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Opinions of Monday, 20 September 2010

Columnist: Mubarak, Ras

Zita and others must step aside

It is standard practice in countries where political communicators, who know
what they are doing attempt to swing editorial opinion, though not with hampers,
but with policy agenda which is more appealing to the commercial interest of
media proprietors.

The Daily Guide and Ghanaian Chronicle newspapers command the highest percentage
of the national private newspaper market, far larger than other competitors and
have a weight of editorial opinion no party could afford to ignore. Therefore,
it is ok if the Mills government wants to increase rapport with journalists and
editors. Sadly however, this government is not even attempting to persuade the
Chronicle and Daily Guide to turn against the NPP and print more items
favourable to the NDC. No - and there’s everything wrong if it is using
taxpayers’ money on journalists who are considered friendly with the view to
influencing coverage.

How can a government that has mothballed spending on higher education and other
frontline services justify to the hard working tax payers who are facing
economic difficulties in their families and businesses that it had
spent 1.6billion cedis of their money on freebies for their friends in the
media? And this comes at a time when an estimated thirty-five percent of the
country’s work force is children who are supposed to be in schools and not on
farms or the streets selling.
The irony of the expenditure is that, hardly would you find any Ghanaian who
understands the content of the 2010 budget. And what a pity if our government
feels presenting hampers to journalists is a strategy in capturing the news

Rarely had there been a day in the last four months when the government had kept
just a single success story high up in the news. Government’s attack dogs like
Ablakwa, Omane Boamah, James Agyenim and others have been reduced to mere
onlookers of events.

In spite of the 1.6billion cedis largess allegedly paid to journalists and
buying media, the government’s communications team has become not just impotent
in influencing events but has completely been in the dark about the NPP’s rather
clever but assailable strategy. The NPP has run a very astute and effective
campaign of causing difficulty for the government.
What the people who recommended and forced President Mills to lumber us with
appointees like Ablakwa is that It is one thing holding placards and silly
piddling at CJA demonstrations or being a drab morning show host on Radio Gold,
and it is a completely a different tune designing and installing a media
firewall around a government that would detect and repel news stories which
might threaten a government and neutralise opposition propaganda.
Though some of these appointees are very young, I sincerely think they (Nii
Lantey, Ablakwa, Boamah, James) are ripe not only for retirement but for
residential care. They can’t help improve government’s low ratings and they
won’t stop making vote killing pronouncements.

Another angle to this 1.6billion hamper for journalists is the implications of a
collapsed trust in journalism by the public. When politicians and journalists
enter into a special relationship where journalists are treated to freebies paid
for from the public purse, the People on low income, those without jobs, the
disadvantaged in our country and the fed up man or woman in the street are the
losers. The working class, business community and everyone else are not served
in any better way when politicians and journalists collude to feed on the
people's sweat and toil.
The average politician acts with criminality and gusto, but in becomes a
betrayal if the press joins the politicians in their criminality. This is
damaging to the government but more damaging to media who are seen as the gate
keepers and the voices of the voiceless. The general public has confidence in
the press to act fairly and within the law. It is therefore self-serving for any
government - whether the opposition New Patriotic Party or the ruling National
Democratic Congress – to offer gifts to members of the press ostensibly to
influence reportage.

1.6 billion cedis is a lot of money to be used just for hampers and buying
airtime. It is sadistic; an abuse of public funds, it is abuse of power and an
insult to the millions of Ghanaians who kicked out the NPP for some of these
same reasons.

The media commission, SFO, Financial Crimes Unit of the Ghana Police Service and
every well meaning Ghanaian must rise up and demand a full disclosure; we must
be shown tangible proof of what 1.6billion cedis achieved and who got what. The
NDC believes in an open government, this is the time to show the way.
Finally, the former information minister – Zita, Stan Dogbe and whoever is
connected with the approval and disbursement must step aside until
investigations are concluded and if exonerated – reinstated, otherwise processed
for court for prosecution. These officers' continued stay in office would be an
unnecessary distraction to the government and the NDC and there must be no
attempts of a cover up from the office of the President. Our party, the NDC has
been pilloried for many months now thanks actions by some appointees of
government and the last thing we want is more bad press from a more discredited
party as the NPP.

Ras Mubarak