Corporate firms killing quality of journalism in Ghana with advertising ‘lure’ – Online Editor

The quality of journalism in Ghana is dwindling in recent times. And some believe that the quality of the profession is going down because personnel are not adequately trained and wages in the industry are very low, compelling most journalists to succumb to manipulation by groups and individuals who offer them money.

Apart from government influence which is also said to be part of the problem, it has emerged that corporate bodies or companies are at the forefront of influencing what happens in journalism in Ghana.

Companies with the money in the name of ‘protecting their reputations and brands’ are now using advertising to influence what news organisations publish or broadcast about them. They do not necessarily advertise on a medium because it is ethical and professionally produced, or even popular, but they advertise as a favour to the medium and to gain leverage.

Making a presentation to University of Iowa students, in Iowa City, USA via Skype Tuesday February 21, 2012, Mr Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, Managing Online Editor of ghanabusinessnews.com said, corporations ‘bribe’ newspapers and other news organizations with advertising.

“They give you adverts when you do a story that hits at them, and after that, they do not expect you to do any ‘negative’ stories about them,” Mr Dogbevi told the students when one student, Allysa Harn asked about bribery and corruption in the media in Ghana. The student wanted to know if bribery and corruption of journalists come from the government, corporations or middlemen.

Citing an instance, Mr Dogbevi said he knew of a case where “one big advertiser pulled out its adverts from a newspaper that published a court case it was involved in and being a big advertiser, that affected the newspaper.”

In the case of ghanabusinessnews.com, the managing editor indicated that a Public Relations person of a telecoms firm called him after doing a story they were not happy about and said he (Dogbevi) did the story because the firm did not advertise on the medium.

“Indeed, we have been taunted once by a PR official of a telecommunications company when we did a story about them which they were unhappy about; he said we did because they did not give us ads!” Mr Dogbevi recalled.

There are cases where middlemen, usually people who know the journalists who are investigating stories go to mediate and convince the journalist to accept some money and drop the story, he added.

“Politicians, corporations and influence peddlers are all involved,” Dogbevi said, indicating “Yes. The government does to some extent.”

The country has no independent source of funding for the media, which according to Dogbevi, is “making the media dependent on political forces or the corporate world for revenue.”

“And with these groups, there is no such thing as ‘free lunch’,” he said.

The issue of poor remuneration is also a major factor that is eroding professionalism in the media in Ghana.

Indeed a recent media study conducted by the Labour Research and Policy Institute of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) of Ghana revealed that nearly half of media workers in the country are paid less than GH¢200 a month.

A report by the Daily Graphic February 2011 citing the study titled “Wages and Working Conditions of the Media Workers in Ghana” says 44% of the media workforce earn below the average income in the industry.

Quoting from the study the report said “Low remuneration was a major challenge confronting the media industry in Ghana” but conceded that the situation is not only exclusive to the industry alone.

The study was based on data collected from 1000 questionnaires which were sent to the various media houses across all the administrative regions in the country for journalists to answer.

In comparative analysis with the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) figures of 2007, the study concluded that media workers earning below the minimum wage are also earning below the national poverty line.

An article titled “Poor remuneration for Ghana’s journalists – A bane to press freedom and ethical standards” written by Andy Fosu for the Ghana News Agency (GNA) and published by the ghanabusinessnews.com August 31, 2010 gave how much reporters or journalists receive as salaries per month.

Andy Fosu writes “In most public media houses, a journalist with a diploma certificate receives between GH¢200 and GH¢350. A reporter at GNA receives as gross salary, an amount between GH¢230 and GH¢250, whiles a journalist with the same qualification at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) receives between GH¢300 and GH¢330. At the Ghanaian Times, a journalist with diploma receives GH¢350-420, while his counterpart at the Graphic Communication’s Group Limited (GCGL), is paid between GH¢400 and GH¢700. A Chief Editor at the GNA receives less than a senior reporter at GCGL. The Chief Editor who would have had about 25 years working experience and having his or her belt the competence, ideas and experience take home far less than a journalist with just 6 years of work at the GCGL.”

The situation is more pathetic in most private media houses, as Mr. Fosu says “some journalists receive less than GH¢100 while others receive no salary at all but are only provided with accreditation to enable them cover events.”

Ghana’s best 2009 journalist of the Year, Mr. Samuel Agyeman of privately-owned Metropolitan (Metro) Television, said in the article that poor and unethical journalistic practice come as a result of the fact that journalists are not financially secured. “If you have journalists receiving as low as GH¢250 a month, an amount equivalent to the allowances received by National Service personnel, then such a journalist can easily be enticed to skew the reportage”, he said.

Samuel Agyeman added that it was quite disturbing to realize that the colleagues of the journalist, who graduated from the same institution of higher learning, receive about 80 per cent higher than the journalist. “We sometimes meet them at events and get disturbed. If one is not careful, one will get into all sorts of questionable things to meet standards.”

Former Supervising Chief Editor of the GNA, Mr. Boakye Dankwa Boadi, according to Mr Fosu’s article expressed the fear that soon if the issue of good remuneration for journalists were not looked at, the profession would be denuded or bereft of top-class professionals adding, the situation would likely undermine the security of the state.

“We face a situation where top professionals are leaving whiles charlatans are taking over simply because people are not well paid. It takes strong committed professionals to withstand the temptation of being bribed. Being a journalist in this country is more of a sacrifice than anything else”, Mr Boakye Dankwa said.

Mr Dogbevi again says some journalists seek bribes after they find dirt about someone. “They’d call and say ‘if you don’t pay, we will publish.”

When another student, Darren Peak asked this question. ” In light of these challenges do you have hope? And on what premise will you base such hope or is it all doom and gloom?

He answered, “there is hope for the future. I base my hope on past examples in history where one person stands and makes a difference.”

“It is not all doom and gloom, some journalists I am training, and the positions they are taking gives me hope,” he said.

Mr Dogbevi has been practicing journalism for the past 21 years.

The presentation to the Comparative Media Systems class made up of 19 students from different majors was put together by class instructor, Etse Sikanku, who is also pursuing doctoral studies at the university.

The interdicsiplinary class offered by the University of Iowa Journalism School, has students majoring in Health Communication, Business, International Relations, Communication, Journalism, Poltical Science, etc.

Two students gave their impressions of the interaction.

Alyssa Harn, a sophomore majoring in French and Journalism and Mass Comminucation had this to say; “It was really beneficial to hear about real life experiences from a current day journalist working in Ghana. We read about journalism practices in Ghana in our textbook, but the information is only factual. Being able to have a real-time conversation with a journalist in the field really allows us (students) to see the topic from a more personal perspective.”

And Alex Slagle said, “I really enjoyed the session because I’ve never discussed journalism with someone from a different country who is still actively reporting there. What I found particularly interesting was the discussion of the competition his colleagues present. We can talk about Ghana’s journalism here as much as we want, but it’s not the same as getting a first hand account from someone that is an active writer in Ghana. That, in my opinion, is what made this session truly unique.”

By Ekow Quandzie

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