|Joseph Ziem, Freelance Journalist|
"Ziem..!!! You look so-o-o-o-o good. Life is good for you-o-oh. At least, those of you who’re journalists don’t have any problem. I saw you the other time on television when I was watching news. You were sitting with “BIG MEN” including the Regional Minister, Vice President and some other dignitaries in a workshop."
Comments like the one above from some friends I bumped into recently, made me feel like I was indirectly mocked at or flattered. Seriously speaking, as much as I tried to give them an honest response for the songs of praises and worship they sang for me, they simply brushed it off and told me to stop giving them flimsy excuses.
And they continued: “You think we don’t know that you’re enjoying eh? How can a whole journalist too complain of ‘holes’ in his pockets? Are you a teacher?” they asked amidst laughter. They wished they were journalists, I said to myself. But apart from the fame and meeting important personalities in one-on-one interviews, what else do journalists gain from the profession? Nothing, I said to myself as my silence to their flattery behaviour forced them to pause laughing for a while.
The fact that you meet a journalist looking good (nicely dressed) doesn’t mean that he/she earns a gargantuan amount of salary every month. That has been my response to friends whenever and wherever we meet and they begin to talk about working conditions and other matters of life. Journalists by nature of their profession must be properly dressed, I told them, adding that, they (teachers) are even fortunate that they earn good monthly salaries and probably with some allowances, yet complain as if they were worse off than a public toilet keeper. Quite apart from that, they’re sure of regular salary increase anytime there is some fuel price increase. And how about journalists, most of whom at times can’t even bargain for an increase in salary; simply because they are afraid their employers might sack them and employ someone they (employers) think they can pay whether he/she is qualified or not? I asked and the response was like the stillness in the cemetery at midnight.
I took my time just to educate these friends on the bad conditions of service if not worse, which pertains in the inky profession—a profession that is so much adored and respected by many people worldwide most especially at places where free speech is uncommon or where there are many entities and individuals seeking to do propaganda.
I cautioned them solemnly against ever compelling their children to become journalists in the future unless it’s their wish and desire. I continued by saying that, the only benefit that I, like many journalists, derive from the profession and which keeps me going, is the respect and praises people like you (referring to them) shower on me anytime you see me and nothing else.
Sounding like a Roman Catholic priest delivering a homily at a Sunday mass, I admonished them that the journalism profession was a calling to serve God and humanity, and not a place to make money or amass wealth. Indeed, journalists are the most poorly paid the world over except for those working in state-owned media organisations and other few private media companies which are richer and can afford to pay their staff well. Even pastors are better than journalists in the sense that, they are paid well by their congregation to stay and do the work of God, although they say their work is a calling, I added. To survive in journalism, one must fall in love with the profession, be passionate about it and be willing to sacrifice his/her life just for the truth to prevail and the wrongdoings in society to stop. If you’re lucky, you may be remembered as a martyr.
If you (referring to my friends) don’t want to curse your child for not being able to send you money to buy porridge and take care of other needs in your old age because you think he/she is a journalist, then I would advise that you rather persuade him or her to work in the bank, oil and gas company, telecommunications company, CEPS, Parliament, etc, because these are the places where one can earn so much.
Journalism is so much adored and respected by many because everyone looks up to practitioners to speak for them in times of difficulties, but hardly do they speak for themselves as if to suggest that they don’t even have problems at all. In fact, journalists have serious bleeding problems ranging from pitiable conditions of service which include very lean salaries, interference in their job by employers and persons or groups linked to the media houses, lack of logistics to function well, lack of training for them to upgrade their skills and lack of security among others. For me, salary is the most serious issue that must be addressed. Finally, I capped the conversation with my friends with a quote: "The LORD looked at my work and was very glad. He then looked at my salary; He bowed his head, turned away and wept." This is because the salary of journalists is nothing to write home about, thus drawing the tears of the LORD which is a sign of pity for them.
Now back to the focus of this article: why I think owners of media houses should be blamed for the falling media standards in Northern Ghana.
I have been living in Northern Ghana specifically Tamale, for six years now. I have tasted rough times in-between good times as journalist and as Joseph Ziem. I launched my journalism career in one of the most vibrant and most-listened-to radio stations in Tamale in October 3, 2006. I worked in various capacities as News Reporter, Production Assistant, Deputy News Editor, and finally left in 2010 as News Editor. Thanks to Mr. Edmond Gyebi of The Chronicle Newspaper and TV Africa, who groomed me to the extent that, I write almost like him. I can vouch that he’s among the top five best journalists in the Northern Region currently. Please, that’s my opinion and no one can take it from me.
Between 2006 and 2010 that I worked in the radio industry, there were only five (5) Commercial Radio Stations operating in the Tamale Metropolis including Fiila FM 89.3Mhz, Diamond FM 93.7Mhz, Radio Justice 98.5Mhz, North Star FM 92.1Mhz and the State-owned Savannah Radio 91.2Mhz. Currently, there are eight (8) radio stations with the latest ones being Bisharah Radio 97.7Mhz, Might FM 90.5 MHz and Zaa FM 99.3Mhz. There is also Eagle Fm 90.5MHz in Walewale. In fact, I can confidently state that there are two more due to be launched very soon, bringing the total number to ten (10). Additionally, there are four Community Radio Stations namely; Saboba Radio, Fusion FM, PAD FM and Simli Radio.
In the case of Upper West Region, there operates state-owned Radio Upper West 90.1 MHz, Radio Progress 98.2Mhz, Hits FM 108.1 (closed down) as well as two Community Radio Stations which are Radio FREED 92.3 and Rasford FM 107.5. In the Upper East Region, they include state-owned URA Radio 89.7 MHz, Style FM 99.3Mhz, Rock FM 103.7 (closed down) and A1 Radio 101.1 Mhz as well as three Community Radio Stations which include Word FM, Nabina FM and Builsa Radio. Indeed, the radio industry in the North (Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions) is growing very fast considering the fact that it’s a powerful medium to put information across for public discourse.
Falling media standards, the cause and who should be liable
At a time that media analysts say that the radio industry in Northern Ghana particularly Tamale is growing so fast, there is in fact a serious shortfall of competent and experienced journalists as well as presenters, to entertain, inform and educate the masses, most of whom are so ignorant about a lot of happenings going on in the country. In other words, most of the presenters or journalists working with these radio stations particularly the private ones, lack a deep sense of knowledge and understanding of contemporary topical issues ranging from basic economics to agric, education to gender, politics to governance, current affairs to civic education and so on, which people need to be abreast of in order to make informed decisions and choices for their lives.
It is true that one can become a journalist no matter the person’s academic background. That is, it doesn’t matter whether the person read agric, medicine, engineering, fashion, pure science, music or whatever at the university, college or high school. But, I think above all these, he/she must be someone who can read, write or speak very good and comprehensible grammar. Besides, he/she must be the type that learns very fast in terms of acquiring knowledge in workshops and seminars as well as making very good use of the knowledge acquired.
Sadly, most of the journalists and presenters in some of these stations write and speak very bad grammar and they know next to nothing in the topics they table for discussion. It’s not their fault. There are no experienced producers or programme directors in most of these stations to ensure that quality programmes are delivered on air. This is because, owners of some of these stations have over the years relied on cheap labour by way of recruiting staff to man the news and programmes departments, hence the poor output on air to a society where majority of its population is not so well educated.
Majority of the presenters, apart from being unprofessional or untrained, also invite panelists with little or no knowledge about topics tabled for discussion. The presenters and their panelists sometimes end up ‘poisoning’ the minds of their listeners, which trigger unhealthy reactions from the public, especially during phone-ins. Managements of most of these stations have over the years recruited unskilled and inexperienced presenters and journalists to work for them, whereas the few qualified and experienced ones they had, also left them due to poor remuneration and frosty working relationships resulting from disrespect and interference from the former.
Besides, most of the owners of these media houses don’t see it as a necessity to organise professional development workshops for their staff and also pay them pittance which cannot help most of them to continue their education or seek knowledge improvement in institutions that provide such expertise. My interaction with some new and former staff of the radio stations in Tamale, Bolgatanga and Wa revealed, that most of them are paid between the range of GH¢30.00 and GH¢200.00 a month, when in actual fact, owners of these stations particularly those in Tamale, could pay them between GH¢400.00 and GH¢600.00 a month.
In fact, even most of the staff of these stations don’t have social security and are on what is best called monthly allowance and not salary. Some of them told this writer that, salary increase is not based on merit or competence and experience, but only when the owner of the station likes your face or thinks that you sympathise with the political party that he/she belongs. Can you imagine what someone would be taking after retirement if he/she is or was earning GH¢100.00 a month as salary? What about those not on salary but allowance?
What needs to be done to stop the standards from falling?
First of all, lest owners of these radio stations in the three cities particularly Tamale hire the services of competent and experience journalists and presenters, and pay them well to provide quality, educative and informative programmes, many people like me would only to tune in to their stations when they link up with their affiliate stations abroad and in the nation’s capital, Accra. As one Senior Journalist and Managing Editor of the Al hajj Newspaper Alhaji Iddrisu Bature told The Africawatch in an interview in February 2012,: “Journalists are the cheapest and easiest people to be bribed in Ghana. That is a fact”. So the question is, how do you expect a journalist earning GH¢40.00 or GH¢60.00 as salary or allowance to refuse a bribe of lest say GH¢200.00? Whose fault is it? Your guess is as good as mine.
Secondly, owners of these media companies must also stop interfering with the job of the few qualified personnel they currently have at their disposal and allow them to do their work as professionals. I will cite myself as an example. I had the opportunity to work with a media organization where the C.E.O, for his own parochial and selfish interest, would often accuse me of being a member of the National Democratic Congress whenever I published a story that is critical of the party he belongs to – New Patriotic Party. But, when I wrote similar stories critical of the NDC, he never accused me of being NPP or belonging to any of the other political parties. Why? So, I will advise that, C.E.Os or managers, who are like the aforementioned, must endeavour NOT to dictate to the few experience journalists/presenters they currently have otherwise, they will desert them and seek opportunities elsewhere.
Thirdly, owners of media houses must also make it a point to periodically organise training workshops for their staff in order to enhance their professional and managerial skills. Just as it’s good to periodically change the engine oil of your automobile machine in order to make it more roadworthy or efficient, so is it good to refresh the skills and knowledge of your staff so that their output would impact well on the station’s target audience and bring more money to your company. A good broadcaster is someone who has been trained over and over again in most periods of his/her professional career and make good use of what he/she has learned by making a positive impact in the lives of his/her listeners or viewers.
Fourthly, in places like Accra, Kumasi, Sunyani and other regions in the Southern part of the country, experienced journalists and presenters are poached or signed on to long term contracts by media owners who are serious-business-minded-people. Some of the contracts come with free cars, free accommodation, scholarships and free life/health insurance among others. Maybe, its time owners of radio stations in the North also adopted such moves in order to improve upon their programming, which will culminate into attracting many customers and listeners since they are business entities and can only continue to exist when they make profit.
Last but not least, commercial radio in contemporary times has gone beyond just sending marketing executives out to source for customers to come and advertise their products and services. In fact, I feel sorry for marketing managers of radio stations in Tamale for instance, who boldly say without any shame, that their outfits are not making money or profits. If there is no money, why are many financial institutions and business entities opening up branches in the city? Now radio marketing is about events and promotions, and not sitting comfortably in your swiveling chair waiting for people to bring you announcements to read on your networks. So, I will urge owners of radio stations who want to survive in this business to begin to think innovatively otherwise they will soon fizzle out.