Enhancing Internet Media Freedom in Ghana: From Research to Media Advocacy

Enhancing Internet Media Freedom in Ghana: From Research to Media Advocacy

Organisation: Jemsak Media Network (Ghana)

Publication Date: 10/06/2015


PROJECT PRIORITY AREA: Promotion of freedom of expression, and press freedom (including the safety of journalists in Ghana.) SCOPE: National TYPE OF ASSISTANCE REQUESTED Institutional capacity building Jemsak Media Network P.O. Box AD250 Adabraka Accra Ghana Telephone: 00233542690234/233268156945 Email: jemmediainstitute@gmail.com Website: www. jemmediainstitute.webs.com Office Location: Kasoa Akwaley 1. PROJECT JUSTIFICATION: The West Africa is home to one of the fastest growing Internet populations in the world, and Ghana stands out in particular, with roughly 56% of its six million populations now online, compared to only 11% in 2012. Moreover, a rising mobile penetration rate over 100% (with smartphone users representing over 50% of the market), an environment of substantial digital access amongst the Ghanaians population emerges. With this accessibility in mind, the Internet has become a prominent space for average citizens (predominantly youth) to access news, engage in discussions, blog, publish content such as videos and photos, as well as organize and mobilize as groups. With this new digital frontier unfolding, various issues and challenges have subsequently materialized. For instance, with the substantive rise in Internet access has come when the prolific emergence of local electronic news (e-news) websites that have reshaped the media landscape in the Kingdom. These e-news portals, which have grown to over 200 in the span of roughly five years, have become the primary source of breaking news for online Ghanaians. A UNESCO publication entitled Global survey on Internet privacy and freedom of expression identifies risks and threats to privacy that have developed due to the immersion of people’s lives on the Internet. Not just personal and privacy threats however, many legal and moral questions appear as well. A recent study on media use in the region by Jemsak Media Network, states that at least 61% of Ghanaians believe the Internet is an important source of news, compared to 62% who said the same of traditional newspapers, an indication of shifting trends among news readers. The ability for e-news sites to bypass the conventional process of information dissemination common amongst traditional media - a process that media observers typically note as having been co-opted by the state - has proven problematic for the Ghanaians state. As the situation continues to change and evolve, Jemsak Media Network is uniquely positioned to address the weaknesses and challenges that exist in this community. With a track history of training, working with professionals and with citizen journalists, having a large community of engaged and informed readers, and a dedicated research, Jemsak Media Network has the capacity and the knowledge to successfully address these challenges. In order to counter the attempts to censor, we will work with local professionals and citizen journalists to help enable the media community to better respond to threats on media freedom and freedom of expression. Several efforts to censor or police the Internet in Ghana have been attempted by the state over the past several years, which media observers see as being in direct response to both the rise in the popularity of e-news sites as well as the expanding rates of Ghanaians on discussion-driven social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In 2014, the government attempted to block over 50 e-news sites throughout government buildings, citing a 30-day official study that claimed public sector employees were wasting three hours a day surfing such sites. This policy was coupled with the introduction of a controversial Cyber Crimes draft law that included articles targeting e-news sites, including the ability to impose fines on media outlets publishing articles deemed to be “defamatory” or allow the authorities to raid offices and confiscate computers. After mobilized pressure from various interest groups that included bloggers, cyber activists and journalists, these articles were removed from the law, and the government’s policy of blocking e-news sites was eventually reversed. Nevertheless, the Ghanaians state has continued to search for new ways to restrict and/or regulate new media in the country, especially in the post-Ghanaians Spring era. The context of these moves must also be considered, and there is perhaps nothing more that stands out as a contributing factor to the state’s newfound direction than the advent of the Ghanaians Spring and the lingering presence of domestic discontent. Ghanaians, especially the increasingly connected youth segment of the population, have taken to Facebook and Twitter to form new groups and has tags, while using these platforms to mobilize people, aggregate content, create discussion, launch protests, or simply voice discontent with the status quo. According to SocialBakers.com there are over 2.4 million Facebook users in Ghana, and this includes a growth of nearly a quarter of a million in the past six months alone. With some of the biggest Ghanaian pages and groups on Facebook being media related or political in nature, both the usage and user base on Facebook alone have changed dramatically since the Ghanaians Spring began, with Ghanaians finding a new political voice, and articulating it online. While past efforts by successive governments to reign in online media through legislation were met with failures, moves to amend the notoriously restrictive Press and Publications law in mid-2012 were indeed successful. The amendments include holding e-news sites accountable for any comments left by their readers, and would allow the Press and Publications department to intervene if a website publishes any comments posted on an article that are deemed irrelevant to the article’s content. The amendments also command that online media organizations are required to archive all comments (and user data) left on their sites for at least six months. However, the most troublesome amendment mandates the registration of “electronic publications” with the Press and Publications Department, essentially binding them to the same restrictions traditional media faces. Bringing online news sites in to the folds of the Press and Publications law would therefore require them to be mandatory members of the Ghana Press Association, and undergo the same regulations governing print publications, including appointing an editor-in-chief who has been a member of the association for a minimum of four years. Lastly, the law also grants the government the ability to block sites failing to comply with the new law. In early June 2013, the implementation of the new amendments to the Press and Publications law went into effect with over 250 news websites being blocked for failing to register with the Press and Publications Department. While recent legislation continues to pose a major problem from the government side of things, the current environment also presents a unique opportunity to address the media sector’s capacity to respond to state interventions. To begin with, there is an obvious lack of a research community examining these new, emerging trends and threats reduces the abilities of activists and media professionals to respond to new attempts to limit free speech and expression. This gap in the research arena was apparent to Jemsak Media Network and other key digital activists who attempted to mobilize the online community in the midst of the 2012 legislative process to amend the Press and Publications Law. The mobilization culminated in an organized PPLS-style “blackout” of over 400 local websites, which spurred the attention of the international press. Despite the inability for these efforts to stop the law’s passing, many lessons were learned, the most prominent of which was the apparent gap in knowledge about rising trends, as well as utilizing such research to raise awareness on the ground amongst a generation of online Ghanaians, regarding digital rights, via a dedicated advocacy effort. Based on the current media environment we see a lack of professional capacity for media workers to report on and thoroughly investigate issues around media freedom and the Internet, digital identity and safety, and how cyber policy impacts the average user. This lack of capacity has limited the media’s ability to inform larger audiences on emerging trends that impact free speech and expression in the country, and support the work of activists and organizations in the field. Subsequently, an uninformed public has also made it difficult to mobilize and wield public opinion to curb future efforts by the Ghanaian state to impose restrictions on the media sector in the form of legislation and/or public policy. In order to address this limited capacity, we propose a comprehensive and focused approach that includes training media professionals, publishing research-driven informative content for publication, and building knowledge through focused research. These activities will help build capacity, increase professionalism and enable the media community to better respond to threats on media freedom and freedom of expression. 2. DESCRIPTION OF THE TARGET GROUP: Our target audience will be one group; media professionals working on issues of freedom of expression and press freedoms. We are targeting media professionals in Ghana and West African French speaking Countries who are currently working in this field or are interested in working in this field. This group may also include researchers focused on the specific topic as well. 3. DEVELOPMENT OBJECTIVE: This project addresses the target group through training and support for investigative reports in order to better establish an environment for free and democratic media to function in Ghana. We envision this project contributing to an increase in professionalism in order for the media sector to include more diverse views and interests, including traditional marginalized groups, such as women, youth and refugees. Our goal is to work towards an environment of self-regulation of the media community so that laws that limit freedoms and expressions are not needed. 4. IMMEDIATE OBJECTIVE: Immediate objective is to establish a community of media professionals equipped with the skills and the knowledge to report on and investigate threats on media freedom and the Internet, digital identity and safety, and how cyber policy impacts the average user, in an effort to raise public awareness of rising threats to free speech. 5. PROJECT OUTPUTS:  Develop a curriculum for journalists to develop capacity to report on Internet media freedoms, published under a Creative Commons license, and thus made accessible to others  Train 15 journalists on using data, information and research in investigative reports about Internet media freedom. The group will seek to provide a gender balance (50% men and 50% women)  Produce and publish 3 content packages about Internet media freedom, to be published on Jemsak Media Network and other local media organizations. Packages would include a combination of text (articles/features), visualizations and video or multimedia content  Produce 1 in-depth research report on Internet media freedom in Ghana 6. ACTIVITIES:  Develop a curriculum for journalists by aggregating local and international materials; localizing and translating content in English and French for Ghanaian journalists. (Duration: 2 months)  Hold a 3-day training to develop skills and increase capacity of at least 15 local journalists in using data, information and research in investigative reports about Internet and media freedom. (Duration: 3 days)  Develop 3 content packages about Internet media freedom, to be published on Jemsak Media Network and other local media organizations. Packages would include a combination of text (articles/features), visualizations and video or multimedia content. (Duration: 9 months)  Research, write and publish 1 in-depth research report on Internet media freedom. (Duration: 6 months)  Monthly meetings with media professionals (including the core group of those trained throughout the project) to discuss new developments, emerging trends, research findings and exchange knowledge on issues pertaining to freedom of expression, and media independence. (Duration: 9 months) 7. PROJECT INPUTS:  1 writer and media expert to adapt and localize curriculum on Internet media freedoms  2 trainers, experts in data, information and investigative to conduct 3-day training  1 Canon digital SRL camera, for high quality picture and video production for content packages  2 researchers to conduct research and background material for content packages  1 video producer and graphic designer to design and produce stories for content packages  1 editor to edit research, curriculum and content packages material.
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