1. POLITICAL JOURNALISM Political journalism is about how the media cover politics. Politics is about the activities of political parties, politicians, electoral candidates, electoral processes and political institutions. Since politicians and political institutions exist to serve the people political journalism is as much about politicians as it is about ordinary people whose interest both in politics and journalism must serve. Political journalism should aim at engendering public debate. This may best be done by collecting and disseminating truthful, unbiased information on the activities of political parties and candidates to the public and in turn offering opportunity for the public to express their views on the parties, candidates and their programmes. Qualitative political journalism is obtained when the media ensure the exchange of views and ideas between politicians and the public. This means media practitioners must: 1.1 Seek to provide the public with information that would enable the electorate to make intelligent choices during elections. 1.2 Provide comprehensive, fair, impartial and objective gathering and presentation of information.
2 ACCESS TO INFORMATION The public’s right to information is a fundamental democratic right. It is therefore non-negotiable and cannot be circumvented. Article 21 (1) provides that: All persons shall have the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society. This provision places dual responsibility on the media. First, it enjoins the media to honour the public’s right to information to enable them participate actively in the governance of the nation. Second, and deriving from the first responsibility, it places an injunction on the media not to conceal information from the public. 3 COVERAGE OF PERSONALITIES VERSUS ISSUES Political journalism must balance coverage of political personalities and events with analysis of issues in the overall context of good governance. 3.1 Media practitioners must give the electorate every opportunity to discuss and understand the issues. 3.2 Apart from providing information about the candidates, media practitioners should balance discussions of personalities with analysis of issues and must offer a forum for the public to participate in public discussions. 4 PROMOTING PEACE Peace is the bedrock of progress and development. Political journalism must therefore aim at promoting peace. This demands active and purposive search for ideas that promote peace and national cohesion. 4.1 In covering politics, the media must endeavour to identify the critical issues that can trigger conflict and encourage dispassionate discussion. Such issues may include questions of marginalization, identity politics based on religion, ethnicity, etc. 4.2 Views that have the potential to promote violent conflict, especially relating to political, social, cultural, racial, ethnic and religious sensibilities, should be handled with great sensitivity. 4.3 In covering political conflicts, analysis of the causes and issues involved in the conflict must be balanced with efforts towards promoting peace. Institutions and individuals involved in efforts at resolving the conflict must be given opportunities to highlight efforts at peace building. 5 PROVIDING CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND During election campaigns and in the day-to-day coverage of political activities, media practitioners must arm themselves with a good grounding in the history of the country. This knowledge will enable an understanding of the alignments (actual or perceived) that inform political activities in Ghana and help them to identify and properly analyze issues at national and local levels. 6 COVERING POLITICAL PROGRAMMES/MANIFESTOES AND CANDIDATES 6.1 The Media must avoid deliberate distortion of any political party’s activity and information to make the programmes and manifestoes of political parties and candidates intelligible to the electorate by subjecting them to objective analysis. 6.2 It is the duty of the media to help the electorate assess the candidates to make elections meaningful. This duty requires them to provide accurate information about the candidates and also reflect the views of the public to candidates. 6.3 The media must avoid deliberate distortion of any political party’s activity and information. 7 CAMPAIGN BROADCASTS 7.1 Journalists must be reminded that the airwaves are a public resource that must be used equitably and judiciously. Stations that misuse the airwaves risk their licenses being withdrawn 7.2 Apart from the normal coverage of political activities, including campaigns, broadcasting stations may carry free political broadcast for each registered party. 7.3 Terms and conditions of the broadcasts should be the same for all parties. 7.4 Journalist must be reminded that air time is public property that must be used equitably and that when misused license would be withdrawn. 8 POLITICAL ADVERTISING 8.1 Media houses may adopt the rules on political advertising contained in the NMC Guidelines for Fair and Equitable Coverage of Political Parties by the State-Owned Media or develop their own transparent rules on political advertising in consultation with the political parties. 8.2 Content of political advertising should conform to standards of good taste and decency and should not be offensive, abusive or libelous. 8.3 Political advertisements should conform to the rules and should be in good taste not set to libel other opponents. 8.4 Each media institution may constitute an in-house committee to meet periodically to vet all advertisements emanating from political parties, candidates and other political stakeholders. 9 COVERING OPINION POLLS To avoid willful bias or unwitting manipulation, the media should include in reports of opinion polls the following: 9.1 The name of the person or organisation which conducted the poll. 9.2 The name of the person or organisation which commissioned or sponsored the poll. 9.3 The nature of questions which were put to respondents and any explanation or information given to respondents which could affect their understanding of the questions. 9.4 A description of the population under study, and a description of the sampling procedures and sample size. 9.5 The period when the poll was conducted 9.6 Places and locations where the poll was conducted. 10 POLITICAL INVOLVEMENTS OF MEDIA PERSONNEL 10.1 Media practitioners, particularly those who work for the state-owned media, must avoid doing direct politics since it may affect/jeopardize their credibility and integrity. 10.2 Media practitioners, irrespective of political party affiliations and beliefs, should remain impartial in their dealings with political parties and in particular should be guided by the Code of Ethics of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA). 11 ENDORSEMENTS OF CANDIDATES The state owned media shall not endorse a political party or candidate since they are not mandated to do so. 12 FULL COVERAGE OF ELECTION PROCESS 12.1 Media houses should not limit their political coverage to just campaigns. Coverage should be extended to encompass all phases of the electoral process leading up to the declaration of the results and the immediate post-election period. 12.2 As far as possible, the media should endeavour to provide coverage at all levels of political campaigning from the constituency to the national level. 12.3 The guidelines of the GJA, the Private Newspaper Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG) and the Electoral Commission (EC) should be adopted in the coverage of Election Day activities. 12.4 The media may call election results ahead of the Electoral Commission but must qualify them as provisional, yet to be certified by the Electoral Commission. 13 ABUSE OF INCUMBENCY 13.1 In their reportage, media practitioners must distinguish between the government and the activities of its political party. 13.2 Presentation of government activities during elections should be weighed carefully to ensure that the incumbent government does not gain unfair access to the media. Bona fide news should be covered without giving the impression of bias. 14 BRIBES AND INDUCEMENTS Media practitioners must refrain from accepting offers of money and other such inducements as it may compromise their integrity and professionalism. 15 ACCURACY AND INDEPENDENCE 15.1 Journalists must check their facts, avoiding inaccurate, gratuitously malicious, scandalous or defamatory publications. 15.2 Journalists should not solely depend on handouts in view of the possibility of promoting “conduit journalism,” that is, passing of news without filtration, refinement or editing of any kind. 16 LANGUAGE 16.1 Hate Speech – Media must avoid Hate Speech 16.2 Any statements and press releases of political parties that contain insulting language or sentiments that could lead to public unrest or breach of peace should not be published /aired. 16.3 All quotations, especially when they are politically controversial or are defamatory in language and terms, for example, jargons, technical abbreviations and political euphemisms not clearly or easily understandable, should be verified and fully explained. 16.4 Controversial or offensive references to opponents must be avoided, if at all possible, unless there is a clear justification defensible in a court of law. 17 PRESS CONFERENCES AND POLITICAL PARTY RALIES 17.1 The media must notify political parties that press conferences are not political rallies and should be restricted to the press only. Also, they must remind political parties of their obligation to ensure the safety of journalists and other media personnel covering assignments. 17.2 Media practitioners should take steps to authenticate statements, press releases and other forms of information for publication in the media and ensure they are signed by a bona fide representative of the political party or candidate. 17.3 The media must notify political parties to give adequate notice, at least 48 hours, of impending political party activities to allow for proper and adequate logistics arrangements. 17.4 Media practitioners must not use statements and releases containing insulting undignified or intemperate language that could lead to public unrest or breach of peace. 18 CONFLICT OF INTEREST 18.1 Media practitioners should not engage in any activity that may appear to be nor has the potential to give preferential treatment to any political party or candidate. 18.2 Media institutions should endeavour to make adequate arrangements to facilitate the work of journalists in order not to compromise their independence 18.3 Journalists and other officials of media houses should not accept gifts and favours from political parties and candidates or solicit gifts, tangible or intangible, directly or indirectly from them. 18.5 All issues relating to conflict of interest should be resolved in accordance with the Guidelines on Conflict of Interest of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) with the necessary modifications as the situation may warrant. 19 GENERAL PROVISIONS 19.1 The media are enjoined to beware of exploitation and avoid unwitting promotion of self-seekers. 19.2 Police and other accredited security agents have duties to perform in protecting certain categories of officials and public property that might be endangered. The media should respect legitimate policy orders to, for example, clear away from a particular scene when ordered to do so by law enforcement authorities. 20 REJOINDERS Article 162 (6) of the 1992 Constitution states: “Any medium for dissemination of information to the public which publishes a statement about or against any person shall be obliged to publish a rejoinder, if any from the person in respect of whom the publication was made”. The following guidelines should therefore apply for the publication of rejoinders: 20.1 An aggrieved person or his/her duly authorized agent could write the rejoinder. 20.2 The same prominence must be given to the rejoinder as the article or news item complained of. For example, if the article or news item was a front-page story, the rejoinder must also be on the front-page. In electronic media, the rejoinder must be broadcast during the same time segment of the said information. 20.3 In carrying a rejoinder, a medium should make it clear that it is indeed a rejoinder, unless the consent of the person has been expressly sought and expressly given, the language and the content of the rejoinder must be carried as given without comments. 20.4 Media houses should publish a rejoinder in the next issue following the issuing of the rejoinder, and in the case of the electronic media, during the course of the next major news bulletin. 20.5 All rejoinders should be copied to the National Media Commission. 20.6 All complaints regarding rejoinders should be sent to the National Media Commission for redress, especially where they contain libelous content. 21 OBSERVANCE The National Media Commission (NMC) shall monitor and encourage observance of these Guidelines. 22 PROCEDURES FOR COMPLAINTS AND SETTLEMENT 22.1 Complaints alleging that any provision of these Guidelines has been breached should first be directed to the entity against whom the complaint is made. A copy of the complaint should be submitted to the National Media Commission. 22.2 The complainant should provide the date and time of the breach and the remedial action proposed. 22.3 The entity against whom the complaint is made should endeavour to address the grievance within ten (10) days upon receipt of the complaint and inform the complainant in writing of the action taken. A copy should be submitted to the National Media Commission. 22.4 If upon receipt of the response, the complainant is satisfied of the remedial action taken, he/she should communicate that in writing to the entity complained against and a copy should be submitted to the National Media Commission. 22.5 Where a complainant is not satisfied with the response, he/she should complain to the National Media Commission for redress. The Commission should resolve a complainant referred to it within ten (10) days. GUIDELINES ON INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA Online All radio, television and newspaper guidelines are applicable to online content, including websites, blogs, podcasts, downloads, social networking forums, message boards and blog comments, and any other online publishing platforms. Any material considered unsuitable for broadcast or print publication should not be online. Moderation of user content is strongly suggested in order to prevent libelous statements, distortions or content that is distasteful or inflammatory. Links to other websites must be actively moderated to ensure fairness, accuracy and diversity, e.g. links to political party websites if available. Where a political party website is not available this information should be indicated. Using Online Sources Avoid attribution statements such as “according to the internet” because the internet is made up of online spaces that can be traced to individuals or institutions. When citing online information it is important to state the name of the website and the time it was accessed. Some websites are notorious for housing false and unreliable information, so it important to verify information from online sources before using and amplifying them. Similarly, content from citizen journalists must be guided by a policy. When content from citizen journalists is used, it must be clearly indicated as such and properly attributed. News Aggregation Newsrooms can generate their own content or make use of news from other sources. News aggregation is the process of collecting and publishing news from other websites for use on a newsroom website. In news aggregation media organisations must go through a careful process of selection for factual accuracy as well as conformity with the editorial policy of the media house. It is important to provide full information on the source of the news aggregated, clearly indicating the full link for the article and not just the name of the news organisation it was taken from. Some websites have copyright content so to avoid any legal tussles, ensure permission has been obtained. Polls and Opinions Emails, phone-ins and text messages from the public are an expression of opinion but not an indication of the weight of an opinion and must be selected impartially. Online and SMS polls and test of opinions should provide information and statistics on how the final outcomes are determined and the results of such polls must indicate the sample and time frame in which they were conducted. Results of votes must be presented as a sample of public opinion within the time frame of such votes and not a representation of public opinion as a whole. It is important to issue a disclaimer about the fact that online opinions or text messages do not necessarily reflect newsroom opinion. It is important for journalists to be alert to organized mass email and SMS text campaigns, including from political parties or groups. When in doubt journalists must request from senders additional information, such as telephone numbers. Where it is determined that the source of the campaign is a political party or group it must be indicated. SMS Text Messages A vigorous process of establishing the origins of text messages is strongly recommended before using them. Journalists can seek further clarification/verification by calling or texting the user back. Care must be taken with text messages coming from bulk SMS providers which do not allow for such checks. There may be need to edit text messages to conform to ethical rules, but in the process, it is important to ensure the original content is not distorted. Phone In Phone-ins are similar to emails and text messages. The moderator must be willing and able to disconnect calls which put out false or distorted information, incite violence, are libelous and use abusive language. Pre-screening of callers before putting them on air is strongly recommended. Delayed broadcasting equipment should be purchased and used. For programmes on sensitive issues, it is recommended callers call in prior to the programme with their phone numbers to enable the station confirm their identity. A database of callers matching them to programmes can be kept strictly for the purposes of reference. Producers must be alert to serial callers and their potential to manipulate public discussion for their own parochial agenda and whenever possible prevent them from capturing discussions. Social media Generally online guidelines are applicable for social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Official social networking pages must be verified since it is possible to create, for example, a Facebook page for a political party which is not the official page for the party. Privacy and Copyright It is important to note some materials on the internet are subject to copyright protection and to avoid copyright infringement by seeking permission from copyright owners before using such material. It is equally important to protect the privacy of audiences from whom the media invariably collects information online, for example, requests to audiences to register on news websites. An editorial policy with a privacy component must be instituted in newsrooms to protect audiences. Such a policy should protect the ability of the audiences to control information they reveal about themselves and who can access such information
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