Sustainability of indigenous language broadcasting in Ghana

This section concerns the sustainability of indigenous media broadcasting with reference to Peace FM. Malatji (2014) argued that the indigenous language press in Africa has not done well, or even survived, through the years since colonialism. Therefore, there is a need to examine Peace FM’s approach to its sustainability. The data yielded three major angles that relate to sustainability: content, financial power and professionalism or quality journalism.

Media content

A number of content-related factors were suggested as a panacea for media sustainability. The discourse of media sustainability is often approached from the normative angle pertaining to the survival of media organisations. Quality content, audience satisfaction with the content or message, and language use were found to have the potential to influence sustainability in a saturated media environment like Ghana. Monney stated that media content is a product that should be packaged in an appealing manner to attract an audience that will eventually lead to sustainability (Interview with the author, January 2019). Language has a key role to play in ensuring this attraction and sustainability. A senior reporter and producer at Peace FM, Isaac Kwame Owusu, stated that,

for us, our target is to bring radio to the ordinary Ghanaian, and the ordinary Ghanaian - between you and me [i.e. informally] - is somebody who is able to understand the kind of information we are putting across and the language we are putting the information in.

(Interview with the author, December 2018)

This belief implies that sustainability is tied to the audience and their ability to understand and engage with media content. Thus, one can understand the need for Peace FM to use an indigenous language and embellish the presentations using oral attributes and culture of the language as a strategy to attract and maintain the audience. Yet, Paterson (1998) has argued that the quality of media content in emerging societies is low, which is not good for media sustainability. This is the case despite the proliferation of media organisations that are saturating audiences with information. Hence, Dal-Zotto (2015) proposed that boosting the quality of media content and diversification is key to media sustainability in this era of information saturation. It appears that the ability of Peace FM to command its listeners

African language journalism in Ghana 217 is suggestive of its sustainability potential. As Abramson (2010) argued, media organisations have adopted different strategies, like audience participation and collaboration, to meet audience needs and remain competitive. Thus, Peace FM’s strategy has included the use of an indigenous language in its broadcasts, and the application of embellishments and jokes in an orality framework should be seen as a way of ensuring sustainability.

Financial power

Financial implications for sustainable journalism is another key issue. Media organisations are also businesses. They require funds to develop programmes and maintain their workforce and infrastructure. According to Monney, ‘media outlets are businesses and they need to fend for themselves in order to stay alive, and this requires financial oxygen’ (Interview with the author, January 2019). Most media organisations in Africa have financial challenges, which reflects the harsh economic conditions facing most African countries due to weak economic structures (Voltmer 2008). Furthermore, most indigenous language media organisations often do not have the resources to develop quality media content (Salawu 2015). For example, in Ghana, as in many other African countries, most media organisations are unable to pay living wages or salaries to their journalists. Therefore, developing good programmes is a challenge.

Hollifield (see Matschke 2015) has identified three financial factors that are germane to media sustainability: technology; economics and public policy. According to Hollifield, media functions at an intersection of these three resources and ‘media sustainability really necessitates a functioning framework involving all three areas’. Technology is central to media production and distribution. Without it, technology-driven content cannot be produced and transmitted to reach the audience. The process of acquiring technology and producing and distributing content involves economic resources (Dal-Zotto 2015), and the availability of the economic resources will determine the technology' or infrastructure available to the media organisation, as well as the quality of such programming. Often, because indigenous language media lack economic resources due to a poor advertising base (Malatji 2014; Salawu 2015), their content is of low quality, and this poses a threat to their sustainability.

There is no doubt that content production is expensive (Abramson 2010), especially for indigenous language media. This is partly because their programming content is unique from mainstream English language media. For instance, the additional costs for translations and attracting and equipping newscasters or presenters with language skills in both English and the local language adds to the financial burden of the organisations. Meanwhile, these people should also possess journalistic skills. However, most often, people who train formally' in journalism schools lack the linguistic versatility required in indigenous language radio broadcasting. Therefore, to save costs, indigenous language media organisations employ those who are untrained professionally but who can speak the local language fluently. But this invariably has implications for quality' content and professionalism.

Emmanuel Akorli, a Senior Correspondent with Peace FM, argued that,

because many lack formal training, sometimes their work is found wanting and I feel that training should be emphasized so that those who are doing work in the local language can also benefit from training to help them improve on their output.

(Interview with the author, December 2018)

Akorli’s opinion implies that the economic resources needed to recruit the appropriate staff could be lacking. This normally results in some stations recruiting ‘unqualified’ personnel who then end up over-dramatising the news and damaging its quality.

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