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THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA IN ENSURING FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS

By Jennifer Asiedu

 

The word media is derived from the word medium signifying mode or carrier. The media are responsible for providing information, education and entertainment. The word media was first used in reference to books and newspapers, that is the print media, and with the advent of technology, media now encompasses television, movies, radio and the internet. In today’s world, the media have become very essential because they play outstanding roles in the society. Aside the traditional three key roles of the media, they have a greater responsibility for ensuring free and fair elections in any country. The following are ways in which the media can contribute to free and fair elections in Ghana.

 

Firstly, the media act as watchdogs to protect public interest. Media play a watchdog role over all powerful institutions in society and ensure that their decisions and actions are in the interest of the larger society. Jimmy Reid, a Scottish trade unionist argues that the task of the media in a democracy is not to ease the path of those who govern but to make life difficult for them by constant vigilance as to how they exercise the power they only hold in the trust of the people. In view of this, the media are said to be the fourth estate of the realm or the fourth arm of government because the media help to put politicians and all powerful institutions in check. The media should therefore help to educate the electorate on the workings of the Electoral Commission in order for all to appreciate the responsibility that has been placed on the shoulders of the commission to deepen our democratic credentials once again.

 

The greater responsibility for ensuring credible elections lies with the media than politicians in the sense that most Ghanaian electorate learn about issues, events and people from the media, including the now very popular social media. Therefore, the media have to broadcast credible information without being biased and subjective.

 

Also, since the media are arguably the most important sources of information and knowledge, they have the enormous power to set society’s agenda. The media should not allow politicians to divert the public’s attention away from their records of performance and other issues relevant to peace, harmony and progress of the society. Without the media, democratic elections are almost impossible since the media are essential to democracy that is why the government’s power to censor the press was abolished for the press to remain free to censure the government. This is because free and fair elections are not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process in order to make informed choices. The media have to be bold to report accurately on anything that can derail the democratic process.

 

Furthermore, the media are an essential organ of the democratic set-up, an important vehicle of communication and instrument in the creation of public opinion. This has earned the media the trust to serve public interest. The media have to provide honest, detailed, dependable and credible account of events concerning the elections. Journalists have to go to the polls to report live- interviewing observers, Electoral Commission officials at the polling stations and the public to ensure everything is going well. They also have to report on irregularities, fraud, threats of violence to get authorities to respond. Also, groups of thugs who are plotting to disrupt the vote can be arrested and dealt with if the media are able to report on it. Additionally, the television and radio stations and online media have to make sure to provide live results so the electorate are duly informed about the outcome of elections they have taken a part in.

 

Finally, elections attest to the proper functioning of the democratic system in Ghana which is why the media must play their crucial role in ensuring that the polls are free and fair. This is very important to deepen the democratic credentials of Ghana and to prove to the world that given the right environment, we are capable of managing critical issues such as the conduct of elections. The media cannot fail Ghana on this.

                      

The writer is a Level 200 Journalism Student, GIJ and The MasterCard Foundation Scholar at Camfed Ghana

                                                                            

                                                                                               

 

 

                                                                                                               

                                                                                                               

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