Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas once said “Journalism is about results. It’s about affecting your community or your society in the most progressive way”.

One of the tenets of every democratic country is the existence of Press Freedom, where the media is allowed to operate freely without any interference or oppression. The Ghanaian media have enjoyed Press Freedom to a larger extent.

I’ve always seen the media as a force that bridges the gap between government and the citizenry as a result of its role as a purveyor of information from government to the citizens and serving as the mouthpiece of the people.  It has over the years being a watchdog on those who wield political power thus being called the fourth estate of government aside the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive. As a result, the populace believes most of the things the media put out in the public domain.

Over the years, theories have been posited to justify the power and influence the media has over people. One of them is the Agenda setting theory which states that mass media determines the issues that concern the public rather than the public’s views. Under this theory, the issues that receive the most attention from media becomes the issues that the public discusses, debates, and demands action on. This means that the media is determining what issues and stories the public thinks about.

Erwing Goffman in his 1974 publication propounded the framing theory. This theory discusses how the media present the information they wish to disseminate. Frames influence the perception of the news by the audience. This form of agenda-setting not only tells what to think about but also how to think about it. The presentation is thought to influence the perception of the information by the audience.

In recent times, I’ve observed the online media in Ghana has capitalized on this and misled readers through their headlines. As a consumer of media content, the headline of a news story gives me a fair idea of what the story is about and just like other people who surf the internet, we base our judgments on it and sometimes don’t bother to go into the details of the story for lack of time.

I recently came across a misleading news headline that read “Only brilliant students will enjoy Free SHS-Napo”. To those who don’t know what the Free Senior High School policy is, it is a social intervention policy by the Akufo-Addo led NPP administration to cover the full fees of students who qualify for Senior High School in Ghana. This policy was a campaign promise the President made to Ghanaians in 2016 and is expected to kickstart in September this year.

As we all know in Ghana, Major opposition parties in Ghana won’t hesitate to take a bite at the ruling government when the opportunity presents itself. My friends who belong to the opposition party in Ghana made a big fuss about this story. They tagged President Akufo-Addo as a liar who lied to Ghanaians to get voted into power.  I decided to find out the content of the news item because it was contradictory to what the President said in February this year. To my utter dismay, what the news portal quoted as what the Educational Minister said had no relation to the headline. The news portal said ‘According to Mathew Opoku Prempeh, students who fail at the basic education level will not benefit from the policy as government readies to roll out’. He was quoted as saying “Since people want to benefit, they will employ their children to study very hard to pass the exams, because there is still a pass there. It is not how the free will be to enjoy, but you have to pass an exam and indeed to study, so let’s get that one done first.

“If you fail an exam how can you benefit from something free; I am surprised. Even now it’s not everyone that gets the chance to go in even with what they pay because if you fail, you fail. How can somebody who has failed progress. Even when COCOBOD is giving scholarships, don’t you have to pass to benefit, for those whose children don’t’ pass, do they get scholarships?” he said.

From the excerpt, I didn’t see the word “brilliant” in the Minister’s submission. I then asked myself; Is it only brilliant students who pass examinations? What does it mean to pass an examination? Is passing an examination synonymous with excelling in an examination?

Based on my status as a student and one who went through the basic educational system in Ghana, I understand a pass mark as a minimum mark needed to pass an examination. When I was preparing to write my Basic Education Certificate Examinations (B.E.C.E) to enable me further my SHS education, I was supposed to pass all core subjects. Failure to do so disqualifies you from getting admission to any Senior High School in Ghana. Secondly, there was a general minimum pass grade (20+ but less than 30) one must meet before being considered for admission. In addition, every Secondary School also had their various cut-off grades that a prospective student was supposed to fall within before being considered for admission.

The best grade a prospective SHS student could attain was grade 06. Any student who got grade 06 and above (20+ but below 30) has passed and qualifies for admission into SHS. A student with grade 6 and a student with grade 19 have all passed per the minimum grade but the student with grade 19 cannot be admitted into some Senior High Schools because he/she doesn’t fall within the schools cut-off point. That doesn’t mean the grade 20 student won’t be admitted into any SHS in Ghana because, there are schools that take that grade and moreover, the student has the minimum grade required.

Based on this analogy which we all are aware of, what the education minister was trying to say is, in order for students to benefit from the Free Senior High School policy, they have to first learn hard and meet the general pass mark that’d qualify them for admission to SHS. A grade 20 student equally qualifies for SHS just as a grade 6 student even though one is brilliant than the other. Does this analogy mean that Free SHS policy is only for brilliant students?

I believe the online news portal just used that headline for sensationalism even though they’ve come out to apologize after the Minister issued a rejoinder clarifying his stance.

This instance is just a fragment of the numerous misleading news headlines that flood our social media timeline daily.

One of the Guidelines in the Ghana Journalists Association ( GJA CODE OF ETHICS ) states that; Journalists must ensure news headlines are fully warranted by the contents of the articles they accompany. I believe all journalists have to factor in this guideline when developing headlines for news items before putting them in the public domain.

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