AN EMINENT Persons Group, under the auspices of the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG) has called on journalists to put the national interest above personal and business interest, in the run up to the December 2012 elections, next Friday.
The group believes that although journalists and media organizations operate in a very competitive environment, for the sake of the peace of the country, they have to manage their biases in a manner that would not inflame passions before, during and after the elections.
The group made this known at an engagement with some members of the media in Accra on Wednesday, to dialogue about how best the media can play their role in promoting peaceful elections.
A co-chairperson of the group, Professor Ewurama Addy, said besides the Electoral Commission, the media is a major stakeholder to the conduct of peaceful elections, hence the need to dialogue, regarding media conduct towards promoting peace, even in the few days ahead of the elections.
She said the group recognized the fact that sections of the media tend to be sensational and bias at times, in order to sell their stories. She added that although everyone have the tendency to be biased, a little show of bias in an election year could lead to instability. Thus, she urged the media to "think twice and see how best to sell their stories, causing trouble."
In her view, journalists could always beat competition by focusing on investigative and exclusive stories so that all media houses would not have to follow the same stories all the time.
According to her, the tendency to be sensational in selling stories occurred when all media follow the same stories in an attempt to capture the public's attention.
She pointed out that the literacy rate in the country was so low that people tend to hold on to information received at first and have difficulty in accepting subsequent correction. As such, the media have to be careful, regarding what information they put out into the public domain.
Again, she urged the media to chart a new course and put out for instance, pro peace short stories instead of cartoons.
Another member of the group, Mr. K.B Asante, noted that the process of verification could cause problems on Election Day due to operational faults, but journalists would have to use their sense of duty and nationalism in reporting such incidents, if they occur.
He said even when people become angry and tempers are high, the media would have to put national interest first, and handle issues in a way that would calm tempers, instead of inflaming passions.
He added that "let Ghana live because whoever wins, there will always be the opportunity for people to live and thrive."
Adding his voice, the General Secretary of the CCG, Rev. Dr. Fred Deegbey said journalists should not in the name of the media do things that would cause people undue pain, stressing "do not also do other peoples' dirty job for them."
On the media front, the Vice President of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Mr. Affail Monney observed that the media often look at issues from the media perspective, thus, other observers would have to point out when the media is going astray.
According to him, the law does not specify who is a journalist or frown on quacks masquerading as journalists, thus the laxity for anyone to set up a media organization.
He noted that this has led to a pluralistic media in which people struggle to survive in the field and, therefore, say or write anything that would sell.
However, he reminded journalists that the ethics of the profession frowns on sensationalism, saying "We all stand to gain and thrive in an atmosphere of peace and perish in chaos. So it is in all our interest to prevent conflict."
Furthermore, he indicated that one cannot always prevent conflict, but it is the role of trained journalists not to further fuel conflict, adding, "respect for ethics, shows how responsible a journalist is."
Additionally, he called on fellow journalists and all media workers to take lessons from a country like Rwanda where journalists played a role in plunging it into chaos, stressing "the danger is not over but if journalists behave responsibly, Ghana will go through the elections and democracy will thrive."
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