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Opinions of Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Columnist: Boafo, Eric

In Defense and Condemnation of Gabby

It is a good 15 months before the 2012 general elections but Ghana’s political climate is as tense as the day before the elections. A dramatic scene unfolded during a recent edition of Joy FM’s flagship program, News File, when Gabby Otchere-Darko, the director of the Danquah Institute referred to a comment made by a fellow panelist as ‘stupid’. The host insisted he apologize but he refused and was therefore walked off the studio only to return later to render an apology to listeners and viewers which the host extended to Dr. Omane Boama. If anybody wonders what is meant by “politics of insults” in Ghana, that episode says it all.

Did Gabby owe anyone an apology? Of course he did, for the manner in which he lost his cool on the program; for adding more toxicity to the sickening and dangerous level of loose political talk on the airwaves. Though Gabby does not hold any official position in Akufo Addo’s campaign team, he assumed an implied representation of the NPP as the only NPP leaning panelist on the show. That is why he owed it to Akuffo Addo and the NPP not to bring that kind of negative publicity to their camp. With all and sundry calling for politicians to tone down their rhetoric, it is more important now for political pundits to heed to the call of civility on the airwaves.

As much as I condemn Gabby’s tirade against Dr. Omane Boamah I also sympathize with him. It is so frustrating to engage in an intellectual debate with somebody who is supposed to know better, a Doctor, but knowingly refuses to rise up to that level of discourse. News File is not a tree-under news stand debate platform – it is a platform meant to intellectually engage listeners on the week’s news events, at least that’s what it used to be. But it becomes a great disservice to those who look up to the program when the likes of Omane Boamah seizes the platform to propagate NDC’s agenda of wanton character assassination of political opponents without due regards to facts and evidence.

The issue which triggered this whole episode was regarding the founders’ day celebration which was introduced by the current NDC government to honor founders of the country. Kweku Baako opined that it should be given a bipartisan parliamentary accent so its recognition is not left to the discretion of future governments. Instead of seizing the opportunity to give governments position on the matter, Omane Boamah jumped to attack Danquah Bussia, calling him a CIA agent. Really, what has Danquah Bussina working with the American’s have to do with getting parliament to officially declare Nkrumah’s birthday a statutory holiday?

Though Gabby over reacted, it was a pent up reaction, not only to Omane Boamah’s conscious below the belt hit, but a reaction to NDC’s incessant propagandist strategy based on character assassination and defamation without due regards to obvious facts and mutual political respect. How else is Gabby supposed to react when he’s had to endure his party’s candidate being alleged to have been arrested on drug charges in the US and being called a drug addict and more? As much as accusers have been pressured to produce evidence, their strategy is to make the accused rather prove otherwise. Isn’t it sad that even as all progressive governments have condemned wikileaks for their release of classified US diplomatic cables, Ghana’s government officials have rather sanctioned the cables, using them as gospel truths against political opponents.

Perhaps, Gabby could absorb these below the belt blows any more, hence his unexpected eruption. It’s about time the likes of Dr. Omane Boamah step up above the pettiness that has engulfed the political discourse in Ghana and talk about the developmental issues that face our country today. Gabby couldn’t have put it any better when he said in his tirade that “let’s take the debate to another level” – a level that looks forward, not backwards to the Nkrumah, Danquah-Bussia and even the Rawlings eras – a level that is focused on the future and solutions to the daily struggles of our people today.

This whole episode proofs why there’s a need for censorship of the airwaves. The current regime of self censorship is a dangerous time bomb and it’s only a matter of time before it explodes in our face. Shouldn’t radio stations have a duty to their listeners to censure all unwholesome language before it is transmitted? Gabby used the word ‘stupid’ about eight good times only for him to apologize later on. Fortunately, this had to do with calling an individual ‘stupid’, what if he had said something more sensitive? In such a situation, an apology would be eight times too late. The damage would already have been done.

Ghana today enjoys a level of press freedom comparable to well established democracies but ours lacks the level of responsibility that is required to ensure civility. Even in the US where freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution just like ours, there is a regulatory body, the FCC, which ensures censorship on TV and Radio. This is because they recognize radio as a powerful but yet dangerous medium of information. In Rwanda, it was used by the ruling tribe to incite its members to perpetrate genocide. It is about time the National Media Commission (NMC) is given the necessary authority to empower them to bring sanity to our airwaves. In the last two years there have been several occasions where mobs have descended on radio stations because of what a panelist might have said about them or their political leaders. There have also been times that the police have arrested people for comments made on radio. As much as the Ghana police are burdened now with highway robbers and all, how do we expect them to police our airwaves in addition? Isn’t it just right that we put the burden of censorship on the NMC and the radio stations themselves?

Some have even gone to the extent of calling for the return of the criminal libel law, but doing that will only send us back to the dark ages. What we need is a measure that would force radio stations to censor comments made on their medium. Radio stations should be made to invest in delayed transmission technology that would enable them to black out offensive comments before it is aired. Until that is done, time is still ticking and it is only a matter of time before radio derails and erases all the progress we’ve made over the years.

Eric Boafo