Ghana

Vulnerable
Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
Low
29 85
Local Resilience & Response
Low
25 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

Report by: Angeli Datt and Dr. Aurelia Ayisi

 

  • 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).

header2 Background

Ghana has a diverse and vibrant media landscape that includes state and privately owned television and radio stations as well as a number of independent newspapers and magazines. The country has a status of Free in Freedom in the World 2022, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties,1 and a status of Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2021, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual report on internet freedom.2

Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. The country has a relatively strong record of upholding civil liberties, though there are some weaknesses in judicial independence and the rule of law. Ghana’s political sphere is highly polarized, with most citizens supporting one of two main parties, and one-third of the media sector is owned by politicians or people linked to political parties.3 Government agencies infringe on press freedom by harassing and arresting journalists, and a trend of attacks on those who cover politically sensitive issues has grown worse since 2018.4

Ghana and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations on July 5, 1960.5 The two countries have a close political and economic relationship. Ghana’s president since 2017, Nana Akufo-Addo, visited China in September 2018 and signed several bilateral deals; Ghana joined the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank during this period.6 The following year, Chinese vice-premier Sun Chunlan visited Ghana.7 Ghana is a member of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), and Beijing’s state-run China-Africa Development Fund has an office in Accra.8 China is Ghana’s largest trading partner. In 2019, the Chinese government released the first tranche of funding under a 2018 agreement whereby China would provide $2 billion in financing for infrastructure projects like roads, railways, and bridges in exchange for 5 percent of Ghana’s bauxite reserves, which would supply China’s aluminum industry.9 The agreement stirred controversy over its possible environmental impact.

According to Chinese government estimates, the Chinese expatriate and diaspora population in Ghana ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 people.10 Members of the Chinese expatriate community who work for Chinese companies are based in the capital, Accra, or in the cities of Tema and Kumasi. There are also likely thousands of people from China who are involved in illegal small-scale gold mining, a practice known locally as “galamsey.”11 Galamsey had been a concern since at least the early 2000s, but it became a major focal point in bilateral relations in 2017, when the newly elected Ghanaian government acted on campaign pledges by launching a five-year strategy to end illegal mining, and the media generally endorsed the effort.12 Most of the Chinese miners were reported to be from Shanglin County in the Guangxi region, and many have been arrested as part of the crackdown.13 It is unlikely that the estimated number of Chinese people involved in galamsey are included in the Chinese government’s statistics on expatriates in Ghana, as Beijing opposes the involvement of Chinese nationals in illegal mining.

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives

 

Key narratives

Chinese state media and diplomatic messaging in Ghana promote the idea that the country is at the “forefront” of Beijing’s relations in Africa and that China can support Ghana’s economic development and pandemic response.1 Diplomats often note that Ghana was one of the first countries in Africa to establish diplomatic relations with China.2 Chinese officials have also said they “greatly appreciate” Ghana’s adherence to the one-China policy, as the country played a decisive role in the People’s Republic of China taking up its seat at the United Nations in 1971, before which the seat was held by the government based in Taiwan.3

Another key narrative describes the “development opportunities” presented by Ghana’s relationship with China, underscoring China’s status as Ghana’s largest investor and trading partner. Diplomatic messaging often highlights key Ghanaian officials’ praise for Chinese-funded infrastructure projects and private investment in the country, or promotes opening ceremonies for Chinese investment projects, a common public diplomacy tactic.4 Officials argue that China has “never been absent” from Ghana’s economic development and that “China’s aid, financing, investment, and contracting of projects” has been crucial to Ghana’s economy, which is the second largest in West Africa.5 Notably absent from such narratives is a response from Chinese diplomats and state media to the negative economic stories in local media, on topics such as galamsey, which tend to influence ordinary Ghanaians’ views on China.

A major narrative during the coverage period relates to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese government’s domestic response, and Sino-African cooperation. One strand of this narrative promotes China’s battle against the coronavirus and claims that it demonstrates the superiority of the CCP governance model: “Wherever there’s an outbreak … there are the centralized and unified leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC).… This is the unique advantage of China’s system, which once again demonstrates the superiority of the socialism with Chinese characteristics.”6 Chinese diplomats in Ghana have also amplified the official claim that the Chinese government acted in a “timely, open, transparent, and responsible manner” in responding to the pandemic, despite evidence that CCP authorities suppressed information in the early days of the outbreak and punished Chinese doctors for speaking out.7

As a part of its COVID-19 messaging, Beijing also praises Sino-African and Sino-Ghanaian solidarity and cooperation, or what CCP leader Xi Jinping describes as the “brotherly friendship between China and Africa.”8 Chinese officials and state media declare that they “will never forget the friends who helped us at a crucial time,” while drawing attention to Chinese medical assistance to Ghana.9

In one incident during the coverage period, Chinese officials in Ghana disseminated a narrative defending the Chinese government when faced with negative sentiment across Africa. In April 2020, reports that Black Africans in China were being denied essential services amid the country’s COVID-19 response, and in some cases were evicted from their homes and placed in mandatory quarantine, led to an outcry in Ghana and other countries.10 Ghana’s foreign minister summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest, and a group of African ambassadors in China sent a letter to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.11 The Chinese embassy in Accra reissued statements from the ministry in Beijing denying that people from Africa faced discrimination in China and insisting that “China treats all foreign nationals equally.”12 The embassy spokesperson also issued a statement directly to Ghanaians, saying, “We hope that our African friends could show understanding and support to China’s epidemic prevention measures,” and highlighting the Chinese government’s delivery of medical supplies to African countries.13

Other important narratives include those related to the CCP’s domestic human rights abuses and US-China competition. Chinese diplomats have advanced a message that Xinjiang, the region where authorities have engaged in mass persecution and atrocities against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups, is an “incredible place” and that accusations of genocide are “an outright lie” designed to “weaken [the] local economy and contain China’s development.” This argument is likely tailored to attract sympathy from African political leaders who are concerned with economic development.14 State-linked Chinese actors also promote narratives casting the United States as a disruptive force in international affairs and global trade, while claiming that “China is a country with responsibility” and urging the international community to “stand firm and stand together at this darkest hour of protectionism.”15

Key avenues of content dissemination

Presence of state media in Ghana: Chinese state media content is available in the country in English and Chinese through digital, print, television, and radio outlets. For example, English-language China Global Television Network (CGTN) and Chinese-language China Central Television (CCTV) programming is available on cable television, digital terrestrial television, or the services of the satellite broadcasters StarTimes, a China-based company, and DStv, headquartered in South Africa.16 CCTV-9, with English and Chinese programs, is available via digital terrestrial television broadcasts. The viewership numbers for these services are unknown. Xinhua has a bureau in Accra, and China Radio International (CRI) is aired on shortwave transmissions.17 Radio is the most popular medium in Ghana, which is home to nearly 500 different radio stations.18 English is the dominant and official language, spoken by 66 percent of the population, though Akan is the most widely spoken local language; Chinese state media do not offer content in Akan. Chinese state media have no social media accounts aimed at Ghana specifically, as they do for several other countries in Africa and the Global South. However, an examination of Facebook’s advertising library found that the global English-language CGTN Facebook page paid for ads targeting Ghanaian users in an effort to gain followers and reach local audiences. Since February 2021, CGTN has run 24 ads in Ghana to promote the television channel itself and amplify content about Chinese news or culture.19

Chinese state media partnerships with Ghanaian state media: Xinhua has several partnerships with its Ghanaian counterparts. Three influential state-run outlets—GNA, Ghanaian Times, and Daily Graphic—have content-sharing agreements with Xinhua.20 The Xinhua content is labeled, though GNA sometimes identifies such material as “Xinhua/GNA” even if it is merely republishing Xinhua pieces.21 GNA’s content is routinely picked up by other local outlets, potentially leading to further dissemination of Xinhua reporting. The Daily Graphic and Ghanaian Times are the second- and third-largest newspapers in Ghana by readership. According to a 2019 academic study of foreign news coverage in Ghana, Xinhua was the second and fourth most cited international newswire in the two papers, respectively, but overall Xinhua accounted for a little more than 5 percent of the foreign news published in Ghanaian media, compared with nearly 60 percent for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).22

The use of Xinhua content is also incorporated into agreements involving journalist trainings and trips to China. According to scholar Emeka Umejei, the Ghanaian partners “give Xinhua one full page or two thereabout, exclusive. In return, they go to China.”23 He added that the outlets with Xinhua partnerships “will never report anything that’s critical of China.” This perception is shared by Ghanaian journalists. According to a veteran journalist who requested anonymity, “most of the engagement happens with the state agencies, so Graphic Times, the Spectator, and Ghana News Agency. They come back [from trips to China] and write these fluffy articles and columns in the papers that we read.”24 In one example, Ghanaian Times published the full transcript of a press conference by China’s vice foreign minister in November 2021, following a phone call between Xi Jinping and US president Joseph Biden.25

According to another journalist who previously worked at GNA, the editors always advised reporters to double-check the sources of their information before they presented on live programs, especially when it had to do with China and the United States, so as to “avoid ‘problems’ with management.”26

According to scholar Michael Serwornoo, who conducted several interviews with Ghanaian media personnel, most of the journalists working at outlets with Xinhua content-sharing agreements view the use of such content, which is provided for free, as an “act of South-South cooperation.”27 However, he sees the arrangement as inherently “imperial,” because Chinese authorities expect Ghanaian media to publish Xinhua stories but do not commission any stories from Ghanaian media to publish via Xinhua.

Paid advertorials and partnerships with private media: While Chinese state actors’ media partnerships were initially limited to state-owned Ghanaian outlets, they have been expanded to private media like the Finder newspaper and Business & Financial Times.28 According to Umejei, the Finder “is where China has the biggest engagement in Ghana” due to an agreement with the Chinese embassy to publish print advertorials that are presented as “special issues,” often around the Chinese New Year. The content of the advertorials highlights Beijing’s engagement with Ghana, the benefits of that engagement, and similar Chinese activities elsewhere in Africa and other parts of the world. The newspaper also appears to have a content-sharing agreement with Xinhua. A Freedom House review of the Finder’s website found that Xinhua content has been published there since June 2019, often covering African news but also promoting donations from the Chinese embassy, Chinese foreign relations, and propaganda about Xi Jinping and Sino-African cooperation.29

Ghana’s second-largest newspaper by readership, Daily Guide, is owned by Fredrick (Freddie) Blay, the chairman of the ruling New Patriotic Party, and his family. In March 2021, Blay met with Chinese ambassador Lu Kun, after which Chinese state media reported that Blay “highly agreed with the achievements of the CCP in protecting human rights.”30 The Daily Guide does not have an overt partnership with Chinese state media, nor does it regularly publish Xinhua copy,31 but its owners’ relations with the Chinese government may affect its coverage, which tends to favor Beijing on topics such as the crackdown on prodemocracy protests in Hong Kong.32

Coordination with local media via WhatsApp group: The Chinese embassy in Accra is working to shape content published by local media though a coordination group on the messaging platform WhatsApp. The group includes local journalists, most of whom reportedly went on trips to China, and the embassy uses it to share statements and articles that are often sent on to editors for publication. The existence of the group was confirmed by a participating journalist, who was invited to join after attending a government-sponsored media training in China.33 The journalist told Freedom House that “it would be difficult to have any Ghanaian journalist reporting negatively about China, because of this strategy.” Another journalist, who works in a freelance capacity, also suggested that those participating in the WhatsApp group “may be compromised.”34

However, scholars have also pointed to skepticism among Ghanaian reporters and editors about publishing propaganda, indicating that the impact of the embassy’s efforts to promote such material through the WhatsApp group is likely limited by professional ethics.35

Subsidized journalist trips: Since at least 2017, the Chinese government has cultivated relationships with Ghanaian journalists by sponsoring their travel to China for trainings on Chinese political, media, and economic affairs.36 Some participants reported coming back from such trips with a positive view of China, which they attempted to weave into their reporting, though others maintained a degree of skepticism.

In 2019, five Ghanaian journalists were invited to a three-week seminar held in Beijing by the National Radio and Television Administration of China. Participants were “expected to share their experiences,” though it is unclear whether they wrote positive stories after the trip.37 Other Ghanaian journalists went on reporting trips to China before the COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to international travel. For example, an unnamed journalist from Ghana reportedly took part in a September 2019 Belt and Road exchange event in Guangzhou.38

Several interviewees who participated in the trips described them as intended to promote a favorable view of China and the CCP’s model of journalism. A veteran journalist who also received a postgraduate degree in China remarked, “There was a significant focus on just being positive about what you are reporting, while here, we are rather very watchdog-like in our approach to what we were doing. So that was a bit of a difference in approach for me, and as a foreigner then undergoing that kind of training, I was a bit taken aback.”39

Another journalist found that the actual training component “wasn’t that practical” but did describe the desire to speak more positively about China after visiting: “I will come to Ghana and everything, anytime I’m talking about China, I will attempt to speak something positive about China.” The journalist confirmed that he wrote some articles while in China about the lectures he attended, but the article he wrote about his trip after returning to Ghana was not published, and he has not written much about it since. The journalist said the trip had “not changed the way I do my profession as a journalist in Ghana.”40

A journalist who traveled to China at least three times for both training and reporting purposes described the trips as illuminating in terms of learning about China but unlikely to change the Ghanaian media’s traditional watchdog role: “They only want you to see their perspective, how things are done there.… They wanted you to learn about their system, but you know, it confirms what you’ve been hearing about the oppressive system of the Chinese government.” The journalist continued: “We are not used to that system. Especially some of us are very critical, even here we run a critical media.... So it doesn’t work out that way.”41

Public diplomacy efforts and embassy outreach: The Chinese embassy in Accra engages in many forms of traditional public diplomacy, including publishing op-eds, giving interviews, and promoting positive narratives about the Chinese government and Chinese companies. The ambassador had at least two op-eds and multiple interviews published in major media outlets during the 2019–21 coverage period.42

According to interviews with two Ghanaian journalists, the embassy does not comment publicly on galamsey cases or the arrests of Chinese nationals. This quieter approach is different from those of other Chinese diplomatic outposts in Africa, such as Kenya, where the ambassador has taken a proactive stance in responding to negative stories, particularly regarding economic projects.43 One senior editor at a private media outlet who requested anonymity remarked, “Their interest in the media is to keep quiet in publicizing Chinese activities.”44 Another journalist who works in the eastern region of Ghana similarly said they had not seen the Chinese embassy issue public statements over illegal activities or negative economic stories.45 Despite the lack of direct responses, however, some scholars see the negative local news coverage of Chinese economic activities in the country as the reason for the overall increase in Beijing’s media influence efforts. One scholar remarked, “I believe that the crisis orchestrated by the galamsey issues resulted in China deepening its media engagement in the Ghanaian media.”46

The Chinese embassy has taken a much more public and explicit approach in pushing its narrative on human rights abuses in Xinjiang, in keeping with Beijing’s global propaganda campaign about its policies toward Uyghurs. Following the publication in November 2019 of a major investigative report into rights abuses and mass detentions, the Chinese ambassador to Ghana held a press conference with local journalists, who then republished the ambassador’s statements without including the evidence of abuse.47

The Chinese embassy has a Twitter account with approximately 4,000 followers, though it has no account on Facebook, which is the more popular platform in Ghana.48 An estimated 33 percent of the population uses Facebook, compared with 3 percent who use Twitter.49 The embassy shares posts on bilateral relations, Chinese investment, and China news, and it amplifies posts from Chinese state media or other prominent diplomatic accounts. The account has notably shared posts about Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and other Chinese domestic issues.50 The use of Twitter instead of Facebook may indicate a strategy focused more on pleasing senior officials in Beijing than on directly connecting with Ghanaians.

Disinformation campaigns

There were no documented disinformation campaigns that specifically targeted or reached news consumers in Ghana during the coverage period. For the purposes of this report, disinformation is defined as the purposeful dissemination of false or misleading content, especially through inauthentic activity—via fake accounts, for example—on global social media platforms.

Censorship and intimidation

There is no evidence of direct censorship of Ghanaian media by the Chinese government during the coverage period, and several Ghanaian journalists interviewed for this report said they had not faced censorship.51 However, an incident in 2017 demonstrated how the Chinese embassy can raise threats to bilateral relations, and implicitly loans to the government of Ghana, in an effort to influence local media coverage.52 A satirical drawing by political cartoonist Bright Tetteh Ackwerh, featuring Xi Jinping and mocking China’s role in Africa, led to an angry letter from then ambassador Sun Baohong to Ghana’s president and minister of lands and natural resources, in which Sun complained about “distorted or biased reports” and “reports and cartoons” that defame Chinese leaders and senior officials.53 The letter demanded the Ghanaian government “guide the media to give an objective coverage” and warned that bilateral relations may otherwise be harmed. Despite the exchange, the cartoonist held an exhibit and invited Sun, who attended, and the Ghanaian media continued to critically cover the issue and bilateral relations in general.54

According to an interview with an executive editor at a private newspaper, the embassy does not try to censor Ghanaian journalists or tell them not to cover certain issues, working instead to cultivate relationships and encourage positive news coverage: “It may be subtle, some of these tricks are geared toward coaxing you to be soft on them…not necessarily stopping you. They can’t stop me from writing, but they may want friendship. A kind of olive branch to you, and ‘let’s be partners.’”55

The nature of Ghana’s media sector may lead to shifts in coverage, though there is still no evidence of censorship on China-related issues. Media ownership in the country is concentrated in the hands of the state or politically connected individuals. According to a veteran journalist who has been working in the industry for 17 years, the political entities that own media outlets use them to “try to influence” news coverage: “You still get a sense of ‘we would be happy if this conversation went this way or that way.’”56 However, in this journalist’s experience, such pressure was not being used on China coverage because “the China conversation is not as nuanced and as dominant as it should be in our media.”

Control over content-distribution infrastructure

China-based companies with close ties to the Chinese government own or are involved in a portion of Ghana’s content-distribution infrastructure. Such involvement extends to digital and satellite television services, construction and maintenance of the telecommunications infrastructure, and ownership of a popular social media application; Chinese companies also hold a large share of the mobile phone market.

PRC-based StarTimes Group—a privately owned satellite company that has close ties to the CCP—has become one of Africa’s most important media companies with 10 million subscribers across 30 countries, including in Ghana.57 In 2012, StarTimes was contracted by the Ghanaian government to handle the country’s digital television migration, but the government canceled the contract in 2015.58 The Ghanaian courts upheld the cancellation after StarTimes filed a lawsuit to challenge it. However, the 2016 elections brought a new government to power, and President Akufo-Addo’s administration quietly restored the contract after he visited Beijing in 2018 and StarTimes reportedly provided donations to his wife’s charitable foundation.59 StarTimes has received millions of dollars’ worth of loans from state-owned China Development Bank.60 In Ghana, it provides inexpensive digital terrestrial and satellite television packages that include local news channels and Chinese state media, whereas packages that include other international broadcasters are more costly though overall cheaper than before.61

In 2019, the Chinese government selected StarTimes as the implementor of a project announced by Xi Jinping in 2015 to bring digital television access to 10,000 rural villages in 25 African countries.62 In Ghana, 300 villages were selected to take part in the project in 2018, shortly after the meeting between President Akufo-Addo and the head of StarTimes in Beijing.63 The project was completed in May 2019.64 The Association of Indigenous Broadcasters and the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association strongly denounced the deal (see Resilience and response), expressing concern about being pushed out of the market.65 The head of Ghana’s National Media Commission, George Sarpong, also raised concerns in 2019: “If these pseudo-private Chinese companies are given control over broadcast signal distribution or other media choke points, I fear they will also exercise some degree of censorship over media content.”66

TikTok, a global subsidiary of the Beijing-based social media company ByteDance, was the most downloaded app in Ghana as of June 2022.67 There have been some documented cases around the world in recent years of TikTok removing or downplaying politically sensitive content, including content that violates domestic Chinese censorship guidelines, although the company has subsequently reported correcting errors.68 A media report from June 2022 based on leaked TikTok meetings raised concern that statements made by ByteDance regarding data privacy of US users were false, and more broadly called into question other statements the company has made regarding its policies.69

Huawei, a PRC-based company with close CCP ties and a record of building censorship and surveillance systems in China and abroad, is involved in developing digital infrastructure in Ghana. In October 2020, the government hired Huawei to connect 2,000 rural locations to telecommunications infrastructure.70 A Huawei-built “safe city” surveillance system in Accra is partly operational, according to a 2021 report.71 Huawei has also engaged in direct outreach to local journalists. In May 2021, the company held a “Huawei Day with Media” in Accra to share information with journalists about the company’s work in the country, including a plan to train 10,000 Ghanaian information and communication technology (ICT) professionals by 2024 through the Huawei ICT Training program.72

Ghana has not yet launched a fifth-generation (5G) mobile network.73 PRC-based Transsion is the largest mobile-phone supplier in Africa and owns the brand Tecno, which has 20 percent of the market share in Ghana. Some Tecno phones sold in Ghana were found to have come preinstalled with malware.74 Tecno was designated as the best mobile brand of the decade as part of the 2020 Ghana Information Technology & Telecom Awards.75 One interviewee speculated that Tecno may own a local television and radio station called Max TV. While the affiliation could not confirmed by Freedom House it speaks to the challenges in tracing media owners (see Resilience and Response).76

Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

  • Journalism trainings: As mentioned above, numerous Ghanaian journalists have traveled to China for subsidized trainings, including programs with content that promotes a positive view of China and the CCP model of journalism. Several interviewees, however, said it was unlikely that Ghanaian outlets would adhere to a CCP-style media governance system. One argued that if they did so, “the people will not take them seriously, because the majority of Ghanaians are people who believe that the role of the media is to hold leadership to account.”77
  • Donation of equipment to media outlets: The Chinese embassy has donated media and technical equipment to several outlets. GNA received technical assistance from the embassy in October 2021 in the form of computers, mobile phones, and tablet computers.78 This was at least the second donation of equipment to GNA; the agency highlighted over $6,000 in equipment donations in 2018. Such donations are not limited to state-run media. An executive editor at a leading private newspaper reported that the Chinese embassy had offered to pay for “maybe two or three cameras to support us.”79

Chinese diaspora media

The Chinese expatriate and diaspora population in Ghana is relatively small, comprising an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 people.80 The community is visible, and its members have on occasion publicly responded to events in China. In August 2019, Chinese expatriates held a demonstration outside a factory in Tema in support of the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Hong Kong prodemocracy protests. The event was attended by the Chinese ambassador and organized by the Council for the Peaceful Reunification of China in Ghana, which has links to the CCP’s United Front Work Department.81

The only notable Chinese-language media sources in Ghana publish on the social media platform WeChat, which is owned by PRC-based technology company Tencent that has close ties to the CCP. One channel, Ghana China Information (加纳华人资讯), publishes pro-Beijing content on WeChat, according to a Freedom House review of its channel. Ghana Chinese Media (加纳华人传媒) also publishes Chinese state media or translations of local news on WeChat. Another channel, Ghana China Home (加纳华人之家) republishes Chinese government statements, the ambassador’s op-eds, or Xi Jinping’s speeches. None of the accounts reviewed by Freedom House took a critical approach to content about the Chinese government and all republished state or official news. There was also a lack of news about domestic issues in China that one would expect to be of interest to Chinese expatriates, such as the COVID-19 lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities in April and May 2022. It is unclear whether such information is missing due to self-censorship, direct censorship, or a lack of interest, but if an account is registered in China, as many are to take advantage of the broadcast functionality of an Official Account, then it is subject to Chinese censorship restrictions.

header4 Resilience + response

Underlying media resilience

  • Investigative journalism and independent media: Press freedom is guaranteed by Ghana’s constitution, and in 2018 the country’s media were ranked the freest in Africa, though conditions deteriorated during the coverage period (see Vulnerabilities).1 Despite the fact that Ghana’s large media outlets are controlled by politically connected individuals, there is a strong underlying tradition of watchdog journalism dedicated to exposing corruption and crime and reporting in the public interest.2 Renowned journalists like Manasseh Azure have produced investigative reports on sociopolitical issues in Ghana.3 The constitution prohibits rules requiring a license to establish media outlets, and thousands of outlets operate in practice, including several independent media houses. Digital outlets like GhanaWeb use servers based in Europe so as to ensure their freedom from improper influence.4
  • Civil society groups working to strengthen press freedom and good governance: Ghana has a strong tradition of independent civil society activism. There are several organizations committed to strengthening press freedom and good governance, countering disinformation, and promoting fact-checking and media literacy. The Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) works to “promote and defend the right to freedom of expression of all persons particularly the media and human rights defenders in West Africa.”5 MFWA has documented violations of press freedom, sounded the alarm about deteriorating conditions for journalists in Ghana, and engaged in direct advocacy with the government in an effort to improve the situation.6 The foundation also runs a five-month investigative journalism training program and a project called Fact-Check Ghana, which “seeks to enhance fact-based public discourse, debates and decision making in Ghana’s democratic governance and development processes.”7 The Ghana Centre for Democratic Governance (CDD) works to develop civil society and media in the country, and it is a national partner of the Afrobarometer public-opinion polling project.8 Ghana also has an independent journalist union, the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), which promotes a code of ethics.9

China-specific resilience

  • Critical media coverage of domestic issues and Chinese interests in Ghana: Several Ghanaian media outlets continue to report independently on some topics that may be unfavorable to Beijing, particularly illegal mining cases and Chinese economic activity in the country.10 Amid widespread media coverage of galamsey, most outlets criticize the Ghanaian government rather than Chinese authorities for failing to address the problem.11 Media outlets like privately owned Daily Guide and Business & Financial Times, the latter of which carries Xinhua content, have on occasion published reports about human rights issues in China or Chinese media influence globally, though such reports are normally drawn from international newswires, the BBC, or regional outlets.12 Critical content is less common among state-owned outlets like Ghanaian Times or GNA that have agreements with Xinhua, but they too have published critical stories from international newswires.13
  • Pushback and reporting on StarTimes: While it occurred before the coverage period, there was strong pushback against the decision to restore the StarTimes contract after the president met with key officials in Beijing in 2018. The Association of Indigenous Broadcasters and the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association issued a statement denouncing the deal out of concerns it would distort the pay TV market, and accused StarTimes of taking control of strategic African countries’ broadcast space even as African and other foreign media were excluded from China’s own market.14 Ghanaian media reported on the suspected bribery of the president’s wife and other forms of leverage as possible factors behind the decision to regrant the StarTimes contract.15

header5 Vulnerabilities

  • Friendly political ties and limited expertise on China: Ghana’s political leaders have developed close ties with Beijing and are rarely critical of the bilateral relationship. The 2018 regranting of a contract to StarTimes, despite a previous government’s revocation of the deal and a court ruling that upheld the decision, suggests that some in the political system are willing to cooperate with CCP influence efforts. There are no bilateral tensions over galamsey crackdowns because the Chinese foreign ministry has called on its nationals to obey local laws.1 An overall lack of independent experts on China means that bilateral affairs receive limited scrutiny, and media outlets do not have access to journalists who gained their China expertise outside of Chinese government-funded trainings. The overall shortage of news coverage on China gives interviews or op-eds by the Chinese ambassador a disproportionate prominence in online search results.2 A larger body of independent experts and initiatives would help promote greater understanding of Chinese state-linked investment and other activities in Ghana.
  • Weak media regulation, lack of enforcement: Ghana’s media sector is guided by the Ghana National Media Policy, which is meant to ensure journalistic freedom and independence. However, the policy’s provisions are not backed by statutory requirements or government enforcement.3 While the policy states that media ownership should be transparent and a matter of public record,4 ownership information is not always published by the Registrar General’s Office or is incomplete; a civil society review found that a third of outlets were missing information or had not registered.5 This makes it difficult to determine whether any China-based company has purchased an ownership stake in a local news outlet, as one interviewee suspected may be the case with Tecno and Max TV. The policy requires foreign ownership of a media outlet to be capped at 49 percent, restricts cross-ownership, and discourages monopolies among private media groups.6 The policy also prohibits political parties and religious groups from owning media, and in line with the 1992 constitution, it prohibits the government from influencing publicly owned media.7 The Media Ownership Monitor of Ghana criticizes the country’s lack of underlying regulatory safeguards. Ghana has two media regulators, the National Media Commission and the National Communications Authority, which have different mandates and limited collaboration. The commission’s leader appealed to Parliament in 2021 to give it more power to facilitate regulation and control.8
  • Deteriorating press freedom: While Ghana’s long history of press freedom and civil society activism is one of its greatest strengths, the increase in politicized arrests of journalists in recent years is cause for alarm. A prominent investigative journalist was murdered in 2019.9 According to a 2018 Afrobarometer poll, just 36 percent of respondents in Ghana agreed that “media should have the right to publish without government control,” the third-lowest share among 21 African countries surveyed.10 In 2022, Reporters Without Borders dropped the country 30 places in its press freedom rankings, leaving it ranked 10th in Africa.11

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

Chinese media influence efforts in Ghana have been limited in their scope and impact. Broader economic issues are much more important to the local population, and public opinion on China has increasingly turned negative over the galamsey problem. A Pew Research Center poll in 2015 showed a peak of 80 percent of respondents with favorable sentiment toward China; the figure dropped to 49 percent in the last available poll in 2017.1 However, most Ghanaians are not overly critical toward the Chinese government and instead hold the Ghanaian government primarily responsible for poor judgment regarding investments that have come at a high cost to the country.

According to the interviews conducted for this report, many Ghanaian journalists have traveled to China on trainings and appreciated the exposure and experience provided by the trips, but they did not think that this would stop them from continuing to carry out the traditional watchdog role of Ghanaian journalism. Many found the trips revealing with respect to the CCP’s authoritarian system. These findings align with the results of interviews with more than 50 Nigerian and Ghanaian media professionals and policymakers that were conducted by Emeka Umejei in 2021. He reported that Ghanaian journalists tend to rely on Western sources rather than Chinese state media sources, primarily because the former are more familiar to the journalists, who see Chinese sources as less credible.2 One Ghanaian policymaker interviewed by Umejei noted that China’s domestic authoritarian system influenced this mistrust of Chinese media: “If you control what they see in your country, why should I trust what you project outside the country?”3

A 2012 academic study of Chinese influence in Ghana by Iginio Gagliardone, Nicole Stremlau, and Daniel Nkrumh found that “news content produced in China still struggles to find audiences and to gain their trust.”4 The authors argued that despite the Chinese government’s vast resources to open offices and new media initiatives in Africa, Chinese state media would continue to fail to attract international audiences “as long as the style of their reporting continues to carry the burden of the party’s strict guidelines.”

Chinese media influence efforts have had some positive impact in Ghana. Despite the controversy around StarTimes, it has been well received by Ghanaians for providing television options at affordable prices and some of the opposition around the deal was tied to competition reasons. In addition, many Ghanaian journalists have taken interest in the cultural aspects of their training programs in China.

header7 Future trajectory

The following are potential developments related to Beijing’s media influence in Ghana that should be closely monitored in the coming years.

  • Increased China Radio International presence: Radio is the dominant medium in Ghana, but CRI’s activities are limited compared with its presence in other African countries like Senegal or Kenya. Increased efforts by the broadcaster to build up local facilities and train local journalists would help it reach a greater number of news consumers, though this would require a substantial investment, partly because CRI would need to open multiple regional stations to comply with Ghanaian regulations. Chinese state media outlets might also seek to create content that is more attractive to local audiences, especially given the numerous alternatives available to Ghanaians.
  • State media and embassy outreach: Chinese state media are increasingly available in local African languages, and they could reach larger audiences in Ghana if they produced content in a language like Akan. The embassy, meanwhile, is still taking a relatively subdued approach in its reactions to negative local news coverage on illegal mining or economic projects, and it could change course by engaging more directly with local news consumers on social media, or by using its WhatsApp group in a more coercive way to intimidate or exclude noncompliant journalists.
  • Digital infrastructure transformation or exploitation: Ghana is still developing its digital infrastructure and requires technical skills and resources to do so. Chinese government or state-linked actors like Huawei are positioning themselves as key partners in projects including the launch of 5G mobile service, which could lead to control over content-distribution infrastructure and the facilitation of censorship or surveillance. Similarly, StarTimes’ influence over television distribution could be used to reduce access to stations that are critical of the Chinese government.

On Ghana

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    80 100 free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    64 100 partly free

More from BGMI

Front pages of the China Daily (left), the Beijing News (center), and the Global Times (right) featuring reaction to the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, which took place on April 15, 2019.

Recommendations

Recommendations for media, governments, civil society, donors, and tech companies.

The title screen of a program called “How Xi Jinping Pursues Happiness For People” from the CGTN archive is seen as it plays on a computer monitor in London.

Methodology

More on the research, country selection, and scoring for Freedom House’s BGMI report.

Kuala Lumpur – July 5, 2019 – People take part in an event in front of the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur in solidarity with the Uighur community in China and to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the riots in Urumqi that left nearly 200 people dead.

Acknowledgements

Learn more about BGMI's authors, researchers, reviewers, advisors, and donors.