CNN and the Ghanaian Government: Interview with President Mahama and Media Ethics

Today I get the prompt to “upload my question to the CNN interview with president Mahama”. I think to myself, CNN…Ghanaian government. Was there not a thing there? Going through my emails, in a discussion thread on the perils of “too positive” media coverage, I find a link to this blog post by a BloggingGhana colleague, Roxanne L Scott from the end of May 2013.

In summary, Roxanne writes that the Ghanaian government payed 1,5 million USD to CNN in 2012 for positive coverage under the “CNN Eye on Ghana Project”. The project was centered around tourism and investment and produced stories such as “Welcome to Ghana: Historic castles, exotic wildlife and a golden coast”. (Scroll down and the slideshow title reads: “Ghana: the jewel of West Africa”) This project is no secret, it is covered in official documents!

In the same documents, we can read about the plans for 2013: “the Ministry [of tourism] will augment its Marketing Ghana Programme through intensive use of the international media. Funding will be mobilized in pursuit of the CNN Eye on Ghana project…”

(Docs below I have borrowed from Roxanne)

Roxanne writes:

“I’d love some clarification for how this $1.5 Million goes in reference to CNN.

If it is in fact payment, its unethical.

I recently learned at an arts and culture journalism workshop in Ghana it’s quite the norm for media houses to charge artists and organizations for coverage according to time. For example one can call a radio station in Ghana and get the price for a featured interview. Event planners also charge journalists to “cover” their event. Political parties engage in this as well. After press conferences, political parties pay journalists for coverage.

I thought it was a journalists job to look for the news. A journalists creates the content. If you’re being paid by an organization to cover the news, or if you’re charging for individuals/organizations to feature their content, thats more public relations (PR) and its unethical. You really shouldn’t call yourself a journalist.”

The media ethics debate in Ghana has a long way to go. However, it is not just in Ghana the lines between journalism and PR is blurred, as Roxanne rightly points out. The president’s CNN interview is scheduled for some time in October. Meanwhile, it looks like the CNN Eye on Ghana program alive and well and possibly “augmented” for this year. Does that CNN Eye on Ghana Project involve a primetime presidential interview? Later today over at CNN the window for uploading your video questions for president Mahama closes. CNN iReport, urges:

“Send us your questions for the president in a video (15 seconds or less, please) and they could be asked on CNN!”

I am guessing the most critical voices  (if they even can be captured in less than 15 sec!) – “What is the relationship between CNN and the Ghanian government?” and “Can we trust this interview to be objective on the basis that the Ghanaian government is paying CNN for coverage?” will likely not be featured…

My colleague Roxanne ended her blogpost in May with a plea to CNN for some clarification. She never heard back. I hope this time CNN will answer.

Please share this blogpost with your networks if you also want to know more from CNN on their relationship with the Ghanaian government.