Democracy is not a stranger to ears, and freedom of speech, transparency and accountability, checks and balances are not aliens in any democratic dispensation, hence the media as the watchdog of democracy.
But is there any democracy in its functional framework without the aforementioned elements—freedom of speech, transparency and accountability, and checks and balances—which are just a few of the elements of democracy? And how do people get to exercise their freedom of speech and see transparency blowing around in society like winds? How do people, the electorates, get accountability from the leaders they elect? How are checks and balances done, ensuring that it is NOT just a concept or a name that dangles around society’s neck like a placard, but a concept of living like a citizen, actively and responsibly performing his duties? Democracy is fully functional when these elements and the many others are alive in society. But who or what ensures the safety of the lives of these elements which are the measure of democracy?
Media, the Watchdog of Democracy, shortfalls and high points
Well, the media, the watchdog of democracy, does. The media are the watchdog of democracy because she is the eyes that keep guard on the political cum socio-economic activities of a country, and the lenses through which society sees what exactly happens. We cannot underestimate the work of the media in any properly functioning democracy. The media’s work has saved and is still saving a lot of the scarce resources of many countries. The media’s work deepens and sharpens the phenomenon of checks and balances, and this keeps democracy alive.
Media and inaccurate reports
It is not unheard of that some reports of some groups of the media are not accurate as they tend to purport some negativities and falsehood in order to score some political, religious or other affiliation points, or just to score some cheap points of personal aggrandisement. It is also no doubt that some groups of the media are not circumspect in their reportage. These, undoubtedly, spark some cynicism and insecurity which impede the smooth journey of democracy in a country, and eventually tend to stain the clean clothes of the media in general. However, ‘despite the despites’, the media has been and is still crucial and critical in ensuring that democracy and peace are not murdered.
The usefulness of the Media
#1 They express their views on issues of national interest
First, the media provides a platform for people to express their views on issues of national interest. People, through the media, get the chance to express their opinions on how they think the diverse political, socio-economic, religious, sports, etc. issues should be handled. And since knowledge is not in a single skull, some of such opinions, when considered, make very valuable and concrete foundations in policy formulation and implementation, and this stands as a pillar that smoothens democracy.
#2 Clarification of issues and rumours
Second, the media creates opportunities for issues and rumours to be clarified. By this, political, tribal/ethnic, religious, defamation, etc. issues—capable of creating confusion and chaotic conditions, and throwing a country into a state of upheaval—are quickly resolved. This is done sometimes through interviews, press conferences, etc. for whoever had said something to explain further their reasons for whatever they had said or written. In this same manner, individuals or groups that make derogatory and/or bigotry statements or comments are able to render unqualified apologies to those affected by their actions or remarks. With this function of the media, a country is able to arrest sensitive and sentimental issues and prevent them from escalating.
#3 The media holds leaders accountable
Third, the media holds leaders accountable. The media ask several critical questions, probing into issues, to unearth the hidden facts in various sectors. The media investigates alleged cases and clarify issues to the general public. This prevents the public from jumping onto the streets to start acting on a hear-say basis. The media also interviews leaders and public office holders, questioning how effectively and efficiently they work, drawing the attention of the leaders to their promises that preceded their appointments and/or elections. Through this, many electorates are able to see clearly and pass judgement on who is really working well.
#Report underdevelopment and non-performance of government for action
Also, the media continues to churn out several reports on the absence of social amenities in some communities. Such reports expose the kind of school buildings and blocks if there are any at all, the kind of clinics or the state of health centres and hospitals if there are any, the kind of roads and bridges used by people, etc. to the entire world, drawing the attention of those in charge, just in case they are not aware. There are also several reports on numerous abandoned projects like schools, clinics, bungalows, etc. which sit comfortably like kings in bushes as pupils/students and teachers, patients and others keep enjoying the suffering in the dilapidated limited facilities, that is if there are any at all.
Such reports receive attention and response from either government or some NGOs to either construct or renovate the needed or ailing facilities, respectively. It is clear, therefore, that the media does not only hold leaders accountable for the mandate given them but also expedite development. Many cities, towns, and villages have electricity, good roads, health centres or hospitals, schools, potable water, libraries, etc. because of the captivating reportage of the media. In the absence of the media, what would be the fate of such communities?
The role of the media in election reporting
Have we ever thought of what would have been the fate of many democratic countries during electoral processes and transition of power if there were no media? The media, over the years, has been and is still very active, involving, proactive, effective, and key in the electoral system and processes of many democratic societies. She is seen and heard reporting the electoral processes of countries whenever that critical and tension-filled time of democracy arrives.
Probing political and non-political officers/officials
Furthermore, the media does not just report; she probes the officials concerned about why things are the way they are and investigates issues. This exposes the ills and flaws in the system, and the people responsible are able to see and take pragmatic steps to flash out such flaws. The media’s work also helps policymakers to amend laws and bureaucratic procedures in order to avoid such flaws in subsequent electoral processes. The media’s probe and investigation also make it clear whether some ills and flaws are some people’s intentional subtle attempts to jeopardise the process. And this, certainly, presents such people to be dealt with by the law. But as to whether they are dealt with, that is a different trajectory of the conversation. At least the media does her work.
Reports on various electoral incidents
Again, the media in performing its function as the watchdog of democracy also reports on various electoral incidents and keeps a very close open eye on the counting and declaration of the electoral results. This helps to maintain the sanity and the (relative) transparency in elections. Even in the presence of the media, dubious deeds try to find their way into the electoral processes. This, sometimes, leads to some unfortunate incidents and gory scenes. So I ask again, what would have been the fate of democratic countries, especially our country, Ghana, during electoral processes and transition of power if there were no media?
The dangers in the line of duty as a journalist
Journalists who put their lives on the line to speak to the dubious deeds and issues as they are without fear or favour cannot be sidelined. What about the investigative journalists who, despite the dangers, do undercover investigations to uproot the ills buried in our systems and sectors in order to help clean the corruption in countries? This helps authorities and the public as a whole to fish out the holy devils who exist and live as white shadows in the various public offices. The journalists and the media as a whole play pivotal roles in the democracy of countries, and this is worth noting. In fact, the media makes democracy meaningful and practicable.
The attractiveness of corruption in the face of continuous media reports
If upon the presence of the relentless clamping claws of the media, there are still several serious practices and cases of corruption and dubious deeds secretly ruling in the various sectors and public offices, devouring resources and ruing lives and destinies, then what would have been society’s fate if the media’s presence were absent?
With these critical, crucial, and irreplaceable roles played by the media, in ensuring the sustainability of a peaceful democratic dispensation, I dare say, NOT on any philosophical or professorial basis, that the media, the watchdog of democracy, is not irrelevant and is the spine and backbone of every democratic dispensation. Without the media, democracy will be a living dead phenomenon; a useless phenomenon because the media is the oxygen for a functional democracy.
But with all these invaluable and irreplaceable roles of the media, does the society, and in this case, Ghana, give the necessary attention and assistance to the media to cushion her in her state of indispensability? Does society do much to protect the media and her personnel from any forms of abuse, molestation, injustice, etc.? Does society put measures in place to protect the lives of media personnel? Well, perhaps, yes. Perhaps, no. Perhaps, these are questions for the gods. And perhaps, the birth of this article is going to begin the birth of such attention and assistance and protection to the all-important media that is not irrelevant in the democratic dispensation of our country, Ghana, and any democratic country for that matter. What is your take on the media, the watchdog of democracy mindset?
© Prince Litela Agbemedu (Probity~1), 12 March 2021