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.

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Guest Post: BloggingGhana in Zanzibar

Here is a guest post from my BloggingGhana colleague Nana Darkoa from the trip she took to Zanzibar on behalf of the group.

Three flights, two transfers and a 1-hour bus journey later, I arrived at Melia Hotel on the island of Zanzibar. My first view of Zanzibar was an aerial view from Precision Air. It was like looking at a picture of all those idyllic places I have only ever seen on postcards and what I imagined places like the Maldives, Tobago and yes, Zanzibar to look like.

The bus waiting to take us to the hotel was trotro-like but the hotel was like no destination any trotro would go to. Melia hotel sprawls across at least a 100 acres of fertile land, and is covered in lush vegetation, hibiscus flowers and various species of trees. This was the destination for a ‘Tech Camp’ for finalists of the African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC). I was there with Nehemiah Attigah to represent Blogging Ghana, a network of over 200 bloggers based in Ghana, of Ghanaian heritage or blogging about Ghana.

The very first night we arrived at Tech Camp, there was a networking event on a jetty, which overlooked the Indian Ocean. After downing 2 glasses of red wine, and indulging in canapés I participated in a speed networking event where I had to explain Blogging Ghana’s project to groups of up to 8 people. Then I had to repeat details of the project to the next group. I must have done this repetition to about 8 different groups. Justin Arenstein, ANIC’s Manager happened to be standing next to me the first couple of times I explained Blogging Ghana’s project, and I think it was in my second go round that I mentioned that Blogging Ghana had 200 members. “Ah, you should remember to mention that” he said, and so I did…throughout the Tech Camp, and this was a detail that seemed to impress people.

Training at the Tech Camp lasted for 3 days…the day of the speed networking on the agenda had been described as ‘day zero’ so depending on how you like to count, the tech camp was 3 or 4 days. Highlights for me included:

  • Learning about data visualisation – Blogging Ghana’s big idea is to build a data website which would provide data sourced from civil society organisations on one easy platform. It is our hope that this will become the go to site for members of the media wishing to write original content. This way, our journalism is driven by facts and figures sourced from Ghana (and, perhaps, in time the rest of the continent).
  • Learning about all the different technological innovations out there – mapping projects, innovative examples of citizen journalism and the various ways in which mobile applications are meeting multimedia platforms. For someone who loves technology yet is not a geek, it was wonderful to share the same learning space with geeks from all over the world.
  • Meeting developers and innovators from my home country Ghana. There were 4 project finalists from Ghana – ACT Now, Code for Ghana, Truth Gauge and Blogging Ghana. It felt good to know that innovation and entrepreneurship is alive amongst a sector of the youth in Ghana (*ahem* not counting myself amongst the youth in Ghana). The largest delegation came from South Africa, which perhaps was only to be expected. However, I was surprised that there was only 1 black South African amongst the South African tech finalists.

Tech Camp is over now and I’m writing this on a bumpy Fly540 flight from Zanzibar to Nairobi. From there I have a 7 and a half hour layover, before getting on a flight to Addis Ababa. My mind boggles at catching a flight to Addis before connecting to Accra but I know the organisers of Tech Camp had to fly about 80 people to Zanzibar on a budget. Once this trial of a journey is over, I am looking forward to submitting a final proposal to ANIC and hoping that Blogging Ghana gets the jump start it needs to encourage data-driven journalism in Ghana.

Thanks, Nana for your report and hope to have you safely back in Ghana soon!

Watch this space for updates on our proposal.


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Global Voices Interview with Kajsa HA

Today, I am interviewed by Linda Annan, editor of American-Ghanaian Obaasema Magazine in the international online blogging/citizen media community Global Voices.

Global Voices is an amazing site that pulls together stories from blogs all over the world, with a focus on the areas we do not hear from every day. The community is largely volunteer-driven and is co-founded by celebrity blogger “My Heart’s in Accra”/Ethan Zuckerman.

Here is an excerpt from my interview:

How and why did you get into blogging? And why Ghanablogging?

In 2006 I was living in Paris and started blogging to keep in  touch with family and friends and write about my impressions of my new life. At the time, some Swedish friends had blogs at home. I have always loved to write and thought it was a brilliant forum, but couldn’t really find my own tone or topic. However, when I knew I was going to move to Paris, I found myself reading blogs, not books, about Parisian life. I think that spurred the decision to start blogging myself.

In Paris, I was invited to a blog meet-up, hosted by blogger Petite Anglais (who later got a book deal out of her blog). It was great to meet with other bloggers and it turned out two of them worked within the same big organization as me at the time!

So in 2007, when I moved to Ghana I continued blogging and was always on the lookout for Ghanaian blogs. When I had found enough of them, I organized the first meet-up with a friend. It was in July 2008, and eight bloggers came. We decided on the name GhanaBlogging as we wanted the action in the name. We are all doers.

What are you referring to when you say you love the shift from online presence to real life meetings?

When people think of blogging, they think about a lonely person in front of a computer, when in reality it really is a network! Blogging comes with belonging somewhere, blogging is an activity that has strengthened my relationship to Ghana. So yes, my blog is online, but many real life meetings have come out of it!

Read the full Global Voices interview here.

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