Journalism in Ghana- Challenges, problems and prospects
|by Emmanuel Ayah Okwabi||.|
Writing about the environment in the Ghanaian press is a tough act to follow because there are no specialized desks in our newsrooms. Consequently, a story about the environment has to compete with other stories on politics or economics which make the headlines more often. Also, there are few specialized publications on the environment. Consequently, the journalist has a responsibility to link up the presentation of the environmental story to development or poverty alleviation to make it attractive to gatekeepers. In addition, specializing simply to write about the environment is not easy.
However, in recent times some publications have started running special columns on the environment which gives cause for hope. One major obstacle is the lack of specialized training for reporters which sometimes leads to misreporting and distortion of issues on the part of reporters. Working conditions for journalists are generally poor. The pay is low but there is a lot to be done. For example, while I was working at the Ghana news agency, I was not allowed to go on leave for four years because of an inadequate supply of journalists.
Transportation facilities are poor for journalists and the notion of a contract between a freelancer and his employer does not exist in Ghana. You simply have to accept what you get which may take a very long time to come. Also, the rate of payment for an article on the environment was lower than when I contributed an article on economic issues while writing for the daily Graphic .
The lack of a free-flow of information is yet another problem. It is very difficult to obtain information from civil servants because civil servants have sworn an oath to the Official Secrets Act and, even where information is available, the journalist has to contend with red-tape, delays, or bureaucracy. The issues that I have confronted writing about the environment in Ghana have been sanitation and the spread of disease, combating bushfires (which remain a method of farming in parts of the country), population, women and children. One interesting issue I have raised is the impact of rapid population on living conditions .
Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. At the present moment getting access to official documents is no easy matter and a journalist has to contend with a great deal of bureaucracy and red tape. One hopes that greater use of the world wide web and internet by journalists can improve the situation. At this time access to the internet is still the monopoly of a privileged few and most journalists in my country know little or nothing about how to use e-mail or the internet.
States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem. In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. While acknowledging the important role of local communities in developing countries, industrialized countries have a responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command. It would appear that environmental journalists could make a positive contribution to grass root development by focusing on environmental impact assessment.
Regarding sources, I have used a strategy for locating and developing my own sources to obtain writing material. For example, the chief called Amamorley, outside the national capital , Accra has been a very useful source for me. I visit him at least two or three times a month to find out if there is something interesting to write. Otherwise, I scrutinize news stories and articles in the local press.
Regarding the future prospects, I think African environmental journalists have to become not only computer literate but familiarize themselves with the internet, e-mail and the nature of the world wide web in order to become more effective. By so doing it may be possible to search databases, develop alternative sources, and ultimately get access to more information with a minimum of delay.
The situation where most stories about the environment were only carried in the government owned press is changing. Sections of the local private press are becoming more interested in environmental issues.
Emmanuel Okwabi is a freelance journalist
from Ghana and former lecturer in mass communication
at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. He is now a guest
student at the Centre for Gender Studies, Stockholm
University in Sweden. His main interests include electronic
and environmental journalism.