Feature Article of Saturday, 6 October 2012
Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 3rd October 2012
It is with misgivings that I write about the state of our democracy in Ghana, in particular in relationship to our budding democracy, which is in its embryonic stage. Our airwaves have become dense of late with a lot of political altercation. As of February 2012, the National Communications Authority (NCA) had registered 28 TV stations in Ghana, 29 radio stations in Accra alone, and a total of 247 radio stations countrywide. We can conjecture that we have one radio station per one hundred thousand Ghanaians and a little less than a million people per TV station. The power of radio was realised long ago when during the Second World War from 1939 to 1945, Joseph Paul Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief, utilised radio immensely to conscientise Germans of their Nazi ideology. Similarly in Britain, Winston Churchill galvanised the British and the then British Empire into action against the Nazis with his fiery radio broadcasts.
In the USA, during the Great Depression of 1929 to 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt resorted to the power of radio to get people cottoned on to his idea of the New Deal to economically revive the country’s waning economy. In our own country, our first president, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah utilised radio for his famous down broadcasts to air his views on issues such as the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in Zimbabwe in 1965, assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Joseph Okito and Maurice Mpolo in February 1961 in the then Congo Leopoldville, the French testing of the atomic bomb in the Sahara in February 1960, the Sharpeville Massacre of March 1960 in South Africa, among others.
Some of our numerous radio stations in Ghana are full of unnecessary comments and useless political debates. Petty issues are blown out of proportion by some mischievous radio presenters who have their own hidden agendas. These act as if they were not professionals, stoking the fires and spinning lies upon lies. They put a spin on issues both political and apolitical. They throw professional ethics out of the window and do their own dastardly acts on air, murdering democracy with their concocted lies. To me, they are paid assassins of our fledgling democracy because they seem to be hands in cahoots with some politicians in causing political disquiet. It is true democracy allows us to air our views but then why cannot we pursue the truth and hold discussions on air in a civilised manner instead of the radio cacophony that we have in Ghana. I wonder why the government has not put its foot down to address the issue of media regulation.
Of course, we do not want to enter again into the era of the 80s and 90s when Rawlings’ regime jackbooted and strangulated the media in Ghana, leading to vehement protests from eminent scholars such as the late Professors Paul Ansah and Adu Boahen. That was the era of the famous ‘ku me preko’ or kill me quick street demonstrations in which our current opposition leader, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo distinguished himself as a fearless and intrepid fighter of human rights and the rule of law. Those were the days Nana fought street battles, doing rope-a-dope in the trenches in Accra. There were few radio stations and most of the newspapers were gagged and censored, sometimes with editorials written at the Castle and foisted on the newspapers to publish. We seem to be swinging between extremes in Ghana. I think the best way to go is to tow a middle way. We need to intensify professional training of our media people as well as making sure they are articled and licensed to practise. We need the Media Council to exercise its oversight and gatekeeping functions punctiliously and religiously, holding on to the sunshine tenets of impartiality, objectivity, transparency, probity, accountability and above all, observing due process and best practice. We in Ghana seem to be in a mental stupor and dilemma, with a fixation for maintaining the status quo ante, because some of our policy makers are suffering from analysis paralysis, leading to reactive measures being taken all the time.
When I was in Ghana from late June to mid-August this year, I took the trouble to listen in to most of the radio stations in Ghana. I was highly impressed with the eloquence and linguistic prowess of some of our presenters such as Kwame Nkrumah Atikese and his lady co-presenter on Adom FM, on their morning breakfast show. Very impressive and professionally executed. On Radio Gold, I was wowed by the flawless diction and the velvety voice of Jessica Opare Saforo. What a gem of a presenter and a revelation! There is Abeeku Santana also to contend with. These are some of the radio veterans that the upcoming ones need to emulate. When our late president passed away on July 24, I was glued to the radio stations, interspersing with watching TV clips of snippets of information. On the whole, coverage of the news was profound. However, there were claims and counter claims on radio of who must have caused the death of the president and what must have transpired to cause his death. In fact there were many indecencies and indiscretions caused on radio which did not accord with our traditional respect to the dead.
We seem not to know where to draw the line between politics and serious national issues, as if we eat politics in Ghana. There were wild speculations on air as regards where the late president was to be buried. Yes, the duty of the media is to inform, educate, sensitise, entertain and communicate but never to ridicule, agitate or provoke. Some of our radio presenters engage in wicked and mischievous humour, which sometimes is offensive and may border on libel or sedition. I reflected on many of the tit bits and media hullaballoo and kerfuffle, and came to the sad conclusion that our democracy in Ghana has been transmuted into a demo-crazy. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to be heard on radio through the phone-in facility. Some of these contributors are notoriously called serial callers, and are known to be in the pay of some political parties who empower them with talk-time to be their megaphones and advocates.
These are sometimes despicable to listen to. It is healthy we are experiencing grassroots Athenian participatory democracy in Ghana, but are we Ghanaians not notorious for our over-embellishments? We want to outdo even the fathers of democracy. The same goes for our football which is basically Brazilian samba style. Woefully, our football players over-exaggerate so much so that they end up getting exhausted and being beaten to their own game. Is football not about goal scoring and strategies? I think the analogy here between Ghanaian soccer and politics is appropriate. With the current media rot and riot, I think we have over-stepped the bounds of decency. Sometimes our presenters even become prurient, using some unprintable words. Socrates of old once said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth leading’. Mahatma Gandhi also said, ‘The highest court of justice is man’s conscience ’. It is up to our Media Council and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to take the necessary steps to put our radio stations in proper order.
I will say that bitter words uttered on radio against one are sharper than shards of shrapnel thrown against one by terrorists. For, bitter words linger on, on the mind and affect the soul and psyche but shrapnel shards end the trouble instantly. Those Ministers, MPs and what-nots who hijack the airwaves for propaganda purposes, concocting lies and vilifying their political adversaries had better beware. On air, we all have to observe parliamentary language and etiquette or else we are dishonourable. Respect begets respect. Let our radio presenters engage more in educating the listeners on our cultural mores and inform us about development issues or highlighting some social problems, instead of politicking for their political paymasters. Listening in to the bedlam, chaos, cacophony and din on radio, makes you wonder whether Ghanaians are not the most talkative people and gossips on earth.
Overall, I found vintage GBC stations excellent, followed by Adom FM, Radio Peace, Radio Gold, Okay FM and Windy Bay FM. I found quality entertainment on Metro TV. News quality of TV3 has deteriorated, with some young lady newscasters being inaudible and poor in enunciation. I do miss Maame Ama Anamoah. TV3 will do well to give us the news and stop turning news time into lengthy and boring documentaries. However, their outdoor or field mobile team is doing great by giving us live coverage of national events.