First of all, congratulations to all the winners of the Ghana Journalists Association awards. Some of you do great work in spite of the challenges you face daily. Well done!
I couldn’t watch the awards show on Saturday night, but I’m told I didn’t miss much. My friend Kwame Gyan described it as the “worst planned and executed” with “shambolic emceeing.”
The gala is the GJA’s biggest and only event. All the executives do every year is to wait around for the award date to come to remind journalists they’ve been working. Twitter comments indicate that Saturday night was like most of the major awards ceremonies in Ghana. It had the tedious speeches, dreadful musical interludes and ill-defined categories. I hear the Minister of Communications gave his speech at 1am on Sunday morning. Basically the people who organize the porn awards do a better job than the GJA.
This is no surprise to me. How can the executives of the GJA get the awards ceremony right when they cannot perform the basic function for which the association was established? According to the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition website the “GJA seeks to influence positively the growth of the media by expanding the frontiers of press freedom and enhancing the integrity of professional journalism in Ghana.” The fact that I got this information from another organisation is in itself a major indictment on the GJA.
Note, it is 2014 and I found the GJA’s objectives on the website of an anti-corruption organisation. The association does not have a website, a basic blog or any presence on social media. It only exists in the one storey building that houses the International Press Centre. Not that I don’t believe it is possible to enhance journalism from that building, but I think it is crazy and irresponsible for a journalism association to be run like a table top business.
In the last three years I’ve visited many newsrooms and met many journalists while working for a journalism NGO. And I have been stunned by the conditions under which journalists work in this country. Some newsrooms do not have computers, recorders, internet connection or even chairs for journalists to sit on. As a result, some of the NGO trainers were compelled to work from Smoothies and Busy Internet. Many Ghanaian journalists are overworked and poorly paid.
A journalist we once worked with had been with that media organization for a year. She interned for a month for free, and then worked for six months before she was paid for the first month. This woman lived in Kasoa. Every year our trainers meet and work with passionate, hardworking men and women who are literally being exploited by their employers. Some are paid as low as GHC100 per month. In addition to working under sweatshop conditions, many journalists here are also poorly trained. The evidence is on display on radio, TV and in the newspapers daily.
The leadership of the GJA is aware of all these, but they haven’t done anything about them. The association does not even have a complaints office for journalists to go and vent. The GJA therefore, for the most part, has been utterly useless at everything and it cannot continue. The structure and the leadership of the association must change to reflect the needs of journalists and the country.
The state of the nation requires journalists who do not depend on ‘soli’ or corrupt officials to survive. They say democracy flourishes when journalists are able to provide citizens with the information they need to make informed decisions. The GJA must ensure standards of journalism and protect the rights of journalists in order to enhance Ghana’s democracy. And the day they organize an almost flawless, short and sweet awards ceremony, we would all gladly begin to take the GJA more seriously than even its own members do today. From what I’ve read about Saturday’s event, that day is very far from the near future.