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Opinions of Saturday, 18 September 2010

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

…And the president served us his beef!

By George Sydney Abugri

As children up on the northern Savanna in the very early 1950s, we got quite a thrill goading two rams or cocks to a fierce fight to the finish and sitting back to watch the poultry feathers fly and ram horns clash again and again with a heavy thud.

Frequency modulation radio appears to have rediscovered our script and is using it to keep the tempo of political propaganda on morning talk shows high: A talk show host calls up a leading political or public figure who has just made bad press, thanks to a round of bad-mouthing from a political rival and says:

So-so-and-so has said this and that about you, what is your response? His response naturally, is an rage-fueled tirade against So-so-and-so, whereupon, the latter calls into the radio programme to let down his hair. A big fight starts.

Insults are usually the weapons of choice in inter-political rival fights facilitated by radio. Radio talk shows are not the only battle grounds for the brisk early morning trade in insults across the political divide.

Newspaper editorials and columns, radio phone in programmes, radio panel discussions and even what should normally be straight, hard, dispassionate news reports, all pack heavy doses of insults and not even the President of the republic is spared.

President Mills met the National Media Commission on Tuesday and stood media freedom and professional responsibility on two different poles. In the President’s opinion and I believe he is in good company there, the greater emphasis should be on professional responsibility.

The president said media criticism of his government was always welcome but certainly not the insults.

The president said nothing about the quality of editorial content of the Ghanaian media: The quality of media criticism and professional responsibility are both dependent on the quality of the media, aren’t they?

Except perhaps for the case of undemocratic societies, media with high levels of professional quality will in spite of occasional unintended errors, not need to worry about threats to their freedom, do they?

Ghana is yet to see the very first big-time entrepreneur invest in the production of high quality weekly news magazines and newspapers employing highly trained professional editors, writers and reporters.

In some countries these days, the average reporter in the news room has at least a Master’s Degree and a growing number of professional journalists with PhDs are working on newspapers and magazines.
It shows in the quality of mass media products from other countries.

There are many training institutions in Ghana which are turning out many products annually. Probably less than two people out of ten with an interest in the development of the media will admit it: Some of the products cannot write a darned straight forward story even after all the years of training.

Whenever I travel on our continent, the very first thing I always do after checking into my hotel is seek out the facility’s magazine and book shops and buy a copy each of every newspaper and magazine on offer.

Apart from a few exceptions, no newspaper in Ghana can compare with the average newspaper on the newsstands and the streets of Lagos, Abuja, Dar-Es-Salaam, Nairobi and Johannesburg in terms of editorial and literary quality, size, clarity of print and pictures and depth of reporting and analysis. {We are probably in the general category of Uganda when it comes to quality of newspapers.}

One of the proposals submitted to the Constitutional Review Committee at its sitting on Tuesday, was the promulgation of laws to regulate media practice in Ghana.

Trying to license journalists to practice wont work. It is too late, old chap: New and advanced technologies for the collection, and very instant processing and dissemination of news and information have broken down the frontiers of traditional journalism practice completely.

The result has been the emergence of the numerous variations of journalism practice which go by such descriptions as “alternative media” and "citizen journalism”: Online newspapers, personal blogs, independent news websites etc

No sir, we cannot license journalism practice. What we can do is invite investment in a thriving mass media market where popular brand names produced by highly trained professionals can easily be distinguished from fake products coming in the form of pornographic, poorly written and unprofessionally packaged products.

The shocking truth, if it be told, is that many of the key actors in Ghana’s politics do not want to see the development of a highly professional and ethically responsible media, because then, they would not be able to use the media to attack and destroy political opponents at will, while propagating their own esteem and qualification for the highest political offices of the land.

The result? Some media never ever see anything commendable in the government’s policies, programmes and general performance and everything right about the conduct of the opposition and its leadership.

Conversely other media insist that the political opposition is a hostile, power-hungry and subversive lot and that the government does no wrong.

The media in Ghana is yet to develop to a stage where media organizations and their editors and journalists will defend the truth even in spite of their own political biases.

Take the case of the National Democratic Congress Chairman Dr. Kwabena Adjei and this “cat’ business.

Both the pro-government and pro-opposition media know full well that the English language expression “there are many ways of killing a cat”, has nothing whatsoever to do with killing cats or physically eliminating any creatures at all. It simply means there are more ways than one, some of them quite subtle, of achieving an objective:

The NDC Chairman addresses a press conference and calls on the Chief Justice to purge the judiciary of corruption and adds that if the CJ fails to do so, “there are many ways of killing a cat.”

The problem is that three high court judges were abdicated and cruelly murdered during the political upheaval in 1982 and you wonder how Dr. Adjei could have failed to remain very sensitive to this tragic event of our immediate past political history.

The opposition has insisted that Dr. Adjei was making a threat to physically eliminate judges and reported the matter to the police to ensure that the police are compelled to take action.

By the way, I keep wondering what is up with Dr. Adjei. The Chief of criminal investigations called him during the week to inform him they would pay him a visit to interrogate him about the cat killing remarks.

What do you reckon the man should have done? Armed himself with a dictionary of English Language expressions and waited for the cops to show up, so that he could prove as easily as ABCD, that the expression could not have been a threat by him abduct and murder judges and that the whole thing was political propaganda. I wonder how the police could proceed beyond that.

Unfortunately Dr. Adjei tells the cops that he made his remarks on behalf of the aprty and that his party was therefore responsible for his statements or something to the effect.

Mass media and politicians! If we get lucky, Jomo, they may just put on their caps of humility one of these days and begin to learn what there is to learn.