The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

The deployment of AI in Ghanaian journalism offers transformative benefits and challenges, necessitating ethical governance to enhance efficiency and maintain journalistic integrity.

Artificial intelligence is already being utilized in various stages of the news production process, from story discovery and production to distribution. Newsrooms leverage machine learning to analyze vast datasets, uncover patterns, and create templates for data-driven stories. This allows journalists to focus on more complex projects. AI is also being used to personalize story recommendations for audiences. Research indicates that media outlets have adopted AI due to technological advancements, market pressures from financial challenges, competitive dynamics focused on innovation, and the pervasive sense of uncertainty, hype, and hope surrounding AI. However, the primary motivator for AI adoption remains its potential to increase newsroom efficiency.

The term “artificial intelligence” was coined by American computer and cognitive scientist John McCarthy in 1955. He defined AI as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs.” Since then, various scientists have proposed methods to make machines intelligent. English mathematician Alan Turing introduced the concept of AI in 1950 with his proposal of “The Imitation Game,” now known as the Turing test, to determine if a machine can convincingly imitate a human being.

“I believe that in about fifty years’ time it will be possible to programme computers, with a storage capacity of about 10, to make them play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than 70 percent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning…I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted,” Turing wrote.

The landscape has dramatically evolved since Turing’s time, especially with the advent of AI-powered generative language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, GPT-3, and GPT-4. AI can be classified into two broad categories: generative AI and machine learning. While they share common foundations, their applications, methodologies, and outcomes differ significantly. Machine learning focuses on learning from data to make predictions or decisions, involving tasks like recognition, diagnosis, planning, robot control, and prediction. Generative AI, conversely, uses algorithms and models to create new content such as text, photos, code, videos, 3D renderings, and music, mimicking human-like creative processes. The main distinction is that generative AI algorithms are designed to create new data, while machine learning algorithms analyze existing data.

An artificial intelligence system learns from experience and uses this learning to reason, recognize images, solve complex problems, understand language and its nuances, and create perspectives. Globally, AI affects every aspect of news production. In Ghana, AI’s adoption in the news industry can benefit journalists and media outlets in three primary areas: text production, audience interaction, and performance of routine tasks. For example, AI algorithms can convert structured data like sports results and weather forecasts into narrative texts, producing stories with minimal human intervention.

The Paris Charter on AI and Journalism, adopted on November 10, 2023, encapsulates the transformative impact of AI, stating: “AI, spanning from basic automation to analytical and creative systems, introduces a new category of technologies with an unparalleled capacity to intersect with human thought, knowledge, and creativity. It represents a considerable shift in information gathering, truth seeking, storytelling, and the dissemination of ideas. As such, it will profoundly alter the technical, economic and social conditions of journalism and editorial practice.”

In fact-checking, AI tools can assist Ghanaian fact-checking bodies and media outlets with trend detection, comment moderation, information collection, identification and verification of misinformation, and automatic translation of texts and audio. When used effectively, AI can make Ghanaian journalists and researchers more efficient, allowing them to pursue impactful stories and interviews that AI tools cannot generate.

There are concerns that AI may replace journalists or their work. Currently, AI assists journalists and editorial teams, but the future remains uncertain. AI is poised to replace “armchair journalism,” where journalists obtain reports from the newsroom without fieldwork. Routine tasks like writing press releases may be automated, but complex communication and expert thinking will still require human journalists. Ghanaian journalists should enhance their skills and learn to operate AI platforms, adding a human touch to their reports to distinguish them from AI-generated content.

Better-resourced media organizations in Europe, the United States, and parts of Asia, such as the Associated Press and Bloomberg, employ AI in their story production processes. However, many smaller media outlets use AI products developed by major tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. Ghanaian newsrooms can similarly leverage third-party AI solutions for story discovery and reporting. Media outlets like The Washington Post and the New York Times have invested in AI by hiring specialists in AI, machine learning, data science, and mobile engineering.

In a 2016 memo, Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait stated: “Automated journalism has the potential to make all our jobs more interesting…The time spent laboriously trying to chase down facts can be spent trying to explain them. We can impose order, transparency and rigour in a field which is something of a wild west at the moment.” This advice should be heeded by Ghanaian journalists committed to promoting public accountability and good governance.

While AI offers numerous benefits, we must acknowledge its potential misuse. Malicious actors may deploy AI to destabilize countries, defame political opponents, misinform the public, manipulate voters, and influence opinions for their own ends. Therefore, it is crucial to establish an ethical framework for AI use in journalism. This framework should evaluate data and algorithm quality, analyze potential biases, and ensure transparency in AI tool usage.

Despite its benefits, AI raises concerns about the quality of outputs, erosion of ethical journalism principles, and challenges to the right to information. The Paris Charter on AI and Journalism noted: “AI systems have the potential, depending on their design, governance and application, to revolutionise the global information landscape. However, they also present a structural challenge to the right to information. The right to information flows from the freedom to seek, receive and access reliable information. It is rooted in the international legal framework, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Partnership for Information and Democracy. This right underpins the fundamental freedoms of opinion and expression.”

Addressing these ethical concerns requires collaboration between AI programmers, Ghanaian media outlets, and policymakers, backed by appropriate legal frameworks. Media outlets must be transparent about AI usage in content production and distribution, ensuring a clear distinction between authentic and synthetic content.

The Paris Charter on AI and Journalism outlines ten core principles to guide media outlets’ interaction with AI. These principles include prioritizing human agency, ensuring accountability for published content, and maintaining transparency in AI system use. Developers of AI tools should credit sources, compensate authors for content used in training AI models, and respect intellectual property rights.

To thrive in the AI era, Ghanaian media outlets must invest in AI expertise, form partnerships with tech companies, develop in-house AI solutions, and train journalists on AI platforms. Quality journalism remains essential for an informed public and a functioning democracy. AI will enhance Ghanaian journalists’ capabilities, allowing them to tackle complex topics, improve efficiency, and boost productivity. However, active governance of AI systems is necessary to ensure ethical compliance, respect for copyrights, fair compensation for content creators, and promotion of the public good.

Kwabena Brakopowers is a journalist, novelist, and essayist whose works focus on politics, migration, social situation, economic and environmental issues. He spends his time writing either in Accra or Monrovia, where he calls his second home.