Written by Julia Traunspurger

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  • Area: 238.535 square kilometres
  • Population: approx. 27 Mil.
  • Capital: Accra
  • State form: presidential republic
  • Official language: English
  • Religion: Catholic (59%), Islam (18%, 2016)

  • Flag of Ghana

    Ghana’s democratization process is often praised by Western countries for its peaceful change of government, the constitution and its economic development. Therefore, it is described as a role model for other West African countries. After a long period of state-controlled media domination, today, besides the public broadcaster, there is a large number of private owned media. In particular radio stations are successful but there is also commercial television and some newspapers functioning independent from the state. The constitution of 1992 provides and guarantees a right to freedom of expression, media freedom and independence. Nevertheless, there is still one aspect which limits the autonomy of journalists: the right to information law has not been passed yet. The Ghanaian media is not controlled by an aggressive state. However, the journalists’ autonomy is limited by the economic situation, the cultural characteristics and the non-professionalism of journalists. Additional journalists working for state-controlled media benefit from better information sources and other advantages compared to their colleagues from a private media house. The results are journalists who are money based, not well educated and obedient to authorities.
    Communication policy and regulations
    Being under British control until 1957, there are different phases Ghana has gone through since ‑ first a socialist country, then multiple military coups and, finally, a presidential democracy with a democratic constitution in 1992. Since then Ghana acts as a kind of role model for the rest of Western Africa (Blum, 2014: 189). Ghana is ranked as the second best African country by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Freedom House (2016) classified Ghana as free. In RWB’s most recent ranking, Ghana was placed at number 26. One of the main reasons for these high rankings is the Ghanaian constitution.

    The constitution maintains and guarantees the right to freedom of expression, media freedom and independence. As basic rights, freedom of expression and media freedom are given in chapter 5 article 21 (1) as well as in chapter 12 which is titled “Freedom and Independence of the Media”. This chapter highlights the individual rights of media professionals, allows the media to freely carry out its functions and protects media houses from censorship. The constitution names the aim and task of the media as a “watchdog role” (FES, 2013: 12) by article 162(5): “All agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this Constitution, and shall uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of Ghana.”

    However, there are certain limitations. Within the constitution, those freedom articles are subordinated to “laws that are reasonably required in the interest of national security, public order, public morality and for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons.” The constitution also empowers two commissions to regulate different media aspects. The National Media Commission (NMC) can set regulations for entering the journalism profession. The African Media Barometer agrees that this is a “major pillar of media independence in Ghana as it shields state-owned media organisations, as well as private media outlets, from political interference in their editorial process” (FES, 2013: 7). NMC consists of fifteen members, who are representing different social, religious and professional organizations. Their opportunities to intervene primarily rely on the goodwill of the media, thus its relevance is rather low. The other commission, called National Communication Authority (NCA), is empowered to allocate frequencies, advises the Minister for Communications in media policy and decides about licenses for radio and television stations (Hasty, 2002; Kafewo, 2006: 8). To sum up, NMC regulates the content while NCA regulates the technical aspects of broadcasting (FES, 2013: 13, 46). Even though the independence of the Nation Media Commission is protected by law and the NCA Act of 1993, there are still doubts about the transparency of NCA’s licensing decisions (Kafewo, 2006: 8-10).

    Concerning new media, there is no government institution to register for websites, blogs or other digital platforms. Until 2013, experts did not believe the state could block or filter internet content (FES, 2013: 8). Because of the triumph of internet, mobile phones and social media this may change (Internet World Stats, 2015).

    However, there are still some frequent points of criticism. Firstly, even if the constitution was established in 1992, the real change took place eight years later under president Kufuor (Blum, 2014: 191-192). He won the electoral campaign with the promise, amongst other election pledges, to repeal the Criminal Libel Law (Kafewo, 2006: 7). This law, abolished in 2001, had previously enabled actors to prosecute a person on the content of their publications (Interview Sarpong, 2014; Owusu, 2011: 8). However, even if this law was abolished, Freedom House reports at least two incidents where “Accra court fined two private owned newspapers for publishing defamatory articles against a private timber processing company and the general secretary of the NDC, respectively” (Freedom House, 2015: 3). The second criticism is that the Right to Information Law has not been passed yet. This limits the citizen in a fundamental right (Interview Sarpong, 2014). Journalists from privately owned media mainly suffer from it. They are often not invited to press conferences and do not have as good liaisons as journalists working for the state owned media. This forces private journalists to rely on anonymous tips and other dubious rumours (Hasty, 2002). Kuoppamäki (2014) assumes that the business models in Ghana might not be designed for full transparency at all levels. In Ghana there is a huge gap between the poor and rural north and the rich cities in the south. Economy, Education and Infrastructure is better in the south and especially in the bigger cities. This urban-rural discrepancy also has an impact on media system and media literacy (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014). Therefore, another criticism is the lack of knowledge of the rural population about the constitution giving them certain rights to say what they want to say (FES, 2013: 8-10).

    Besides the communication policy from the state there are also some self regulation rules: journalistic code of ethics. But in Ghana only a few journalists are familiar with the different code of ethics. The NMC, the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) have their own codes of ethics. GJA and GIBA created their codes with the help of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation. GIBA’s code is only directed at its members, while the GJA’s and NMC’s codes apply to all journalists across the print and broadcast sector. Those three codes are quite similar. The GJA has a council composed of a seasoned lawyer and journalists who receive criticisms of the media from the public (FES, 2013: 6, 56; Ghana Journalists Association, 2009; National Media Commission, 2009). The state owned newspaper The Ghanaian Times is in compliance with the official guidelines of GJA, while the Daily Telegraph has its own code of ethics (FES 2013: 46). The main problem despite the shear amount of codes is the disregard of them. Furthermore, there are only very weak interventional options when it comes to taking actions against defiance.
    Media offers
    In 1954 the Ghanaian public broadcasting system was founded. By this time, Ghana was still a British colony. After its independence in 1957, the renamed Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) was still a state controlled institution. Until today, GBC does not collect any fees and is mostly funded by the government and advertising revenues (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014; Blum, 2014: 193). GBC has dominated the Ghanaian market because of a long history of constraints in the private sector. Today, Ghana has a huge range of commercial radio stations. The Ghanaian media landscape is described as “diverse and vibrant” (Freedom House, 2015: 3) and characterised “by diversity, with a wide range of print, broadcasting, internet and mobile news sources” (FES, 2013: 8). Since 1993 the combination of constitutional provisions and regulatory enactments has produced a liberal and pluralistic media landscape (IREX, 2013: 175). The repeal of the Criminal Libel Law 2001 led to a new “explosion” and, by this, to a plethora of new radio stations and newspapers (Kafewo, 2006: 7).

    The GBC receives subsidies because the government is obligated to do so by law. Because of this, Ghana cannot be described in the internationally accepted three-tier media structure (public, commercial and community broadcasters). Some hybrids exist and the absence of a broadcasting law “makes this distinction very blurred” (FES, 2013: 44, 50). On the one hand, due to the financial dependence on state funding, GBC coverage tend to be state-friendly and pro-government (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014). On the other hand, state owned media outlets like GBC are also of better quality because they can equip their journalists and pay them good salaries (Interview Sarpong, 2014). Due to the state subsidies, GBC is present in the whole country which, in turn, attracts ad investments (Blum, 2014: 192; Hasty, 2005: 76-78). The GBC has radio studios in all ten provincial capitals. Radio 1 broadcasts in local tongue and Radio 2 in English only (Hasty, 2002).

    On the press market there are also state-funded media outlets: The Ghana News Agency and the two print companies The Graphic Corporation and The Times Corporation (Blum, 2014: 192-193). Ghanaian Times and The Weekly Spectator are produced by The Times Corporation and the Daily Graphic and The Mirror by The Graphic Corporation ‑ all located in Accra (Hasty 2002). There are also some privately owned papers, including The Dispatch, Accra Daily Mail, The Ghanaian Chronicle and The Daily Guide (FES, 2013: 28). Compared to state-funded media, private press is facing the same problems described earlier: economic problems and difficulty in gaining information. Other newspapers do not have a wide circulation because of the costs and infrastructure in Ghana. The price of a newspaper is more than half of the daily income (Kuehnhenrich, 2012: 84; FES, 2013: 8) and the transportation to the north is too expensive. Only one newspaper is truly national ‑ the state-owned Daily Graphic ‑ with full distribution throughout the country (Kafewo, 2006: 23). Apart from this, it is hard to get newspapers outside of the big cities and especially in the rural north (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014). Consequently, newspapers are mainly for the rich urban elite (Hasty, 2002). Nevertheless, it is the leading medium in the Ghanaian media landscape. One newspaper is read by up to 12 persons and the headlines and important themes are picked up by the morning-shows of the radio stations (Blum, 2014: 193).

    Despite of the fact that the literacy rate is quite high in Ghana ‑ ninety per cent of the people over the age of 15 (Foreign Office Germany 2015), there are several languages spoken (Blum, 2014: 189) and there is still a considerable number of people who are unable to read and write in English (Interview Sarpong 2014). This is one of the reasons why radio is the most used media in Ghana. In 2013 more than ninety per cent of the population had regular access to radio (FES, 2013: 9). It is cheap and available in all areas of the country (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014). Another reason is the success factor of community radios. Radio channels are heating up public discussions in their programmes ‑ often in a too emotional debate. Since radio broadcast is very quick and often distributed in local languages, the gap between south and north, rich and poor might be able to shrink a little bit. As a result, everyone can take part in national discussion and issues (Interview Sarpong, 2014).

    Television could play the same role as the radio, but, first, television sets are too expensive for most of the population and, second, the infrastructure for electricity is still bad (Beitzer, 2014: 3; Interview Regehr, 2014). Television broadcasting exists since 1965 and private channels are allowed since 1997 (Blum, 2014: 193). Ghana lists 28 television stations. The GBC operates Ghana TV and four other channels. Another important television group is the Multimedia Group with various channels (FES, 2013: 9). Kwasi Twum is the Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Multimedia Group Limited (Multimedia Ghana). The Multimedia Group is one of the most successful media companies in Africa, one of the reasons why Kwasi Twum is called Ghana’s Rupert Murdoch (Mensah, 2013).

    Among the important channels, there are also two founded and financed with foreign capital: Metro TV, which has a Lebanese investor and TV 3, founded by a Malaysian investor (Blum, 2014: 193). Other popular foreign channels are BBC, Voice of America, TV Joshua, Al Jazeera and CNN (Interviews Kuoppamäki and Sarpong, 2014). Apart from traditional media, internet and especially mobile phones are quite successful in Ghana. The whole African region is witnessing one of the strongest increases in mobile date use in the world (Internet World Stats, 2015). According to FES there are over 27 million mobile phone users in Ghana or in other words “there are more people who own a mobile phone, than those who have access to a toilet” (2013: 9). The impacts on the media landscape, public debates and democratisation can only be speculated. However, internet could again help to close the gap between north and south or rather rich and poor.
    Journalists' autonomy
    In Ghana, journalists are not trained adequately. Due to the young democratization process, there is no long history of professional journalism. Furthermore, until today there is no limited access for becoming a journalist (Paulitsch & Hummelik, 2012). There is no need to register with the government nor to have a license (Kafewo, 2006: 9). Since 1992, there are training programmes for journalists offered by professional associations and domestic and foreign NGOs (Kafewo, 2006: 26-27). Most of the journalists are trained at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). Founded in 1958, it offers different types of trainings ranging from a four-year Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies to two-week courses (Ghana Institute for Journalism, 2016). The Institute was established in a Pan-African context, which is why it still has a strong emphasize to train journalists to become legit African. There has been criticism that the GIJ only worked theoretically and the journalists are then overstrained with practical work (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014). However, there are a lot more training programmes for media professionals and journalists: The African University College of Communication, the School of Communication Studies at the University of Ghana, Jayee University College, the University of Cape Cost and the University of Education Winneba (FES, 2013: 62). The problem about the trainings is not their availability but their affordability. There are some media houses which send their students to trainings (e.g. The Dispatch) but most fear that well-trained journalists may then leave for a better job or another better paying media house. Therefore, the media houses will not assist their journalists in fostering their qualifications. Some NGOs from abroad provide short-term courses or trainings for journalists (FES, 2013: 63).

    This foreign influence also has an impact on the self-image of journalists. Due to the theoretical trainings in Western norms, journalists perceive themselves as critical democratic institutions. Nevertheless, there is a gap between aspiration and reality. In an interview Kuoppamäki (2014) criticized: “You are free to express your opinion in Ghana but the society does not profit from this freedom because nobody is examining the facts nor telling the truth”. Another aspect of the Ghanaian journalists’ role perception is nation building. The healing of the country’s conflicts of the past is the main aim (Kafewo, 2006: 13). The aim is to present Ghana in a good light to keep its image as the West African role model: “Ghanaian Journalists have the challenge to report very extensively the good happenings and successes in the country. They must develop in themselves a sense of patriotism and pride in their Ghanaianess, success stories and the many endeavours in national development” (Mahama, 2009). This national pride and feeling of being part of an entity let journalist think they are “the great heroes” (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014). Thus becoming a journalist is related to prestige and national pride.

    The general public knows about the problems and the gap between aspiration and reality in the self-image of journalists. This is also one reason, why it has a critical attitude towards journalism. Regehr (2014) stresses that “the population of Ghana simply does not know any quality media” and is more interested in entertainment than fair and objective news stories and features (IREX, 2013: 179).

    In conclusion, journalists could get trained, but this is often too expensive and not supported by their employing media houses. Furthermore, society expects certain media coverage, but the journalists’ autonomy in Ghana is also bounded by some other factors. First, the quality of the coverage depends whether you are in a state-funded or private media house. State journalists have a privileged relationship to government sources, including information, documents and resources. At official events, state journalists do get commentaries, printed speeches and have other benefits compared to their private colleagues. This forces private journalists to rely on anonymous tips and other dubious rumours (Hasty, 2002).

    The second criticism is about what Tietaah describes as the trinity of P’s: press, politics and purse-strings (2012: 180-181). In Ghana many things are controlled and regulated by paying for it. To communicate a topic, one holds a press conference and it is normal to pay the journalists a soli (solidarity) for contribution, which is declared as lump sum transport (Interview Kuoppamäki 2014). Often you only get into media coverage with paid reports (Interview Regehr 2014). The low wages can be blamed for the soli-system. In some cases, journalists do not get anything at all and are only paid in solis (FES, 2013: 58; Blum, 2014: 194). An important topic to keep in mind while describing structures in Ghana is the high corruption rate (Transparency International, 2015) ‑ “In Ghana those with money have the power” (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014).

    Third, even if self-censorship is not that serious in Ghana, it still affects priority in media coverage. At a panel discussion of FES participants gave an example: “at a station owned by a person attached to a certain political party, journalists self-censor to suit the perceived ideology they feel they need to portray, and will outsource news stories that may be critical of that party in order to avoid repercussions“ (FES, 2013: 61).

    And finally: cultural effects. It is very common to obey the authorities in Ghana. People like priests, chiefs, elders and officials have high priority. Their words are not supposed to be questioned, criticised or exposed. One object of journalism should be to challenge authorities but in Ghana this is not part of the common culture (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014). Another cultural issue is the gender roles where women are seen as inferior to men (FES, 2013: 8). At least in Ghana there is no systematic state-controlled violence against journalists’ autonomy (Interview Kuoppamäki, 2014). The constraints are more systematically due to professionalization, low wages and cultural issues.
    This country report is largely based on a seminar paper composed by Deborah Lachmann and Marlene Pratschke at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich in 2015. All interviews have been conducted by them from December 2014 to February 2015. The author thanks Ms. Lachmann and Ms. Pratschke for their work, without which this country report wouldn’t have been possible.


    Related Links

    Interviewed experts (interviews conducted by Deborah Lachmann and Marlene Pratschke)
    • Aarni Kuoppamäki, Project Manager, Deutsche Welle Akademie, Accra
    • Dan Lerner, Infrastructure Developer (worked in Ghana for infrastructure projects)
    • Demian Regehr, Hans-Seidel-Stiftung, lived in Accra, Ghana, for three years
    • George Sarpong, Chief Executive, National Media Commission
    Recommended citation form
    Julia Traunspurger: Ghana. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date)

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