Wanted: A New Ghanaian/African Journalism Philosophy

28 December 2005 at 04:06 | 1272 views

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Throughout the out-going year 2005, the Ghanaian media, reeling from years
of repression under military juntas and inadequacies, has been subjected
to all kinds of criticisms by the government, the public, the private
sector and ordinary people.

While some of these criticisms may be true,
some half-true, some shallow, some reflecting the Ghanaian reality -
others, however, have hit home squarely, reflecting the Ghanaian struggle
for progress reflected by the growth of Ghanaian journalism.

Recently, headlines such as “Media to show restraint,” “Media
urged to play advocacy role to promote new malaria drug,” “Journalists
urged to be guided by principles of factual reporting,” “Ghana News Agency
should be strengthened," “Editor in court for deceiving a public officer,”
“Journalism and Politics in Ghana, A fatal mix for our democracy,”
“Journalists asked to uphold human rights,” and “The media, election 2008
and beyond” have graced Ghanaian journalism, putting journalists under
public scrutiny and citizens expecting, sometimes unreasonably, more from
overburdened journalists. Part of Ghanaian journalism problems have
come about because Ghanaian journalists, like other Ghanaian elites, are
trained heavily in Western paradigms, or philosophies or values, and less
in Ghanaian values because of colonialism which imposed European
development values on Ghana’s development process.

In this sense,
the public scrutiny of Ghanaian journalism is a scrutiny of itself since
journalism anywhere in the world mirrors the intellectual state of any

In this sense, all journalism practices are rooted in a society’s values
(or interests), and this is informed by the problems, struggles,
histories, and experiences of the society. This collectively moulds the
journalistic philosophy of the society.

“Journalistic philosophies are
formed by society’s values, struggles, and the problems they purport to
solve. A society’s journalistic philosophies, or models, also tell us the
nature of the operation of the journalistic systems at the national
level.”* So despite the universality of the core fundamental principles of
journalism, the journalist works within certain philosophies or values or
interests of his or her society. And these are informed by the society’s
values. These values display or should display the slight distinctions between Canadian or British
journalism and Ghanaian or Sierra Leonean or Nigerian journalism.

According to Herbert Altschull and Edmund Lambeth in Four Theories of the
Press, whether in authoritarian (as seen in North Korea), libertarian (as
seen in Canada), social responsibility (as seen in USA) and the former
Soviet Communist models (as seen in Cuba), these societies’ journalism
philosophies are configured by their long-running struggles, values,
experiences, and histories, “as well as by the various developmental paths
they want to pursue, despite the increasingly shrinking global arena.” So
Canadian or North Korean journalism philosophies are a peek into knowing
the way their systems say about their experiences, interests, or values.
These philosophies, also, “provide the conceptual structure for critically
measuring the media performance, whatever the nature of the cultural system
in which a society’s media operate.”

Thus, the perceived paucity of Ghanaian values in
Ghanaian journalism reveal the difficulty of measuring Ghanaian values in
the Ghanaian journalist’s work.

Even with independence from the colonialists and the hatching of
“advancing journalism” by Third Worlders, which seek to mix Western
journalism models with their sensibilities because of colonialism, in the
Ghanaian/African context, advancing journalism largely ignores their
indigenous values, struggles, histories and experiences inputs. In this
context, the dawn of Ghana’s democracy, the re-thinking of her elites as
seen in the Asantehene (King of the Asante ethnic group), Otumfuo Osei
Tutu 11, advocating appropriation of Ghanaian values with her colonial
legacies, and the emerging awakening of Ghana’s values in her progress
necessitates a shift in Ghanaian journalism paradigms from Eurocentric to
Ghana-centric so as to ground Ghanaian journalism models in Ghanaian
values, experiences, interests, and histories.

So when Ghanaians scrutinize their journalists for operating off track,
off their values and call on them to be, say, objective or work with merit
or within their professional ethics, they are, in a way, saying, as Herman
Shah would suggest in Mass Media in an Age of Mass Media Globalization
that Ghanaian journalists should expand their prevailing philosophies in
order to incorporate Ghanaian values, struggles, experiences, histories
and interests. A new Ghanaian journalism philosophy, rooted in Ghanaian
values, will not only help Ghanaian journalists operate with higher
respectability and objectivity, and understanding of Ghanaians problems
but also help them question deeper some of the inhibiting values within
their culture and appropriate the enabling aspects in their operations.

*All the quotes in this article are from African Journalism within the
Ethos of the African Renaissance by Kofi Akosah-Sarpong (Carleton
University, Ottawa, Canada, 2001)