Many observers say the role of the media in elections should be to stay neutral and fair in disseminating information. In Ghana, where elections are being held this Sunday, December 7, some members of the public have raised concerns over the possibility of violence during the impending presidential and parliamentary elections. Already a few clashes have been reported among some supporters of the two dominant parties, the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress. Voice of America English to Africa Service's Joana Mantey, in Accra, reports.

In a developing country such as Ghana, what role can the media play in forestalling violence during the elections? Affail Monney is the vice president of the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA). He says the association is making efforts to promote fair reporting, which he says is essential because there is evidence from other countries that the media can be used to inflame passions and accelerate conflict:

?People are saying [the success of the elections will be] based on the accuracy of media coverage. People are worried about the type of reporting that accompanies the elections because the media has the power to incite violence, hatred and heighten tension,? Monney says.

The situation presents a challenge to the GJA in a country where the level of illiteracy is still high and people depend largely on the media to disseminate information. Monney says formerly, politicians had to go from house to house with their campaign messages or adopt other means to reach voters.

In recent years, the media has fought for greater rights, by challenging restrictive press laws which the courts agreed were unconstitutional. Monney says journalists? newfound assertiveness has influenced national elections:

?Now, 85% of Ghanaians have access to radio. They can therefore be influenced by what they hear. [Eight years ago], the media played a key role in ensuring the defeat of the NDC, which was seen as anti-media. Since then they have maintained their capacity as vanguards of democratic change,? he says.

Monney said to promote fair reporting the association has organized various training programs on the elections for its members. It's also reviewed its guidelines on election coverage and made copies available to all journalists: ?We expect them to use that not only as guidelines but as their bible, from which they will draw inspiration. That way nobody will blame the media for doing injustice to their professional role.?

The electoral commission must certify final election results before they can be announced. In an effort to avoid conflict, the media must emphasize that early results are provisional. Monney said the Media Centre in Accra will serve as a focal point for the dissemination of the final tally.  Complaints can be filed with the national media commission against media houses that violate electoral ethics.