Women in media. Turn on your television, tune in to the radio, check out newspapers and online and you will watch, hear and read more women in Ghana’s media.
This presence is the result of pioneers and trailblazers whose graft was great and who met the challenges of a male dominated profession by breaking boundaries and making a path for all those who followed.
When you are absent from a space, the first fight is to get into it – to literally be present. That fight has been won; women are indeed present all across Ghana media.
The Media Foundation for West Africa’s research highlights this exploding presence. There are 481 registered radio stations. 354 are active, 127 are passive. 345 are commercial, 79 are community, 31 are public, 21 are on campus and 5 are foreign. 62.9% of those polled name radio as their favourite source of news.
Progress, power, presence – these three Ps are the areas of focus when it comes to women in media here in Ghana.
A greater presence means there has been some progress for women in media.
Does presence alone mean power? What direction do women in media in Ghana want to go? What does or would power look like?
Narratives about nations are partly shaped within and by our media in Ghana. Media holds a particular power because it can create a lens through which a particular issue is viewed, and that means directing the conversation, framing the focus and influencing thousands and thousands of people. That’s because stories are no longer a list of facts; they are angles and perspective.
Media is power. Power is that force that can shape direction and reimagine or rebuild existing structures.
But do women in media have power to participate in framing our future, or are we merely a greater presence in delivering a visual narrative of progress while navigating a male dominated media hierarchy that stifles rather than enables?
There is no question there has been progress.
The rise and rise of Joy FM as the single, privately owned broadcaster, with only a state owned broadcast machine meant aspiring journalists battling to enter this space had limited options. That is not true today; broadcast media has exploded.
A greater presence has not necessarily translated into better quality. The fight for numbers and profit has meant the pursuit of popularity and personality, sometimes at the expense of profession and skillset.
The quality of media in Ghana conversation is a crucial one that should never be dismissed.
I have lamented on this column before about our quality deficit and our numbers overflow. I have spoken about a nation that is overly certified but under-skilled.
Ghana’s media houses do not adequately nurture the foundational talent: i.e. newsrooms. They do even less relevant training and disregard this reality: journalism is a craft that requires skills. This industry cannot be successfully managed by primarily plowing money into the big hosts and personalities while woefully neglecting newsrooms, news journalists and news teams.
I do not believe the industry needs only qualified journalists, who studied journalism, to thrive.
I have witnessed, worked with and been inspired by journalists’ whose beginnings were in another sector; but who brought their skills into journalism, and strengthened their craft. I was struck by how many BBC journalists had studied law, English, politics – and how few had studied journalism. Their origins however were then met with rigorous training in order to elevate their skills.
In Ghana, we have failed to understand the backbone of our own media economy. That failure costs us in quality control. The explosion of broadcast media houses means a struggle with staff retention as journalists hop from one place to another seeking opportunity, structure and a place to grow and build.
Women in media matter just as women in politics matter. Their presence is crucial, but at this stage of our media industry their power matters too. What does that look like or mean?
Today’s media is guided by Article 12 of the Constitution which stipulates the freedom of the media, and which seeks to insulate the State-owned media from governmental interference. How does that change when the private media houses are owned by those in government – enabling the very interference that Article 12 sought to prevent for the State? That is a particular issue we must confront.
The Media Foundation for West Africa published research in July of 2017 revealing that politicians are owners of some major private media houses in Ghana. That research added fuel to the already lamented reality of politicized news and current affairs.
Let’s connect the dots of this month that celebrates independence and our early newspaper media and its purpose.
In 1948, Kwame Nkrumah founded the daily newspaper, Accra Evening News. It was described as the foundation of the press in what was still the Gold Coast; and it was a means of mobilizing people. Indeed, the cultural historian and Pan-Africanist C.L.R. James described it as “the birth of African freedom”.
So, there is an established relationship between mobilizing people to act, politics, a fight for independence and media.
Apply that same formula to women in media in Ghana and what pictures do we paint? What issues arise?
In what ways do women in media in Ghana continue to mobilize people to fight for the kinds of freedoms that serve girls and women – and therefore this ongoing work of nation building? In what ways have Ghana’s media houses enabled such a fight? Or, have they simply replicated the cultural roles of women in service and men in power?
These spaces are fraught with cultural issues and ideas about traditional male female roles; as well as fear and insecurity. That has not prevented pioneers from opening doors that so many women were able to walk through. It does mean at this moment, an evaluation of where women in media are in Ghana, where they want to go and what our future looks like, requires focus.
It is beyond time to talk power, women in media, Ghana.
Are women in media still waiting for invitations to the tables of ownership and senior management roles? Are such invitations forthcoming – or do we suffer in media from what we suffer in elements of the public sector and politics – the kind of nepotism that privileges connection not skillset? Does it mean greater work to achieve senior management or executive positions? Do women in the media want power, or is presence enough?
If power is an aspiration – are we effectively strategizing and organizing to achieve it?
In today’s media, too often women in stories are an afterthought, gender has become a slogan not a necessity that is part of effective nation building and our media has conflated personality, presenting and on camera or on mic presence with the kind of power that creates change.
Women are often given responsibility without authority. Power is not given, it is taken.
What are women in media here in Ghana willing to do to shape our future?
Author: Esther Armah (firstname.lastname@example.org)