The team also visited the Coalition for Open Democracy, which was working on campaign finance reform, the Institute of Politics, which host Presidential debates in the state and groom students to become politicians as well as the Union Leader, a conservative newspaper that promotes the ideals of the Republican Party.
The city of Pittsburg in the Pennsylvania State was the final place to be visited by the participants. It comprises 90 neighbourhoods and nearby communities and known as a green city of innovation, technology, energy, education and healthcare.
We interacted with Mr. Jon Delano, Editor of Money and Politics of the KDKA Television in Pittsburg, who had a record of interviewing President Barrack Obama eight times in his career. Mr. Delano, who had also interviewed most of the Presidential aspirants for the US general elections in November 2016, said it would be unprofessional for journalists to advance questions to Presidential candidates before interviewing them.
“It shows the candidates are weak in handling issues,” he stressed, noting that the best a journalist could do is to talk about some of the subject areas to the candidate when pressed. On the Republican debate, he said the debate structure was bad and the time allocation was also unfair to some of the candidates.
An associate Professor of the University of Pittsburg, Dr. Kristin Kanthak, also shared her views on how interest groups factor into campaign strategies. According to her, money has a huge influence in American politics and elections. “The role of money in elections is not bad. There is so much money coming from different sources and an individual cannot buy a candidate,” she stressed.
Dr. Kanthak explained that the First Amendment of the US Constitution, Free Speech, gave liberty to individuals to spend huge money to get their messages to the people. “Money is awful but is central to American politics,” she emphasised, saying although voters tend to swing votes from one party to another, “the candidate that makes you feel good tends to win”.
According to the Associate Professor, national polls were meaningless and did not really have impact on Presidential elections in US. “How you are performing at the state level is more important. The current political campaign is more of a horse race,” she argued.
The participants visited the Chatham University, one of the institutions educating women in politics. The first female to contest a Presidential election in US was Victoria Claflin Woodhull in 1872. Currently, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton of the Democratic Party and Carly Fiorina of the Republican Party are the two women aiming to set a new record in the political history of America. The US Congress has less than 20 women and only four out of 50 state Governors are women.
Jennie Sweet – Cushman, Assistant Director of the Pennsylvania Centre for Women and Politics of the university, noted that the media had not changed in the way they covered women engaged in politics and stressed the need to show more respect to female candidates.
“The American media tend to talk for women for the position of Vice President. There is so much prejudice and bias against female candidates who are often considered stereotyped,” she observed, noting that men have 68 per cent more coverage of issues than women. A national survey conducted by You.gov.2015, however, showed that 67 per cent of Americans were ready for a woman to be elected as President.
Other places of interest visited by the journalists included the Tribune Newspaper,the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh and the Avonworth High School, where the participants took part in a classroom discussion on the upcoming US elections and political campaigns with history students.
The climax of the training programme was a “Home Hospitality” with host families who gladly accepted to treat different groups to local food to make them feel at home. I was hosted by Mr & Mrs Keith Reed, a clinical Pharmacist and a Lawyer respectively. They had three cats. After dinner, I presented Ghanaian souvenirs and chocolate to Mrs. Judy Hale Reed and the husband as a way of showing the Ghanaian hospitality.
My trip to the United States coincided with the Six-day visit of Pope Francis who addressed a joint session of Congress in Washington and the United Nations General Assembly in New York respectively.
A number of observations were made during the visit. First, American politics is different from Ghanaian politics.
In America, the candidates are sponsored by interest groups and corporate entities who might not necessarily be directly involved in the affairs of the political party of the candidate.
There is nothing like vote-buying in American politics as it is unlawful and candidates can be imprisoned when found guilty. Such interest groups can, however, influence the policy direction of the candidate if elected President, which can be inimical to the citizens. In the Ghanaian politics, however, vote-buying is rife. Presidential debates and political party conventions, are necessary and part of the American election process to influence voters’ choice of candidates.
On the media landscape, it was evident that many media organisations, particularly, newspapers, endorse a candidate of their choice, prior to the day of the general election, based on their philosophies, something that can hardly be found in the Ghanaian industry.
Besides, these newspapers separate their news from opinion columns.
Those working on news stories, operate differently and independent from opinion writers Specialisation is also key in most of the media organisations visited by the participants.
The useful lessons from the United States could help shape the destiny of Ghanaian politics and the media industry whiles ensuring that necessary measures are taken to enhance accelerated growth and development of the country.
After spending almost 40 hours on eight different flights including Delta, KLM and Jet Blue, I am finally back to my home country. Indeed, the visit was an eye opener.
I thank God for safe travelling mercies.
By Augustine Cobba-Biney