Capture journalism quality in Press Freedom Index

Tuesday was marked as the World Press Freedom Day. UNESCO has designated May 3 as World Press Freedom Day to recognise the importance of the media and particularly look at the degree of freedom journalists have enjoyed in the respective countries where they operate.

After assessing various countries in that regard, they are ranked and presented in what has come to be known as the Press Freedom Index.

The Index is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) since 2002.

It has over the years been based on countries’ press freedom records in the previous year, which reflect the degree of freedom that journalists, news organisations, and netizens have in each country, and the efforts made by each country’s authorities to respect this freedom.

The RSF says it has adopted a new methodology which has been incorporated into its previous assessment procedure.

The new methodology defines press freedom as the effective possibility for journalists, as individuals and as groups, to select, produce and disseminate news and information in the public interest, independently from political, economic, legal and social interference, and without threats to their physical and mental safety.

Thus, five new indicators are now used to compile the World Press Freedom Index, namely the political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context, and security. 

It must be noted that RSF says the index only deals with press freedom and as such does not measure the quality of journalism in the countries it assesses, neither does it take into consideration human rights violations in general.

In every year of assessment some countries maintain their previous positions, others improve on them and the rest drop.

Last year, of the 180 countries on the index, Ghana was ranked 30thon a score of 21.3 per cent but has fallen to the 60th position this year, ironically on a score of 67.43 per cent.

The RSF says Ghana’s ranking this year is its third-lowest since the Index was first published in 2002, when it was ranked 67th  and 66th in 2005.

Explaining the basis for Ghana’s poor showing, the RSF report says although Ghana is considered a regional leader in democratic stability, journalists have experienced growing pressures in recent years.

It adds that to protect their jobs and their security, journalists increasingly resort to self-censorship, as the government has shown itself intolerant of criticism.

 In addition, one-third of media outlets are owned by politicians or by people tied to the top political parties and their content is largely partisan.

Furthermore, the report states that the safety of journalists in the country has deteriorated sharply in recent years, citing a case where in 2020, reporters covering the effectiveness of anti-COVID-19 measures were attacked by security forces and that political leaders are making death threats against investigative journalists with nearly all cases of law enforcement officers attacking journalists are not pursued.

The Ghanaian Times believes in the position that journalists anywhere must be protected and allowed the necessary freedom to work no matter what.

This is because without journalists, democracy would not thrive because the citizenry would lose the link between them and the government.

Therefore, the RSF report, whether the state agrees with it or not, must provide some basis for introspection to urgently tighten the loose ends otherwise the country’s democratic credentials would lose credibility.

The truth is that the media outlets related to political parties are too partisan to the extent that some of what they spew out is very distasteful and provocative and needs to be reined in.

This paper hopes the RSF would, in its future reports, cite some of these wrongdoings, name and shame the erring outlets.

Currently, every blame seems to be put on the political establishment, which paints some picture of bias, so the RFS assessment must consider the behaviour of journalists too as they perform their duties.

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