Importance of Electronic Media to The Democratic Development of Ghana.
The branches of government in a democracy are as follows: the Executive branch, the Legislative branch and the Judiciary. Even though the electronic media is not a direct institutional branch it forms part and parcel of any successful political set up that can be described as a good democracy. The media is the interface or the intermediary between the three main branches of the democratic system and the people or rather citizens that these branches are expected to serve. Thereby, a complex system of checks and balances and transparency is established creating an environment of government accountability to the citizens of the state. In the absence of the media therefore, democracies will not empower citizens the way they are expected to.
Over the years however, the media has taken several shapes and forms. Since Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th Century discovery of the printing machine, mankind has found new and innovative ways to disseminate information. From the talking drums of our ancestors to the World Wide Web which makes internet communication possible, the methods of spreading information have improved substantially making the electronic media a more vital feature in democracies. It is the belief of several political pundits that, the success of the National Patriotic Party in the 2000 Presidential elections was heavily influenced by the free media in Ghana.
Will the media however always play a positive role in Ghana’s democracy? How can the media which, is expected to be an instrument of freedom corrupt the country’s democratic system? It must be noted that, the positive role of a free electronic media in a vibrant and dynamic democracy such as what is currently being practised in Ghana can be abused. So instead of the media playing a positive role in the organization of general elections for instance it could even destabilize the social as well as political harmony prevailing in the country at the moment. This usually happens, when politicians are able to infiltrate the ranks of media practitioners in the country. So political reportage can become propaganda machinery designed to endorse government policy and advance the agenda of political parties. The media’s role can also be undermined by the commercialization of news agencies in Ghana whereby reporters seek or endeavour to sensationalise stories and events for popularity and ratings.
The war in Iraq spearheaded by the Bush administration enjoyed public support in America but it is believed that the majority of the supporters of the war which was described as illegal by the then Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr Kofi Annan, were convinced that Iraq and its former leader the late Saddam Hussein were involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York city and Washington DC. The war at one point was termed as a “Rush Limbaugh/Fox News War — based on the premise that in our current media environment if you tell a lie forcefully and frequently enough, the lie will triumph”. The Fox news network was therefore used as an outlet for misinformation and misdirection thereby securing support for an illegitimate war that threatened international peace and stability and cost billions of dollars that contributed to a decline in the US economy. A free media can therefore be an instrument of deception if not utilised properly.
It is also widely believed that radio stations were used to incite the very tragic genocide of Rwanda in 1994. Radio presenters and journalists analyzed normal political and social events in a tribal context creating the impression that social chaos was imminent unless certain members of the society were eliminated. The outcome was the massacre of nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Most of the killings were carried out by civilian Hutus against their Tutsi neighbours and has been described as one of the worst tragedies in the history of mankind.
These are a few examples of how the wrong use of a liberalized electronic media system can ultimately destroy or defeat the essence of democracies and engineer a national atmosphere of deceit, hostility and mayhem.
A free media must therefore have its limits, if it is going to be constructive in Ghana. Even though, the criminal libel law has been repealed the ambience of free expression that has been created must not be exploited to print false articles and publications about politicians and public figures.
In 1973 two prominent American journalists namely, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein exposed a political scandal that came to be known as the Watergate scandal. They successfully exposed campaign malpractices in the Presidential campaign of Richard Nixon resulting in the resignation of the former American President after he had been successfully inaugurated. The actions of the two journalists significantly changed the political landscape of America and has garnered exemplary behaviour from Presidential aspirants in the US ever since. The landmark case of Watergate therefore, marked a triumph in American political history and showcased the very important role that the media generally plays in democracies.
Prospective journalists training at schools of journalism in Ghana must familiarise themselves with cases such as the Watergate scandal so that they can be conversant with the merits or relevance of political neutralism to a free national media. Outfits such as the National Media Commission (NMC) must ensure that there is integrity among Ghanaian journalists and regulate their activities in such a way that political reportage in the country will be fair, accurate and balanced.
The electronic media therefore has a very important role to play in Ghana’s democracy. If properly practised and executed, the liberalised press can guarantee the freedoms of Ghanaians by ensuring that politicians or elected officials account to the people of Ghana. If the tenets of good governance such as transparency and the implementation of good Human Rights policy are going to be realised the electronic media must be perceived as the fourth and arguably the most important branch of government.