A strong tradition of press freedom across all segments characterises the Ghanaian media sector, and as the economy continues to grow, a report from the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) shows the sector is expected to remain in good health.

According to the “Ghana Media Sustainability Index”, a report released in 2012 by IREX, Ghana is home to 466 print publications, ranging from daily newspapers to glossy magazines. Ghanaian media consumers can choose from 286 FM radio stations and 28 television stations of both the free-to-air and subscription variety. Increasingly, the internet is an important source of media dissemination and Ghana is home 59,086 internet hosts. Local media outlets are some of the nation’s most popular websites. However, few providers within Ghana have a truly national reach, with most focusing on a small market or a share of the country’s largest cities, notably Kumasi, Accra, Cape Coast and Takoradi.

LONG TRADITION: One organisation that does have a truly national footprint is the Ghana News Agency (GNA), whose 217 permanent employees are spread across all of the country’s regions. The GNA was established in 1957, shortly before independence, making it the oldest African newswire service.

While the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) remains the largest organisation for journalists and media workers, there are an additional 17 professional organisations currently active in the sector. English is the official language, and the main language for politics and business since 1987, though the government also sponsors another nine languages.

Ghana is home to a number of institutions involved in the training of journalists, the most academic being the School of Communication Studies at the University of Ghana. Other institutions, like the National Film and Television Institute and the Ghana Telecom University College, focus on specific market segments. The GNA also announced plans to develop a new training facility and programme in May 2013.

FREE PRESS: Freedom House, an international press freedom research centre, rated Ghana’s media sector as “free” in a 2013 global report. This same report also ranked Ghana 28th in the world in terms of press freedom, just ahead of Latvia. Media independence is enshrined in Article 162 and Article163 of Ghana’s constitution, with the only proviso that media institutions be obliged to give a right of reply to individuals and organisations for clarification purposes.

According to a report by IREX, Ghana’s freedom of speech had only grown stronger since the survey began in 2006. “Ghana’s radio and television status are reported to be perhaps the freest in West Africa, if not on the African continent as a whole,” Solomon Kwasi Kyei, the research, monitoring and evaluation manager of Strategic Communications Africa, a communications, reputation management and research agency in Ghana, told OBG.

REGULATION: Article 162 and Article 163 also created Ghana’s National Media Commission (NMC) as the sector’s oversight body, with a membership formula for its oversight committee that has a long watchfulness across different segments. The NMC received GHS2.5m ($1.3m) of the state budget for its activities in 2013. In parliamentary proceedings surrounding the passage of its budget, the NMC was given a mandate to develop regional media advisory councils within all 10 regions of Ghana and to help ensure more responsible journalism.

Organisations including Strengthening Transparency, Accountability and Responsiveness in Ghana, UKAID, Danish International Development Agency and US Agency for International Development have all been working with the NMC’s legal team to establish a set of responsibility guidelines that can be applied towards future coverage of sensitive issues.

For instance, during the 2012 presidential election, the NMC developed four new field offices throughout the country to work to ensure fair and impartial election coverage. Increasingly important is the National Communication Authority (NCA), which deals with a number of the technical regulations associated with different media segments, such as the awarding of broadcast rights and bandwidth.

Another important development in 2013 has been the creation of a new “Right to Information Law”, which was approved by the Cabinet in June 2013 and will give journalists and the public access to government documents. The law was first proposed in 2010 but concerns about its implementation had hindered its passage for several years. The development of Ghana’s new e-government infrastructure (which includes e-Parliament and e-Justice) initiatives should make management, provision and access to government documents substantially easier for both journalists and the public at large.

BOOSTED FUNDS: In 2012, for the first time, a GHS2m ($1.03m) grant was included in the federal budget towards the development of a media fund. This fund, if effectively disbursed, would be an important asset to the development of local journalism. As of June 2013, specific plans for the use of the fund had not Media providers, 2004-12 been outlined, with both the Ministry of Information (MoI) and the NCA being mentioned as responsible for oversight. Indeed, the MoI remains actively involved in the development of the media sector. In April the MoI distributed 596 laptops produced by RLG, a local technology manufacturer, to six media institutions. Additionally, the MoI allocated funds of GHS150,000 ($77,115) towards the establishment of an editor’s forum in 2013. The development of the proposed media fund has been strongly supported by President John Dramani Mahama. While still vice-president, he announced the government programme during a speech in September 2011 at the 16th GJA awards. Mahama himself has a media background and has worked as a columnist in Ghana, as well as having been published in a number of international media outlets including The Huffington Post.

GREATER ROLE: Since becoming president, Mahama and his administration have urged the sector to play a greater role in ensuring government transparency. For example, in May 2013 Mahama’s administration announced efforts to develop a national local media network focused on providing coverage of local governmental affairs, and has already begun limited operations in nine of Ghana’s 10 regions. “President Mahama’s own ties to the media industry will likely mean the sector will get more support under his administration than in the past,” Torgbor Mensah, executive chairman of the Argon Group, which includes DDP Outdoor, the nation’s largest billboard company, told OBG. Further bolstering the sector’s profile, the biannual Africa Media and Democracy Conference held in Accra is an important event for the sector, and in 2012 was held in mid-August.

For the first time, the forum also included an awards ceremony known as the Africa Media and Democracy Awards 2012. The awards were designed to recognise both organisations and individuals that had played a key role in the development of the Ghanaian media sector. The speakers discussed topics ranging from media sector sustainability to responsible coverage of elections and sensitive topics. Attendees included heads of African media organisations, as well as academics from North America and Iran.

CHALLENGES: Despite Ghana’s strong tradition of press freedom, the nation’s media sector faces some of the same challenges found in other countries, in particular falling advertising rates.

Elsewhere in the world, this has led to staff reductions and the closure of newspapers. Ghana’s media sector has been spared this, but there is a perception that media wages remain low. This problem is especially difficult for private sector organisations, since public sector journalists are typically paid more than those in the private sector. According to the Labour Research and Policy Institute of the Trades Union Congress, about half of the media workers in the country are making around GHS200 ($103) a month. With wages dropping, some journalists have struck out on their own by starting new media enterprises, launching new magazines and newspapers each year, though many of these prove short-lived. One solution for media outlets to remain competitive in the current market is to continue the development of specialty journalism. A second would be to build more of the production, distribution and, indeed, readership online, where costs are lower.

For example, the website Ghana Business News has become a media portal successful enough to compete with other more established print publications. Of course, even this model can have its problems, as the failure Kickoff.com, a Ghanaian franchise of a popular South African football website, proved.

Another area for potential growth is to develop news and media content aimed specifically at users of Ghana’s six mobile telecommunications companies. With Ghana reaching the milestone of 100% mobile penetration in the past year, according to local media, content that is easily consumable on mobile handsets will be increasingly important in the Ghanaian context. This higher penetration rate makes monetisation of mobile-based media possible.

NEWSPAPERS: The Daily Graphic, the largest national newspaper in Ghana, is state-owned. This is followed in terms of circulation figures by the Daily Guide and The Chronicle, which are both privately owned. Ghana’s most widely read business publication is the Business & Financial Times, which won the title of Business Newspaper of the Year 2012 at the Maiden Gold Awards for Business Journalism in December. The publication also prints a monthly glossy magazine, Business Times Africa, and is the primary organiser of the annual Ghana Economic Forum, the second iteration of which was held in May 2013.

A clear example of the continued importance of newspapers was the rollout of The Daily Graphic’s redesign in June 2013. The new design is aimed at keeping the newspaper relevant, with dedicated sections to women’s issues and metropolitan affairs. The redesign also includes a shift in layout, with bolder text and more photo and infographic reporting. The changes symbolise a broader effort to be a more independent publication within the sector, supported through advertisement revenue.

All of Ghana’s major publications maintain online presences, with most offering their online content free of charge. Furthermore, the MoI has signalled its willingness to support the digital migration of Ghana’s publicly owned media outlets.

RADIO: Radio remains an important outlet in Ghana for a number of reasons; its ability to reach rural regions makes it attractive, and it remains one of the most sought-after features of Ghanaian mobile phone Most-visited local websites in Ghana buyers. Furthermore, the country’s literacy rate – though improving – stands at 67% for men and 46% for women, making radio broadcasts both in English and local dialects the most accessible form of media for a significant portion of the population.

In April 2013 the government announced that it had issued a batch of 12 new radio station licences, three of which will be community stations. Meanwhile, Google Ghana has supported three broadcasters, Citi FM, YFM and Multimedia Group’s Joy FM, to expand the capacity and presence of radio stations on the internet. Google has consulted with these stations about online audience targeting and Google AdSense – an advertising programme run by the internet giant that allows content sites to generate revenue per advert click – as a business solution.

One of the key trends in radio over the past few years has been towards the establishment of loose networks of multiple ownership and affiliation in the FM radio market, with rural and suburban areas forming network partnerships to build their outreach and expand market share. Furthermore, in May 2013 the Media Foundation for West Africa launched a programme to create radio stations in rural regions of Ghana focused on local community issues. More specifically, the plan calls for the foundation to develop six partner radio stations in six districts and to encourage civic engagement in rural areas.

TELEVISION: Ghana Today Television (GTV) is the national public broadcaster and is run by the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. The station was launched in July 1965 as GBC TV. Today it has offices throughout the nation and remains one of the country’s five largest television stations. It wasn’t until 1997 that Ghana’s first private television network, TV 3, entered the market; TV 3 is owned jointly between TV 3 of Malaysia and local investors, with the Malaysian firm holding a majority stake. Following the entrance of TV 3, Metro TV entered the market in 1998 as a joint consortium of GTV and local private sector investors.

DIGITAL SWITCHOVER: The key issue in the television sector currently is the pending migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television broadcasting. In 2006 Ghana signed the Geneva Agreement, which established the Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting Plan to end analogue broadcasting transmission for television. The plan calls for the digital service to be unveiled in stages. The first phase of the rollout will cover 66% of the country and is expected to be completed by December 31, 2014.

The process by which the migration is due to be conducted was developed by the NCA in 2010. The process will involve the development of 53 transmission stations across the country, plus additional redundant capacity transmitters. The switchover plan is set to cost Ghana $95m, a sum far outweighed by the projected benefits, with some estimates showing that digital migration will generate an additional GHS1.4bn ($720m) in GDP, as well as generate some GHS198m ($102m) in additional tax revenues for the Treasury by the end of this decade.

Under the plan, each TV equipped to receive digital transmissions will be able to receive nearly twice as many television stations per frequency. The digital system employs new DVB-T2 technology, which allows as many as 21 channels per frequency, as opposed to the current DVB-T1 analogue system, which only allows 12 channels per frequency.

Ghanaians who do not own digital television sets will need to purchase new televisions or an appropriate adapter to access the digital content. The NCA has already established standards for the necessary decoders and some television stations, such as Multi TV, Multichoice and GTV, are already distributing decoders to their customers.

Multichoice, in particular, has sought to raise public awareness of the pending transition with an outreach campaign to local journalists. The measure will allow the freeing up of 168 MHz of broadband capacity for possible use by the telecoms sector. Under the framework of the original Geneva Agreement, Ghana has until June 2015 to meet its obligations and migrate to digital broadcasts.

In an effort to leapfrog the digital transition, Chinese satellite TV company Hisense launched satellite television service in Ghana in May 2013 with the aim of attracting subscribers from rural areas. Hisense has pledged to offer rural customers broadcast quality that is superior to digital or analogue broadcasts available in their local communities.

TV CONTENT: Most of the major television stations produce their own content, but a number of independent media houses also seek to develop content for the sector, including Charterhouse Productions, Village Communication, Channel Two Communications, Sparrow Productions and Eagle Productions, as well as smaller entities.

“Production houses fill a need in the Ghanaian media landscape, allowing media houses and channels to purchase readymade content rather than invest in content that has yet to be developed,” David Ampofo, the managing director of Channel Two Communications, told OBG.

One of the current trends in Ghana is an increase in the amount of news reporting from outside of Accra – the capital – Kumasi and Takoradi, an important city for the business sector. To that end, a number of companies, including Metro TV, have sought to develop their capacity for reporting in underreported areas by acquiring small TV transmitters that fit into specially made backpacks that use mobile technology to allow broadcasts.

As a result, small crews of two to three video journalists can report on issues and broadcast their footage back to media distribution centres for editing and production. Metro TV, one of Ghana’s five national TV stations, has also recently launched a new format – one that includes more newsbreaks in both its primetime and regular programming.

OUTLOOK: Another key trend in Ghana’s media sector has been a convergence of services. For example, Joy FM and other Ghanaian radio stations have expanded to include internet and television networks. Technology is likely to play a role in the media sector’s consolidation with a domestically made “TV Tablet”. This new tablet computer was launched by Alltel, a member of Klujeson International, and allows users the functionality of a tablet PC centred on television features and layout. The company previously released a host of “K-pad” branded tablets in 2012, though none with built-in TV functionality.

Looking ahead, social media will likely become more important for the dissemination and promotion of media sources. According to Alexa, a California-based research arm of online retail site Amazon.com, four of Ghana’s 15 most popular websites were news sites in 2013. These include Ghana Web, My Joy Online, Peace FM and Goal.com, which focuses exclusively on football. This suggests that, while revenues may be dropping for traditional media ventures, there may be greater potential for further growth online.