On October 14, 2022, religious leaders in Ghana who were spotted praying at a local galamsey site received numerous insults on social media.
The media conveniently chose to broadcast the images of the prayers rather than the full account of the visit, despite the religious leaders explaining the purpose of the visit.
Following this, on October 17, 2022, religious leaders spoke to the media and urged the government to ban galamsey. Unfortunately, unlike the film showing the religious leaders praying at the galamsey site, this press release did not receive the same media attention.
One wonders why the media that are responsible for informing and educating citizens could behave like this and not tell the whole story.
The media in all societies, but especially in democracies like ours, must present facts in order to better inform the public. Moreover, it must provide a forum for knowledge to be examined and discussed from all angles.
On March 20, 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Media Foundation for West Africa urged journalists not to use sensationalism in their coverage of the outbreak.
The Foundation said: “Journalists should reduce the use of sensational words and phrases in their reporting so as not to incite fear and panic. Media professionals should be vigilant in selecting images and videos that may mislead or convey the wrong message. Media managers should also be aware that their platforms are meant to inform and educate.”
But has the media in Ghana adhered to these guidelines?
Besides how the media has handled the story of religious leaders, there are many other stories where the media chooses sensationalism over the need to report the truth of the story.
I agree that it’s a typical tactic to use sensationalism to get an audience’s attention. The concern is how often the media uses shocking language, exaggeration and blatant deception. The ethical conflicts that sensationalism gives rise to with journalistic ethics also raise questions about this.
The exaggerated nature violates a journalist’s duty to be neutral and truthful. It is the responsibility of journalists to inform the public of the truth and to avoid lying in their reporting. Sensationalism is incompatible with many moral standards supporting these strategies.
Sensationalism is the practice of sacrificing accuracy or decency in order to attract media attention or the interest of the general public. Such incidents are sensationalized, ranging from the use of fake headlines to spreading false information.
The effects of these publications on people’s lives can be felt. When sensationalism is used in news stories, I worry because the facts get twisted and people can’t trust the stories anymore.
The National Media Commission should be concerned in the digital age, especially as the term is widely used to describe content deliberately created to grab attention and woo viewers.
The authors of the titles are aware that they will suffer financial consequences if no one reads the content. This encourages them to choose a provocative title.
Sensationalism will not fade because it has become too entrenched in our culture. The interaction between those who create and those who consume matter will always be complicated. The best thing for us to do is to be wary of this information and work to expose the lies that are told to us.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin recently briefed EWTN staff and associates at a dinner in Frascati, Italy, “Truth and the values that flow from it must be defended without fear.
The media in Ghana at this crucial time, when we need everyone on deck in the fight against galamsey and to turn the economy around, cannot resort to sensationalism given the disastrous consequences of this approach.
The people of Ghana being aware of the magnitude of the task ahead of us as a country, should be able to detect what a sensational story is by following the steps below:
Choose reliable sources
Consuming information from reliable sources is the best way to avoid falling victim to the trap of a sensationalist editor. Do your homework and only read or watch information from sources with a good reputation for objectivity and impartiality.
Monitor your social media usage
Social media is fertile ground for sensationalism. Due to the way social media platforms are constructed, inauthentic and emotionally manipulative content often receives preferential consideration. Take everything you read or see on social media with a grain of salt to avoid believing fake news.
Identify the clickbait
Clickbait is usually meant to entice readers with exciting headlines before letting them down with a boring or uninformative article. Clickbaiting is a popular method used by YouTube creators and social media influencers nowadays to increase their audience size.
Thinking critically about the news you read is perhaps the most crucial thing you can do to avoid sensationalism. Take a step back whenever you read or watch the news and ask yourself if the story is plausible enough.
In summary, the media, fully aware of their duties to the public, must ensure that truth – and facts – always prevail in a responsible reporting environment since facts are sacred and opinions are unrestricted.
For this reason, the National Media Commission should not ignore its mandate to oversee media activities in Ghana.
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