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Power, culture and the state press in Ghana

May 21, 2016 is a sixth (6th) set of notes under the broad theme of media and change in preparation for the volume Postill, J., E. Ardevol and S. Tenhunen (eds.) forthcoming, Digital Media and Cultural Change. The notes are taken from a wealth of media anthropological research into this question that has remained to this date well hidden from mainstream media and communication studies. This research deserves, in my view, to be read more widely across this interdisciplinary area of scholarship.

Notes prepared by Fran Barone
Used with permission

Hasty, Jennifer. 2006. “Performing power, composing culture: The state press in Ghana” Ethnography 7: 69-98.

Fieldwork based on working for the press in Ghana in 15 months of fieldwork between 1995 and 2002 (p. 72) [bulk of fieldwork in 1997, see below].

Ghana “is a prime example of African political renaissance” emerging from 10 years of military dictatorship in 1991 under which “most private media were either banned outright or harassed out of existence” (p. 71).

“Ghanaian national modernity went public only through the appropriation of tradition. Contemporary Ghanaian journalism bears the traces of this process” (p. 74) even after journalism was democratized in 1991.

Throughout the 1980s-90s, Ghanaian journalism differed from American journalism by emphasizing not the best lead information to ‘grab’ the reader at the beginning of an article, but, under the Rawlings dictatorship, the rhetoric of the government and official announcements shape the way the story is presented and give it legitimacy (p. 76-79).

Stories about local events like a festival turn out “not to be about the festival at all, but rather about the definition of development and the articulation of state authority with local subjects” via a chain of quotes by notable officials (p. 83).

State journalists therefore struggle with the contradictions between their lessons at journalism school and what they have to do working for the state press, such as always portraying the state in a favorable light (p. 84) “However, this interpretation misses what is most provocative about journalism in Ghana, both historically and culturally. Yes, Daily Graphic journalists are under pressure to give favorable publicity to the state; but that pressure is exercised through a set of cultural understandings in such a way that journalists do not recognize themselves as mere puppets of propaganda” (p. 85).

News media and the post-colonial nation: “I am not arguing that the difference of Ghanaian journalism is essentially cultural; but rather that a specific version of African culture has been summoned and reinforced in the historical development of news media in Ghana” (p. 87) While the type of news reporting in state papers might look like propaganda, “state domination of the Daily Graphic operates through a set of cultural notions locally recognized as redemptive and liberatory, given their historical role in projects of anti-colonial independence and nation-building” (p. 88).

“By 1997, when the bulk of this fieldwork was carried out, the democratic reforms dictated by the 1991 constitution had failed to restructure the practices of ‘house style’ that govern the production of state news. In light of such conclusions, anthropologists as well as development and policy experts are compelled to consider the local, cultural contradictions that surface with the global spread of liberal democracy and the celebrated emergence of civil society in Africa and elsewhere” (p. 88).

Photo credit: Today GH


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