Opinion: A media expert’s six lessons to Ghana’s media

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Six months. 1 media encounter. Questions asked. Questions unanswered. Wahala small, analysis plenty.

President Akufo-Addo kicked off what will be his bi-annual encounter with the media with opening remarks that celebrated Ghana media’s vibrancy. It is apparently a thing in which he takes delight. The media headlines, news stories and analysis that followed did the predictable. Much ado about whether the President should have passed a question about the economy to Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia .Much lamenting about unanswered questions. Some analysis explored how much better the questions were than in previous years, but much of the focus was on the nature of the answers.

Six months of results that is how this encounter between the Media and the President was billed.

Define the word “result. I am not being facetious. I am requiring that we the media establish that a result is the end achievement of an articulated idea. By that definition, an articulated policy cannot and should not be defined as a result. The President acknowledged six months was too early to claim results, that there were no jobs numbers when asked. And yet, in the skilled and impactful world of social media the hash tag #6MonthsOfResults was trending and the conversation that spiraled and dominated maintained that word. We cannot say “One District, One Factory” is a result. We can say it is a policy plan.

30 questions were asked. 21 people asked questions, 6 were women.  The focus areas were the Economy, Energy “BOST, Corruption, Health, Infrastructures, VP residence, Governance, Gender, Galamsey, and Education – Free SHS.

We celebrate the President even doing such a briefing and committing to continue to do this. Let’s remember that we elected the President and not the other way around. In a democracy, accountability is our right. As such, media briefings should be part of that accountability. The denial of such briefings is a slap in the face to the media and citizenry.

I want to invite us the media to take a different approach. I invite us to do something we too rarely do. I invite us as an industry to focus on building the strength of our institution rather than rely on the skill of our individuality in such encounters with the President.

What do I mean?

As an industry, we could have gathered, planned, strategized, organized and arranged how, who and which questions were asked. Any government seeks to engage the media with a narrative around success. The media’s job is to seek the most impactful way to engage, challenge, follow up and follow up again. Clarity, context, specificity“ that is our mandate.

On that we failed. This does not mean there were not some good questions. There were some great ones. There was also the inevitable wahala quotient. The lesson is not the President’s, it is ours the media. How willing are we to develop fresh approaches to what will be a repeat of a format that restricts access and limits you to just 1 one question?

The President’s encounter fell on the same day as the African Innovation Fund where speeches were made about harnessing the power of innovators and unleashing it on the world so problems could be solved and lives improved. It is with the spirit of innovation that I pen my column this week. The president gave us six months of results; I offer six lessons for us the media.

LESSON 1

An encounter between the media and the president should prompt us to strategize and not individualize.

When media houses fight to shine with the brightest, most memorable question the citizens miss out. This is a moment to remind ourselves of who we are. What does it mean to be the 4th Estate? What is our duty to our constituents i.e. our readers, our listeners and our viewers?

LESSON 2

Collaborate don’t compete. A single media encounter with a president taking questions requires collaboration that puts people before profit, and centers principle rather than an obsession with writing at speed, getting to be the first out and as such failing on too many levels. I listened on the radio. There were media houses who had multiple representatives who does that serve? Clearly, not the people.

LESSON 3

Train up on the art of framing a great question. Some of Ghana’s media houses are training averse. We are under the illusion that the certificate, degree, qualification we have acquired as the result of our 4-year degree is the beginning and end of training. It is not. We have singled out the brilliant breakfast show host Bernard Avle for his question about the economy. I was heartened to hear him explain the question was the collective contribution of Citi’s business team “researcher Pious, the absolutely superb Business Editor Vivian Kai Lokko and Bernard himself. That admission matters. It reminds me “and it should reminds us as a media industry“ that question asking in journalism and within such a setting is the result of research, strategy, skill and thought. It takes a team. It is not about individual stardom. That approach within one media house could have been adopted by an entire industry. Many gather and contribute in order for one strong question to be asked.

LESSON 4

Orchestrate questions and organize follow ups. There is little value in the all too predictable analysis that the Government’s approach lacks follow up opportunity. We the media could become creative and co-operative in order to create follow up opportunities. How? The Communications person chooses which journalist to speak as all hands are raised waiting and wanting to speak. Instead of that random choosing by the Communications spokesperson, let us orchestrate and organize. One example is Ben’s question on the economy. I do not speak the language of economists. That means there may be a good chance I do not fully understand the answer. I am unbothered by Dr. Bawumia answering the question, I am more concerned if he actually answered it. So, what could we have done? One person asks and a second journalist from a different house is tasked to do follow up. Bernard has established himself as someone able to grasp the economy, and break it down with simplicity and clarity. Another great economist who is a commentator and now on GhOne is Patrick Stephenson. Could Bernard’s question have been asked and then Stephenson tasked to do the kind of follow up that seeks further clarity and additional context?

This would have been agreed in advance by both media houses and our industry. So, instead of multiple hands going up, only Patrick’s hand would go up. That forces his question to be asked and that way we the media get both a question and a follow up.  This could be a fresh approach to an age-old issue. Would we be willing to pool our skills like this? How willing are we to put aside ego and privilege great journalism?

LESSON 5

New rules, not the same old analysis. Focus on flagship policies, demand accountability practices and then request means by which numbers can be counted so results can be measured. Free SHS, Planting for Food and Jobs Campaign, One Factory, One District, Corruption are this government’s flagship policies. We could have request public Media Encounters with these Ministries, so an accounting process can be conducted by the media. How willing are we to adopt an institutional approach to such a media encounter? What the President teaches us is that a strong individual but weak Ministries do not make for sustained or successful governance. We are a nation who has too long placed all our eggs in the make-it-happen-basket of the Office of the President. And yes, he is of course Commander in Chief, leader of the Pack. But those 110 Ministers and Deputy Ministers have work to do.  Delivery – not articulation – is ultimately the measure of success. How is that work being carried out?

The President has made speeches that move me, engage me, reiterate my commitment as a citizen and encourage me that as a nation we are on the right path. Those feelings are then replaced by the frustration, irritation and anger at Ministries that seem to not have the equipment, the working systems, and the bureaucracy to deliver on such a message.  So, better access to such Ministries help us understand policy movement.

LESSON 6

Not one question, one journalist; but one strategy, one industry. Collaboration not competition for this specific media encounter is a strategy that gets answers. For the purpose of this type of media encounter with the President what if we stopped trying to outdo each other and put our minds together to do right for our industry and the people of Ghana?

Now, that would be a result.

 

Author: Esther Armah

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