Squirrel Talk: Data Journalism in Ghana and West Africa

The Media Foundation West Africa organizes data trainings for journalists from Ghana and other West African countries. We talked to Program Manager Abigail Larbi Odei about the Media landscape in the region and her views on data journalism.

What is the state of Data Journalism in Ghana and in West Africa?

The practice of data journalism is on the ascendancy now as a lot of journalists in Ghana and West Africa are beginning to adopt it in their work. Using data visualisations to present data, figures and facts is becoming popular in some newsrooms, especially in those who are more online conscious and have a strong commitment to reaching their online audience. Again, during elections, data journalism becomes more prominent as most media houses have monitoring tools to analyse and report on the polls.

Data journalism is changing the face of news production around the world. In Ghana and West Africa, this trend is catching up but not fast enough. This is a result of technological advancements and the need for journalists to increase their interaction with several other fields such as design, data science, computer science and statistics to produce data rich, compelling and accurate content.

Are there any teams doing data journalism in Ghana? Can you point us towards any journalists doing great data projects?

I am yet to see dedicated desks in the newsrooms that only focus on Data Journalism. It still appears a specialized area, that requires training and constant practice to master. However, there are a number of journalists who are doing some data journalism work – able to pull the data set, clean it up and present it.

I can mention Kojo Akoto Boateng of Citi FM/Citi TV and Raymond Acquah of Joy FM/Multi-media group both in Accra. Then there is the Premium Times in Nigeria. There may be several other individual journalists and newsrooms that we don’t know of yet.

More generally speaking, what is the Media landscape like in Ghana? What are the main channels, how do people access news?

Ghana has a vibrant media that plays a key role in the development of the country. The main media channels in Ghana through which people access news are Television, Radio, Newspaper, News portals (Websites) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). We currently have over 400 radio stations, 75 authorised TV operators and at least 40 active newspapers. Also, over 10 million Ghanaians use the internet to access news according to reports by Global Digital Agencies this year. It is believed that much of Ghana’s growth in internet usage is attributed to more affordable smartphones and mobile data plans.

What are currently the main topics in the Ghanaian media?

There are a lot of running stories in the Ghanaian media currently, but the following are the main ones with a lot of attention:

  • The state of our public buildings, an example is the current state of the newly built Kumasi mall
  • The collapse of banks and many financial houses, for instance the shutdowm of the gold dealership company Menzgold Company Limited and The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC)
  • The acquisition of Drones to transport medical items to some remote areas
  • The government’s refusal to pass the Right to Information bill into law

What are the main challenges for journalists working with data in Ghana/West Africa?

There is generally limited access to information or data on many critical issues. Authorities are sometimes apprehensive of what journalists could do with data, hence tend to limit access to them. Consequently, in Ghana and other West African countries, governments are refusing to pass a Right to Information law which would give journalists the legal backing to demand for information. Also, many journalists lack the adequate skill to search, process, analyze and present data. There is also limited access to data visualization tools. Another challenge is the high cost of internet.

Ghana still doesn‘t have a Freedom of Information Act in Ghana. Why? What is the Media Foundation’s stand towards this?

The right to information is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the country’s constitution and recognized as a right under international conventions on human rights. The Right to Information (RTI) bill in Ghana is been lagging for over a decade and still not passed. This year there were lots of promises by the government to pass it but the next promise is that it will be passed in 2019. I think the main challenge has been the lack of political will to pass the bill. The MFWA is a member of the right to information coalition in Ghana. We have been very active in the campaigns to get the law passed into law.

Can you describe the work of the Media Foundation? What are the Media Foundation‘s objectives?

The Media Foundation for West Africa seeks to promote and defend the right to freedom of expression of all persons—particularly the media in West Africa—and promote Media professionalism and sustainability. The organisation runs three main programmes: Freedom of Expression, Media and Good Governance and Institutional Development. The main objectives of the organization is to help improve the protection of the right to freedom of expression by state and non-state actors in West Africa, and also to enable the media in West Africa to be more independent and professional, and contribute to democracy and development in the sub region.

How does the Media Foundation try to encourage journalists to use data in their stories?

Over the years, the Media Foundation for West Africa has worked to promote and enhance the work of journalists in West Africa by organizing workshops and trainings on a number of themes including conflict-sensitive reporting during elections, fact-checking, SDGs reporting, women’s rights reporting, Local governance reporting, data journalism among others. These have been geared towards equipping journalists with the knowledge and capacity to do more effective reporting. Media training and capacity building forms a core of the Media and Good Governance program here at the MFWA and also a key part of the organizations current strategy. To this end, we continue to seek support and also collaborate with key organizations such as the Deutsche Welle Akademie to deliver such trainings.

What is the response towards this amongst Ghanaian journalists? Are they interested in data journalism?

The advent of technology and the abundance of data about almost everything make data reporting an important aspect of journalism. Therefore, in Ghana many journalists are interested in data journalism as it is relevant to the expectations of the news audience. When we organized the first data journalism training in Accra, there was a huge enthusiasm amongst the journalists who participated. The feedback from them has been awesome. When a press statement was put out ahead of the training in November, several journalists called the MFWA office to enquire about how they can participate. This points to certain level of knowledge gap and demand around the subject of data journalism. Going forward, this is one area the MFWA will prioritize in the coming year.


Abigail Larbi Odei

Abigail Larbi Odei is the Program Manager for Media Development & Good Governance at the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), where she focuses on initiating, designing and managing interventions aimed at strengthening the capacity of the media in West Africa as effective enablers of participatory, transparent and accountable governance in the region. Prior to joining the MFWA, Abigail worked as a mainstream journalist with Ghana’s National broadcaster – Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (on both television and radio). Abigail holds a Masters Degree in Communication Studies from the University of Ghana, where she focused on Public Relations, Research and Advertising. She is also a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow

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