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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

Diversity, Community Radio and the 24th GJA awards

The 70th anniversary edition of Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) climaxed with the 24th awards ceremony but consideration for diversity and community radio stations (CRS) was at a minimum.

This is particularly troubling given that the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) is drawing to a close.

The competitive awards categories gave consideration to a few “Regional FM stations” which either broadcast in Akan (mainly Twi) or run frequent syndicated programmes from Accra in English and Twi.

The implications of the non recognition of CRS as a separate category are manifold; here are just three.

First, community radio stations will be tempted to change their language and broadcast in either English or Twi.

Second, some will turn to commercially syndicated programmes for the money; importantly Ghana’s CRS by regulation are not for partisan politics.

Third, CRS audiences may tend to believe that their favorite presenters/producers/stations lack depth and quality.

It is not enough for the GJA or its awards committee to say that they cannot assess CRS based on a single language criteria.

The ever popular PISA ranking of educational systems is able to assess member countries and their students despite language differences in teaching and learning.

It is also no excuse to say the GJA awards are open to all members of the GJA and community radio stations or their reporters were free to apply.

And if anyone should argue that CRS should institute their own awards or that there were earlier regional awards then the GJA loses further relevance.

The GJA metrics are clearly not measuring everything that is relevant – just like the tired old GDP and its continued abuse by the poliTRIKcians.

Let us cross reference the lessons and implications of poor GJA metrics with the GDP metrics for democracies.

“Getting the measure right – or at least a lot better – is crucially important, especially in our metrics- and performance-oriented society. If we measure the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing. If our measures tell us everything is fine when it really isn’t, we will be complacent……” wrote Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz in theguardian.com of Nov 24.

He explained further, “Fortunately, a variety of advances in methodology and technology have provided us with better measurement tools, and the international community has begun to embrace them.”

At 70, GJA should recognize its role in democracy, governance and development – especially in promoting high quality education and a vibrant inclusive culture.

The awards committee should feel free to co-opt members from across various industries and institute a more thorough and comprehensive evaluation process.

Let us focus on just three of the awards – Best Columnist, Best Rural Reporter, and Best Feature Writer (Print) and ask some critical questions.

What will independent scholars say of the columns in our national newspapers; will they pass muster?

How does the Best Rural Reporter’s work compare with some community radio reporter’s work, never mind the language used in the reportage?

Do our feature stories reference critical research material and will they stand the test of stringent scrutiny in any public discourse?

When we present these stories to any best practice international media organization or forum, will they take Ghana seriously?

What critical reviews of West Africa have these columns and features addressed or are we just parochial and inward looking?

Within our rich tradition of media practice, this nation once boasted of The Times of West Africa and the Gold Coast Intelligentsia, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation had listeners in Nigeria and Ghana News Agency was respected around the world. Should we not be interested in reviving this dead tradition by emphasising the diversity of West Africa and the cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic nature of Accra and Ghana in our content and awards?

Finally, what happened to the information minister’s pledge at the twenty-third awards to fund the training of journalists in feature, documentary and editorial writing? Should we exhale?

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