To many in the ink fraternity, 21st August 2010, would go into the history books as one memorable night, especially for the 30 institution and individual Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) award winners.
It was a night of music and dancing that lured the Vice President John Dramani Mahama, the Special Guest of Honour, and other dignitaries, from the comfort of their seats to the dance floor to boogie to the sweet melody of the prolific High-life singer Abrantie Amakye Dede.
The 15th GJA Award's Night which also marked the 61st Birthday of the Association was also a night of great speeches.
One of such speeches delivered by Mr.
Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), touched on one of the taboo subjects in the media- low remuneration.
His speech, which bordered mainly on life-threatening challenges journalists face in the course of their duty, drew spontaneous and intermittent applause from the audience, as he spoke to the facts.
White mentioned low remuneration as one of the challenges media practitioners face, which according to him, when effectively addressed, would go a long way in promoting best journalistic practices, good governance and socio-economic development of a nation.
This statement is made at the back of little reward received by journalists in the country, even though the media is referred to as the Fourth Estate of the Realm.
Salary differentials that exist between the 'first, second and third realm,' that is to say, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary as compared to the media, is upsetting indeed.
The salaries of journalists pales into insignificance when compared with allowances, end of service benefits and per diem of most workers in the executive, legislature and judiciary.
The critical unattractive working conditions In most public media houses, a journalist with a diploma certificate receives between GHc200 and GHc350.
A reporter at GNA receives as gross salary, an amount between GHc230 and GHc250, whiles a journalist with the same qualification at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) receives between GHc300 and GHc330.
At the Ghanaian Times, a journalist with diploma receives GHc350-420, whiles his counterpart at the Graphic Communication's Group Limited (GCGL), is paid between GHc400 and GHc700.
A Chief Editor at the GNA receives less than a senior reporter at GCGL.
The Chief Editor who would have had about 25 years working experience and having his or her belt the competence, ideas and experience take home far less than a journalist with just 6 years of work at the GCGL.
The situation is more pathetic in most private media houses as some journalists receive less than GHc100 while others receive no salary at all but are only provided with accreditation to enable them cover events.
What they receive at the end of events is what they take home.
It is no wonder that some are perceived as 'hungry child soldiers' returning from the war front,' and ready to 'plunder the booty' at the end of events.
The poor conditions of service make them susceptible to corruption and inhuman treatment which include ridicule, embarrassment and name-calling.
Recently, a Cameroonian student journalist, who is on attachment at GNA, went out to cover an event.
After the event, the student, in total disbelief, asked a reporter why the event organizers give envelopes to journalists sent there to cover the event.
The reporter could not employ the right words to explain but could only later manage to say: "Oh, they do so because Ghanaians are very hospitable.
The message transmitted through the offer of an envelope is thank you for coming, the Ghanaian way.
" The act of giving envelopes containing money meant to 'solidarise' working relationship between organizers and newsmakers, on one hand, and journalists on the other, has become a common practice; at the end of events, journalists, as an act of routine, wait to collect their envelopes as if another event is about to take place.
The enveloped 'solidarity' usually ranges from as low as GHc5 to GHc100.
Television and radio crews are specially singled out and treated differently.
Theirs are fat.
Daily Graphic, Ghanaian Times, Daily Guide, GNA are now attended to in that order.
A reporter, who feels embarrassed and humiliated by the long, but necessary wait for his turn, would leave in desperation, cursing the one sharing the envelope and swearing the story would not see the light of day.
Those who, as a matter of necessity, see the need to wait would have to 'buy time' by lingering and occupying themselves by either feigning or actually conducting 'extra' interviews or seek the relative comfort of his or her official vehicle.
The cameraman or any technician member of the crew is normally instructed to pursuit the envelope.
The Professional's Perspective The poor working conditions and indecent salaries journalists receive is a worry and have attracted a lot of comments and suggestions to improve the lot of media workers, especially journalists.
Samuel Agyeman of Metropolitan (Metro) Television, the 2009 Best Journalist of the Year Award winner, said poor and unethical journalistic practice come as a result of the fact that journalists are not financially secured.
"If you have journalists receiving as low as GHc250 a month, an amount equivalent to the allowances received by National Service personnel, then such a journalist can easily be enticed to skew the reportage", he said.
He added that it was quite disturbing to realize that the colleagues of the journalist, who graduated from the same institution of higher learning, receive about 80 per cent higher than the journalist.
"We sometimes meet them at events and get disturbed.
If one is not careful, one will get into all sorts of questionable things to meet standards.
Agyeman takes solace in the fact that corporate Ghana was now gradually recognizing the critical role the media play in the political and socio-economic development of the country stressing that hopefully, soon attractive salaries and decent working conditions would be the lot of journalists.
His colleague, Kwesi Adjei Ansah, also a reporter at Metro Television, a private broadcast station, said he was not surprise that charlatans had invaded the profession because the labour of the competent and professional journalist had gone unrewarded for a long time.
According to him, owners and stakeholders in the media establishment need to take a quick critical look at the remuneration of journalists to ensure that professionalism and competence were injected into the profession.
Hubert Welbeck, a reporter at TV3, a private broadcast station, expressed doubt that soon journalists would abandon the profession to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
He thinks misplaced contentment and self-gratifying attitude on the part of most practitioners led them into such ill treatment.
His sentiment is well shared by Mr.
Benjamin Mensah, a Chief reporter at the GNA, who thinks journalists have not told their story very well; "Look at the work we engage in such as keeping the society well-informed, giving out timely information to avert a disaster or to solve a mishap.
We keep watch on government, stakeholders and policymakers.
We set the agenda for national cohesion and socio-economic development of the country as well as deepening democracy and good governance.
We work at the risk of our health and peril of our family and social comfort.
Sometimes we work at the peril of our lives and how does society honour us?" According to him, the high unemployment situation in the country is another factor that made it easier for employers to hire and fire at whim.
He called for corporate investment to improve the lot of journalists.
Abdul Salifu Rahaman, a journalist at the Ghanaian Times newspaper, is of the view that though the GJA code of ethics frowns on the acceptance of any form of inducement, he stressed that improved living conditions for journalists would help the practitioners take 'a huge step away from collecting brown envelopes.
Abraham Donkor, of GBC Radio, expressed the view that internally generated funds could augment the little financial interventions some of the media houses receive.
Kobla Kudoto, publisher of the Economy Times, a private business newspaper, traces the history of poor living conditions of journalists to the military regimes that dominated the political stage in the early 70's.
According to him, during the day of those juntas, the media suffered a period of silence.
He expressed the view that with augmented private sector participation on the media terrain coupled with the emerging oil and gas industry, there would be development in other sectors of the economy which would by his estimation, have a rippling positive effect on the media.
"Businesses would then see the profound importance of the media and then advertise in the sector", he added.
Supervising Chief Editor of the GNA, Mr.
Boakye Dankwa Boadi, expressed the fear that soon if the issue of good remuneration for journalists were not looked at, the profession would be denuded or bereft of top-class professionals adding, the situation would likely undermine the security of the state.
"We face a situation where top professionals are leaving whiles charlatans are taking over simply because people are not well paid.
It takes strong committed professionals to withstand the temptation of being bribed.
Being a journalist in this country is more of a sacrifice than anything else", he said.
He was hopeful that the Broadcasting law, which would enjoin media owners to pay their workers well and the intervention by Fair Wages Commission, would improve the situation.
"With such interventions, I believe, those who will take envelopes would do so out of greed not out of need", he concluded as saying.
Justice Abban, a senior media practitioner at the GBC, says the GJA rather needs to make special presentation to government on behalf of the professionals.
According to him, media practitioners in neighbouring Cote d'ivoire receive better salaries than their Ghanaian counterparts saying the situation made it difficult for professionals to give of their best.
He decries the gradual lowering of standards in the profession and attributes it mainly to inadequate motivation and logistics.
Abban's suggestion to the GJA happens to be on the same wavelength as that of Mr.
Abraham Otabil, a reporter at the Information Services Department, who favours a GJA that has a strong bargaining power to seek redress with employers of its members.
In response to the suggestion of GJA's bargaining power, Mr.
Samuel Osei- Frempong, a GNA Sub Editor, believes that there is no better way than to make the GJA a union that is equipped with bargaining rights.
Having spent some years in Britain, he feels the strong unions existing over there make a strong case for members of the media.
He expressed dissatisfaction that most stories written by journalists were laced with advocacy that seek to promote the image and reputation of those who give journalists a token for transport.
"Ghanaian Journalists are sacrificing objectivity and impartiality on the altar of mediocrity and financial gain.
But I have to be realistic.
Journalists are also human and would need to look at life critically and decide between poverty and comfort but such comfort can be only be found in the envelope.
Ghana Journalists Union The strength of Unions in Europe and on the African continent has been felt by interest groups, its members, employers and governments.
They have served as organs of change in most African countries and history is replete with their positive impact.
In the media terrain, the struggle for better remuneration for journalists have been fought by many a Unions.
South Africa, Ivory Coast and Senegal are shining examples of these.
Though the 2003 Labour Act (Act 651) permits any two or three persons to form or join a trade union, efforts to form one, over the years, had been a mountain like task to the GJA.
Aidan White, Secretary General of the IFJ, in his recent visit to Ghana, advised the GJA to take up the trade union cause.
"Too many journalists these days are employed as free lance or independent workers and are paid in a haphazard manner.
When you have a precarious working condition that is an invitation to corruption and financial corruption is one of the most corrosive forms of corruption inside journalism.
White describes the unions as very strong in Ireland, where he comes from; they work as both professional Associations and Unions.
He said the GJA could use the model of Ireland where there is only one union for all journalists to speak out for press freedom, decent working conditions and trade union rights.
"That is the model Ghana needs to have.
That is a single organization which represents all journalists, but which can speak out for journalists rights, not only as professionals but also as workers because journalists are workers too and their working conditions need to be protected.
" He said before the Unions came into force, the journalists were under the control of their employers who determined their fate.
"I think journalists need an independent voice.
They need their own voice.
They cannot allow anybody, the government, or employer to speak for them.
They've got to speak for themselves", he added.
In response to the suggestion, Mr.
Ransford Tetteh, GJA President, conceded that the association had for the past years experienced challenges in efforts aimed at unionizing the GJA.
He disclosed that the association was consulting the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to see how best the association could be transformed into a union.
Tetteh has given the assurance that the GJA would start the consultation process to work out modalities of forming a Union.
Bright Kwame Blewu, General Secretary of GJA, said proliferation and fragmentation of Unions in media houses posed a challenge to consolidated efforts for better working conditions for media workers.
He decried the fact that some media workers were disjointed in the cause for better remunerations.
"GJA is determined to form the Union.
The association believes that it is an effective way of assuring members that they have a Union that can fight for their rights", he said.
Pius Michael Quainoo, a TUC representative on the National Media Commission, though admitted that the GJA would face some complex challenges in the efforts of merging the fragmented Unions in the media houses, bargaining especially on behalf of the private media houses that did not have collective bargaining rights or choosing to be independent Trade Union.
Quainoo, who is also the General Secretary of the Construction Union of the TUC, said another option the Association could exploit was to seek its own bargaining certificate and act like the Ghana Medical Association, the Teachers, the Judicial Service and other associations.
"Though it is involving, it is by no means insurmountable," he said.
Even before those modalities are worked out, Mrs.
Linda Asante Agyei, GJA Treasurer, and Senior Health reporter of the GNA, disclosed that the Association had put in place a short-term measure to deal with the welfare of its members.
She said the GJA had recently opened a yet to be launched Welfare Fund for the members of the association.
The aim is to use the fund to address issues of assaults, harassment and brutalities meted out to its members in the course of discharging their duties.
Whiles we wait patiently for such interventions to lift the journalists from the present shameful economic quagmire, Corporate Ghana's timely investment in the media would help not only to protect the country's fledging democracy, but also sustain it.
Media corruption, which is a curse to democracy, good governance, national cohesion, socio-economic development, is a consequence of poor remuneration.
By Andy Fosu.