Freedom House alleges how Beijing is influencing media in Ghana

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Ghanaian journalists

Freedom House has alleged in its latest report how Beijing is influencing media in Ghana.

The report finds the CCP is seeking to shape public opinion, secure its hold on power, and advance its global policy priorities through a multi-billion-dollar media influence campaign.

Beijing’s Global Media Influence: Authoritarian Expansion and the Power of Democratic Resilience, looks at how 30 countries are under pressure by Beijing’s global media influence campaign.

The report includes country findings detailing the level of influence faced and the strength of the local response, then classifies each country as Resilient or Vulnerable to Beijing’s influence efforts.

Ghana is rated as Vulnerable to Beijing’s media influence efforts, facing
Low media influence efforts and demonstrating Low local resilience and response.

Key findings of the Report is published below:

Increased influence efforts: Beijing’s efforts to influence Ghanaian media increased during the coverage period of 2019–21. The Chinese embassy adjusted its response to negative coverage over illegal mining by deepening its relations with local journalists through a WhatsApp coordination group and by partnering with privately owned outlets.

Limited impact to date: Chinese media influence efforts in Ghana have been limited to date. Economic issues are of overriding importance to the local population, and public opinion toward China has become increasingly negative as a result of illegal mining concerns. Most Ghanaians are not very critical of the Chinese government, however, and instead hold the Ghanaian government primarily responsible for poor judgment regarding investments that have come at a high cost to the country (see Impact).

Content-sharing agreements with state and private media: China’s official news agency, Xinhua, has several partnerships with Ghanaian media, including content-sharing agreements with three influential state-run outlets: Ghana News Agency, Ghanaian Times, and Daily Graphic. These outlets often publish favorable material about China, and Ghana News Agency’s reports are picked up by other local outlets. Starting during the coverage period, private Ghanaian media outlets like the Finder newspaper and Business & Financial Times also reached content-sharing agreements with Chinese sources or published their paid advertorials (see Propaganda).

Positive coverage after subsidized journalist trainings: The Chinese government has sought to cultivate relationships with local journalists by sponsoring their travel to China for training programs. Some reported that they returned from such trips with a positive view of China, which they attempted to weave into their reporting, though others remained skeptical. Such trips occurred in 2019, after which the COVID-19 pandemic halted international travel. Journalists who attended the trainings were added to a group on the WhatsApp messaging platform and presented with statements and information from the Chinese embassy, some of which was later published (see Propaganda).

No disinformation campaigns: During the coverage period, there were no documented disinformation campaigns that targeted or reached news consumers in Ghana (see Disinformation campaigns).

No direct censorship: There was no evidence of direct censorship during the coverage period, though in 2017 the Chinese embassy warned that local media coverage threatened bilateral relations and demanded that the Ghanaian government “guide” local media. Ghanaian journalists say the embassy tends to build relationships with the media and encourage positive news coverage rather than attempting to dissuade them from covering certain issues (see Censorship).

Growing control over content-distribution infrastructure: Chinese companies own or are involved in a portion of Ghana’s content-distribution infrastructure. This involvement extends to digital and satellite television services provided by the China-based company StarTimes, whose contract was canceled in 2015 and then reinstated by a new Ghanaian government in 2018—a decision that may have been subject to corrupt influence. Huawei is engaged in the construction and maintenance of the telecommunications infrastructure. The country’s most popular social media application is the short-video platform TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Another Chinese company, Tecno, holds a large portion of mobile phone market in Ghana (see Control over content).

Limited Chinese diaspora media: The Chinese expatriate and diaspora population in Ghana is estimated by Beijing at 30,000 to 50,000 people. Expatriates have on occasion publicly responded to events in China, for instance by holding a demonstration in 2019 in support of the Chinese government’s crackdown on prodemocracy protests in Hong Kong. Chinese-language media in Ghana are limited largely to outlets that publish on the Chinese social media platform WeChat or are linked to the Chinese Communist Party (see Diaspora media).

Strong tradition of press freedom and independent civil society: Despite the fact that large Ghanaian media outlets are controlled by politically connected individuals, there is a strong underlying tradition of watchdog journalism, and Ghana’s media sector was at one point ranked the freest in Africa. Ghana is home to several civil society organizations that work to strengthen press freedom and good governance, counter disinformation, and promote fact-checking and media literacy (see Resilience and response).

Weak regulatory enforcement, media freedom under pressure: Ghana’s political leaders have developed close relations with Beijing and are rarely critical of the bilateral relationship. While the media sector is guided by the Ghana National Media Policy, its provisions are not upheld by statutory requirements, and enforcement of rules on foreign and cross-ownership is weak. An increase in politicized arrests of journalists during the coverage period is cause for alarm, and one prominent investigative journalist was murdered in 2019 (see Resilience and response).

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