Journalists should keep their hands out of their pockets

Ghana’s journalists need to focus on relevance, follow up on their questions and keep their hands out of their pockets, media researchers say.

Researchers Dr Etse Sikanku and Kwaku Botwe have analysed the January 12 press conference where 26 questions were put to the president by a range of Ghana’s journalists.

Sikanku and Botwe sought to examine the nature of questions asked by journalists, the areas of national concern covered by journalists, the relevance of their questions, how they structured and asked the questions, and if they followed up.

Speaking to Pulse.com.gh, Sikanku, a lecturer in communications at the University of Ghana, said he and Botwe, who works at the National Film and Television Institute, did the report to analyse the media and see where improvements could be made.

This was the first time anyone in Ghana has analysed a press conference.

In light of Ghana accepting ex-detainees from Guantanamo Bay, the research found seven of the 26 questions asked were based on social security, the same number as those related to politics as well as the economy.

The researchers noted there were no questions in other sectors such as sports and agriculture.

“This is noticeable considering the level of interest Ghanaians have in sports, particularly football and also keeping in mind the controversies that have engulfed the sports sector over the past years. For the first time Ghana has failed to qualify for the CHAN 2016.

"Also the agricultural sector is one of the major areas of employment in Ghana yet there were no questions in this sector,” the report noted.

Sikanku and Botwe said this could be explained by the fact most journalists were based in the Greater Accra region.

Looking at relevance of questions asked, the report found 26.9 per cent - or seven questions, lacked relevance.

Relevance of issues was defined as topical and trending issues of national concern. These were issues of public interest, debate and controversy.

Additionally, the report noted 42.3 per cent of the questions were too broad or sweeping, and lacked specificity, and there were not enough follow-ups - with only three questions asked following on from other journalists’ questions.

Follow ups are deemed important in clarifying issues initially raised, however Sikanku said the format of the press conference did not allow much room for follow up questions.

The researchers also analysed the journalists’ body language when they were addressing the president, and if body language showed civility.

It noted 11.5 per cent of the journalists had their hands in their pockets the rest were noted as “decent”.

Sikanku said the researched deemed Mahama’s tone and demeanor in answering the questions calm, respectful and polite.

While Sikanku and Botwe said the Ghanaian media “did not fair too badly” there was room for improvement.

The researchers concluded the study stating improvements in questioning would help journalists fulfil their mandate for holding government accountable on the specifics of national issues.

The researchers wanted to see more regions represented in the questions, not just Accra, and the journalists should cover a variety of national issues and not just constrict themselves to a few issues.

They also called for better searching of questions, making them “specific, biting and top-notch.”

Sikanku and Botwe also wanted the format of the press conference to allow for follow-ups.

Sikanku told Pulse.com.gh he wanted to see continued training for journalists in Ghana, with refresher courses that will help to keep journalists “up to date and sharp, [in order] to remain at the cutting edge as far as asking questions and engaging with the president in a way that will bring about useful answers.”

He added the role of journalists is to hold the government accountable, but the government has to provide space for journalists to feel comfortable and to be able to perform their duties, without fear of intimidation.

He wanted to see more opportunities for presidential press conferences in Ghana.

"Press conferences should be held more regularly because they are a unique chance for the president to directly engage with journalists and by extension, Ghanaians," Sikanku said.

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