In modern democracies, the media have been touted to be ‘gatekeepers’ of government. As in, they have a responsibility in holding government accountable to the people they serve. The media have become very powerful as their reach goes far and wide around the earth.
The media have come to be revered as a dependable and reliable institution which provides factual information to the public. Politicians in democracies these days have come to hold the media in high esteem as they are mostly unable to bend the media to their will due to their “independence”. It is now a common belief that one of the hallmarks of a good democratic society is the existence of a free and independent media, free from government control.
I think every Ghanaian can accept the fact that the Ghanaian media is very healthy and in good shape. The media in Ghana are free from governmental interference, they are independent and are able to criticize freely on virtually any issue they so desire. This is actually a very good thing for our democracy. The free-functioning media helps to inform the Ghanaian of what is happening around them; they alert the society on issues that must be addressed; they stop the government from implementing bad policies and help to guide our leaders to enact the right laws. Our politicians and leaders have to be commended greatly for allowing and helping promote such a strong free vibrant media in Ghana.
But will this sweet beautiful little cat we are feeding and caring, for now, grow up to become a vicious and dangerous tiger? Since Ghana is moving towards the ideals of democracy, I would want to take a look at one of the advanced democracies in the world from which Ghana has learned and continue to learn so much from-the the United States of America. The US has had a free and vibrant media for a very very long time and as imperfect as they may be, they are far advanced than us in terms of free speech and legislation like the Freedom of Information Act which allows the people to request for information from the government which otherwise would never have been public. However, I have been observing the American media for a while now before and after the November 8th election in 2016 which brought an incredible victory to the current US President, Donald J. Trump.
In my honest point of view, I think that much of the American media; thanks to the reverence and “independent” status it has enjoyed for so long from the public have become very arrogant and disrespectful especially against Donald Trump. Before the November 8th election in 2016, much of the American media had projected defeat for Trump and surely, his victory questioned everything we have come to believe and accept. The media were embarrassed and from that point on, have taken a vicious stance against the Trump presidency. The media painted Trump as unfit for the presidency and very recently questioned his mental stability. The disrespectful behavior of the media has seemingly found its way in the minds of Americans who never liked Trump in the first place unleashing a storm of disrespect against Trump I never knew could exist. Much of the media in the US inject their own bias into stories about Trump, doing everything in their power to paint Trump in a negative light.
It isn’t all bad against Trump as other media forces have risen up to basically fight for the President and his agenda by being the loudspeaker the President needs to reach the American people who are being bombarded almost on a daily basis with bad coverage against the President. Thus, there is some kind of a ‘media war’ going on in the United States between the media forces that are against Trump and the media forces that are for Trump. One has to wonder at this point if this is also part of the free and independent media Ghana is striving for? Things become much scarier when the media begins to create stories just to taint someone they don’t like. In President Trump’s case, there have been several stories that were manufactured against him that was later on proven to be false. These are the stories Trump calls “fake news” which in an unfortunate way, is slowly but surely eroding the media’s credibility in the US. America has forever protected the media through what they call “the First Amendment” which basically guarantees American citizens to free speech. But here, back home in Ghana, what lessons can we learn from the US media in the case of Trump? If the media are supposed to hold the government accountable, who holds them accountable? For the many times that the US media manufactured fake news stories against Trump, there was no real punishment. Sure, some people were fired from their jobs but as media forces (or companies), all they had to do was to retract a story and offer an apology and its back to being vicious again.
No, Donald Trump is not perfect and sometimes makes mistakes in speech and deed. But none of those mistakes justifies the all-consuming wrath of the anti-Trump forces in the US media. Anyway, if the US is an example for us as far as a healthy democracy is concerned, we should consider how powerful our own media will soon be and be wary of the arrogance and the bias that may creep into it. Unfortunately, I don’t have policies to suggest at this point but something in the framework of ensuring that the media stick to ethical and professional practices needs to be enshrined. This keeps information pure and free from bias which helps the public analyze the facts and make up their own minds. The media in Ghana must be made to maintain decency and integrity and when there is a need for criticism, it should be constructive. It is my hope that Ghana’s media do not become anything like the anti-Trump media forces in the United States.