The Chairman of the Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas, Dr. Steve Manteaw, has urged journalists to increase in-depth reportage and analysis of the emerging oil and gas industry, because of the potential of the resource to boost economic growth and help reduce poverty.
He observed that oil and gas presented complexities in all its dimensions, such as being highly specialised and containing a wide range of disciplines such as geology, geophysics, and chemistry among others, and that it was imperative to report adequately on the subject, because “it has the potential to erode democratic accountability.”
In his view, oil and gas tend to have specialised audiences and usually confined to specialised publications, thus, not very much was reported on the subject in the mainstream media, but there were compelling reasons for the media to provide detailed information to the general public.
These include the fact that ownership of the resource rests with the people, and informing them would increase the demand side of accountability, as the resource is finite and cannot be wasted, and that the experience in most developing countries underscores the paradox of plenty.
Dr. Manteaw, who is also the Acting Editor of the Public Agenda newspaper, was speaking at a one-day workshop organised by his media house to share with other journalists, “The Skills and Ingredients of Oil and Gas Reporting” at Dodowa in the Eastern Region on Friday.
Among other things, the organisers aimed at exposing journalists to potential news sources in the petroleum industry, approaches and strategies to use, and interaction between research and advocacy organizations (RAOs) and the media on how to harness their synergies in pursuit of Ghana’s development agenda.
Dr. Manteaw told the participants that in reporting on oil and gas issues, it was important to recognise the industry as a very sensitive one, such that “one mis-reporting, and millions of dollars are wiped off peoples’ investments, and the state could also lose huge revenues.”
Also, “care and diligence are therefore of essence to build trust”, which requires journalists to cultivate news sources, not only in the industry, but also among civil society stakeholders, academia, and community activists.
He underscored the need for journalists to always carry out background checks on issues before attending events, and seek expert opinion on difficult or controversial issues to give the story the missing flavour.
“To be able to report competently on the sector, one needs a certain basic understanding of the industry, the issues they throw up, and their news worthiness,” he advised, adding it was important to focus on governance issues, in terms of arrangements in place to manage the resource.
He observed that transparency and accountability were key to good governance, hence, to interrogate the policy, legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks of the industry, journalists have to mirror the industry in a way that would enhance transparency and accountability.
Natural resource extraction comes with negative impacts on the environment and society, thus, journalists have to understand the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and the Strategic Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (SESIA), as well as the environmental management plans for the country.
He acknowledged that the industry was replete with technical jargons and concepts, and these have to be simplified to make them comprehensible to the average reader, listener, or viewer, saying, “the journalist should therefore, limit him/herself to such details as are necessary for appreciating the governance, environmental and social impacts, revenue management, and sharing aspects of petroleum activities.”
Professor Audrey Gadzekpo, speaking on harnessing synergies between RAOs and the media, said it was important for both groups to develop a stronger partnership in the accountability cycle, to help transform Ghana’s development.
She said RAOs have to understand that the media provides an efficient means of communication and accountability between governments and citizens, and remained one of the few institutions that have the right to criticise governments, making the media indispensable to Ghana’s development.
On the other hand, she noted that RAOs use research to press for policy change in representing the interests of the poor, and serve as a link between policy makers and the society’s needs, as well as build the capacity of groups to help them understand important issues.
However, in spite of the vital roles played by each of the groups, there exists a poor link between them, with complaints on both sides against each other.
This requires the media to reposition itself as a tactical and strategic partner to RAOs, and work beyond the traditional reporting, by practicing advocacy journalism, because the media has the ability to influence important national issues.
Also, she urged the media to complement the political angles of their reports and research results with reliable sources within RAOs which have the requisite knowledge on major issues that may appear technical to journalists.
The RAOs also need to be more media savvy and understand the media culture, so as to focus their media outreach programmes properly, she advised, adding, “You have to meet the media more outside of planned events, and provide them with clearer messages.”
Furthermore, Professor Gazdekpo urged RAOs to target the appropriate media in sending out their messages to the general public, while ensuring that such messages were also concise, and well interpreted, to make them more readable.