Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Uncertain future for online journalism in Ghana

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Online journalism in Ghana does have a future, but that future is shaky. As more and more people surf the Internet for news and information, the opportunities are just unlimited.

Online news sources have become some form of reliable sources of news and information for Ghanaians both at home and abroad. Indeed, the online sources have become a source of news leads to radio and TV stations in the country, and some online news sources have found the radio and TV stations useful as sources of news.

Unlike the US and the UK where online media has thrived and often threatened newspapers, in Ghana both newspapers and online news sources are struggling. They are struggling for survival as advertising revenue goes round within a small cycle of news organisations.

While most online news sources in Ghana do not earn advertising revenue, online media in the US and UK generate income enough to sustain them as businesses.

In the US, online advertising revenue reached $12.1 billion for the first half of 2009, an increase of 11.3 per cent compared to the same period in 2008.

According to a report by The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC US, a division of PricewaterhouseCoopers, display-related advertising-which includes banner ads, rich media, digital video and sponsorships-totalled more than $4.4 billion in the first six months of 2010, showing a significant increase of close to 16 per cent over the same period in 2009.

Despite this increase in online advertising in the US, however, some popular online news sources are shutting down.

The latest casualty is the Seattle-based political news site PubliCola.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, despite its strong readership, the site has closed down because it was not making advertising revenue.

The Review cited founder Josh Feit saying in a post that the site is quite popular, with “more than 400,000 monthly page views during the election season and currently more than 10,000 Facebook and Twitter followers.” But that doesn’t always equal commensurate returns.

“We haven’t been successful as a business. Advertising revenue has been limited and inconsistent,” he writes.

The challenges that online journalism in Ghana is however  facing is on two fronts: it has an integrity crisis and there is no advertising revenue.

A couple of months ago, the Ghana version of South African football news site, Kickoff.com shut down because it wasn’t making advertising revenue in the country.

While a few websites in Ghana are raking in huge amounts of money in advertising revenue, they are largely lacking in professionalism.

These websites are run mostly by non-professional journalists whose main interest is to use the platform first as a business and therefore do not pursue the basic norms guiding journalism.  And journalists working for some of these online news sources do not have the independence to practice according to the tenets of the profession.

And while most of these websites claim to be aggregators, they continuously engage in plagiarism. They generate very little original content and they don’t always acknowledge the sources from where they copy news and publish on these sites. While they would sometimes credit sources for the news, they often attribute incorrectly.

Additionally, they publish libellous, defamatory and unverified information. They also do not take the sensibilities of their visitors into consideration, by publishing offending graphic images without warning.

These situations, lack of advertising revenue and integrity endanger the future of online journalism in Ghana, and that is notwithstanding the fact that a number of practicing Ghanaian journalists are beneficiaries of the prestigious International Institute of Journalism (IJJ) in Germany and the Radio Netherlands Training Centre in Holland. These international institutions select applicants every year to undergo periods of training in online journalism.

But these journalists do not seem to influence online journalism the way they should, leaving the field to non-professionals. They are not even blogging effectively! Could it be that the selection teams for these programmes select the wrong candidates?

It is however, hard to say at this point what will save the future of Ghana’s online journalism, which in its present form is very distressing.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why the GH¢1m Ghana Media Development Fund is in limbo

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi     

The Ghana Media Development Fund is in limbo. Long after the government announced a GH¢1 million seed money to start the fund to facilitate media development in the country it has not taken off yet.

Vice President John Mahama announced the government’s intention to set up the fund on September 9, 2011, when he spoke as the guest of honour at the 16th Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) awards held in Accra.

And November 16, 2011, the Finance Minister, Dr Kwabena Duffuor announced the allocation of the funds while he was presenting the 2012 budget statement  in Parliament.

A great idea that would facilitate the healthy development of the media in Ghana appears to be still-born because as usual the politicians want to do ‘their own things’ with it.

The Ministry of Information wants to manage the fund! But it is ill equipped to do so. Besides, it has no good history of disbursing funds to the media as our recent history has shown.

For instance up till now, no one knows which group of ‘editors forum’ that the Ministry gave  GH¢150,000, even though speculations have been going about who handled the money at the Ministry and which specific journalists were given the said money.

The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) has made it clear to the Ministry that it doesn’t have a good record when it comes to disbursing funds to the media. The GJA therefore, suggested to the Ministry to set up a Board of Trustees and put the Fund under the management of the National Media Commission (NMC). It is also on record that Alhaji Haruna Atta, publisher and Editor-in-Chief  of the Accra Daily Mail has written to the Ministry making a suggestion similar to that of the GJA.

The media is a significant player in national development, but in Ghana, the media is seen as an appendage to the highest bidder. Media organisations are run mostly as business first, which makes its social role opaque. Journalists are made to believe that ethics and social responsibility do not matter, but serving a ‘master’ is all that matters even if that meant threatening social cohesion and the well being of the masses.

The announcement of this fund gave some hope that, at that point the government was taking cognisance of the important role of the media by offering support, but alas it is support with a string. A string to be used to control the media and to support mercenary journalists and to borrow former Attorney-General Martin Amidu’s words ‘the rented press’.

If the case was not so, then the government must prove skeptics like me wrong and let an independent body manage the fund. As the case already stands, government is not being fair to a section of the media that is also making significant contributions to national development. Government advertising is unevenly spread, with ‘government friendly’ but often unprofessional media organisations getting a good chunk of government advertising while, some very high quality publications are starved of funds because they are seen as ‘unfriendly media’.

The future of this country can to some extent be determined by what kind of media we have and if indeed the government means well for the people of this country, it must do the right thing to develop the media by making this fund functional.