomda said. The Guide’s stories this year, however, are critical of the NPP and feature for the NDC. That day in May, his reporters had written a story about poor working conditions for the police who guard the president’s house in Nima. “We want to keep them on their toes,” Gomda said. “We punish when we have to punish. We allow democracy to govern.”
Jiahui Hu ‘18 is a History major in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.