While the media’s role as information disseminators in fostering development has never been in doubt, the range of media coverage for issues is sometimes a subject of debate. Some people are of the view that media reportage should cover all issues, but others think some issues are best left out of the media domain.
This debate has often resulted in media self-censorship, for fear of treading on wrong/strong toes or unwillingness to get involved in the unknown or what they consider as controversial matters.
The latter was the reason why Ama Achiaa Amankwah Baafi never wanted to have anything to do with the subject of agricultural biotechnology. A journalist with Graphic Business, Ama says: “Even though I report on agricultural issues, I never wanted to do agricultural biotechnology stories because I saw it as a controversial topic and did not want to be a part of the controversy”.
According to her, she later changed her mind after being assigned to do a report on the subject. “I realized, as media, we need to facilitate the conversation around the subject to make Ghana win”.
Ama was speaking after she was awarded first prize in the print and online category for the 3rd edition of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Media Awards ceremony in Accra. The first runner-up in the print and on-line category was Abubakar Ibrahim of Myjoyonline.com; and the best radio report went to Salifu Wononou of Radio Wa. They received plaques, cash and hampers as their prizes.
OFAB, in collaboration with the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Foundation (AATF) – an NGO focused on agricultural biotechnology – instituted the awards scheme in 2017 to recognise journalists for their reportage on the contribution of biotechnology to food production and security.
The Vice-President of the Ghana Journalists Association, Mrs. Linda Asante Agyei, congratulated the awardees for good work and urged them not to relent in reporting on agricultural biotechnology. She explained that that area requires dedicated media coverage because agriculture, science and technology are integral parts of Ghana’s development agenda.
Therefore, she urged journalists to prioritise agricultural reporting – especially agricultural biotechnology because, “as journalists it is our responsibility to educate and inform the public about issues so they can make informed decisions and choices”. She also called on journalists to research well into stories to get their facts right before filing them, so that their audience will get a better understanding of issues.
The GJA Vice-President noted that the need for thoroughness in journalistic research and reportage is very crucial, as media reportage impacts on the reputation of others. “Media practitioners have soiled the hard-earned reputation of some resource personnel, and those damages could not be repaired,” she said.
Present at the ceremony were some of Ghana’s top scientists from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC).
They included the Director of the Biotechnology Nuclear Agricultural Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), Prof. Kenneth Danso, who briefed the gathering about the importance of biotechnology as a proven technology to address agriculture-related problems. He said since the 1990s his institute has been doing a lot of work on biotechnology, so by now the country should have reached the stage of commercialising crops.
Prof. Danso is also a member of OFAB Ghana Chapter, and said: “It is unfortunate that in our part of the world we have still not grasped the benefits of the technology,” adding, “the only way farmers can adopt the technology is by moving the crops to the fields, so they can see the benefits for themselves”. He noted that journalists can foster the process by giving more time and space to agricultural biotechnology issues, so that the country can benefit.
A scientist and former Minister of State, Dr. Alhassan Yakubu, stressed the need for strong collaboration between journalists and scientists in order to position science in its proper place on the national development agenda. He said: “It is science that has made the Eastern Tigers including Japan and Malaysia what they are today,” adding, “we need to make the debate on science more productive, otherwise the gap between us and them will widen the more”.
For his part, Director-General of the CSIR, Prof. Victor Kwame Agyeman, was unhappy with the award package given to the winners and said: “This, as well as other media award packages, depict that this country does not value journalism”. He elaborated: “Journalism is described as the fourth estate of a nation, and yet the situation of Ghanaian journalists is that they live by the pen and die by the pen. But it is time for us to begin to value journalists”.
Prof. Agyeman called for a change in the nation’s value system to give credence to drivers of national development which include journalists, so they will be better-motivated and report better on issues – including the products of Ghanaian scientists.
A Senior Advisor to the Ghana Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS), Prof. Walter Alhassan, was the Chairman for the occasion. He said the media is key in the process of encouraging the uptake of agricultural biotechnology in the country: “Therefore, the subject should not be presented as a contentious issue, but as a tool for development”.
A Senior Research Scientist with CSIR’s Science Technology and Research Institute (CSIR STEPRI) and National Coordinator of OFAB Ghana, Dr. Richard Ampadu, said the award scheme has come to stay. In an interview, he urged the media to see agricultural biotechnology as one of the development issues in Ghana that requires their attention.
Dr. Ampadu explained that agricultural biotechnology should been seen from the perspective of addressing current challenges, such as climate change – which is affecting the agricultural sector and threatening national food security.