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Opinions of Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

The Other Side of Director-General of the GBC

The Other Side of William Ampem-Darko

I have followed with keen interest stories and discussions about the dismissed Director-General of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. William Ampem-Darko. I believe that public office holders can be criticised when they go wrong. However, the extreme and malicious nature of our criticisms meted out to some public office holders in this country does not make such positions attractive, especially when their positive sides often remain unmentioned.

There is a “but” in every person’s character. The “but” can be positive or negative, depending on the aspect of the person’s life one is talking about. In subjecting someone’s works or behaviour to scrutiny, it is only fair to point out their strengths even if one chooses to concentrate on their flaws. I’m impelled to write this piece because it isn’t only Mr. Ampem-Darko who has fallen prey to this unappreciative attitude of our society in recent times. Professor Stephen Addei’s transformational leadership at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) is well documented. Today, GIMPA connotes excellence and prestige, drawing students from other African countries and beyond. But Prof. Addei was not spared his dose of the demonization syndrome.

In the evening of his reign as Rector of GIMPA, certain individuals, with the help of the media, tried their level best to soil Prof. Addei’s reputation and undo all the gains he had made. The battle, as to whether he was really a professor or not, raged on for many months. Must such as trivialities as a title be necessary when the man’s works had endeared him to all right thinking and progressive minded people?

After media reports that Mrs. Sylvia Asempa, the immediate past headmistress of Aburi Girls’ Senior High School was taxing student to buy a car as her “ex-gratia” was debunked by the school’s governing board, her woes did not end there. Some teachers of the school would later take it upon themselves to show her the way out of ABUGISS when she turned sixty and had not yet been relieved by the Ghana Education Service. Was that the best way to treat someone who had spent a good part of her working life nurturing thousands of girls in one of the country’s best schools?

The Monday, October 4, 2010 edition of the Daily Graphic carried a worrying story on its front page captioned: “Stop spreading rumours about Graphic.” The story was a reaction by the Local Union of the Graphic Communications Group Ltd (GCGL) to what the Union called “unsubstantiated and spurious lies” about Mr. Ibrahim Awal, the then Managing Director of the GCGL. Graphic remains the only proof that state-owned organizations in Ghana are not fated to fail, and Mr. Awal’s contribution to Graphic has been peerless. Under his watch, the statement stated, the GCGL managed an appreciable 66 per cent increase in its turnover even in the wake of the 2008 global economic challenges.

Being the first person in the public sector to win the CIMG Marketing Man of the Year, Mr. Awal’s critics, according to the story, still said he did not deserve it and that he influenced the award. Sadly, such an icon has resigned from Graphic, and perhaps ended his career in the public service. Professor Joshua Alabi, the Rector of the Institute of Professional Studies (IPS) is on the verge of turning IPS into another GIMPA and his fate in the hands of detractors is as predictable as the ritual journey of the sun from the East to the West.

I am not in any way suggesting that people who head public institutions must not be held responsible for their actions and inactions. My concern is the extent to which we vilify our public officials when they go wrong, as if they have not done anything worthy of praise. In the case of Director-General of GBC, it I find it very unfortunate. I am not contending that Mr. Ampem Darko is a saint. Neither do I have anything against National Media Commission for asking him to step aside.

However, the discussions and comments on various radio stations that came in the wake his saga are unfortunate, especially when such commentators are people who know next to nothing about the problems of GBC.

With all his flaws Mr. William Ampem Darko, in my opinion, is one of the best (if not the best) Director-Generals of GBC. And this is a view any God-fearing person in GBC would admit. Anyone who knows GBC will realize that the state broadcaster is a very difficult place to head, thanks to decades of systemic deteriorations. If the purported Mafia at the Ghana Football Association (GFA) is anything to go by, I dare say the Mafia at GBC is even stronger.

I was extremely disappointed when I first entered GBC in September 2006 to submit a news commentary. I thought the unpainted walls which had not seen any plastering since they were built were an eyesore, but what greeted me when I entered GBC was even worse. GBC was like an abandoned warehouse, its buildings dilapidated and serving as breeding grounds for moss.

When I had an opportunity to do my attachment at GTV the following year, it was one thing going on assignment and another hell getting a vehicle to pick you from location. The TV Newsroom looked very horrible, with torn carpets impeding movement within the newsroom. When people came to the newsroom to make donation to support a boy to undergo surgery, that donation had to be received outside because of the “uncapturable” background in the newsroom.

Today, the situation in GBC may not be ideal but anybody who even stops at the entrance to Broadcasting House in Accra should be able to tell the level of transformation the corporation has witnessed under Mr. Ampem-Darko. The number of vehicles for both news crews and buses for conveying workers has increased considerably. And if the numerous achievements of Mr. Ampem Darko advertised in one of the corporation’s newsletters are anything to go by, then GBC can be said to have achieved a lot under his leadership.

Last year when the Ghana Institute of Journalism’s Governing Council was looking for space to expand intake, GBC readily to our mind. We would not have thought about GBC if the corporation was how it had been in 2006 when I first entered Broadcasting House. Today the Institute has a class in GBC, which gives GBC employees the opportunity to upgrade their skills.

A young man in GBC recently told me that even those who were happy Mr. Ampem Darko was leaving had started regretting. While working on a feature story on 24th December 2010 in GBC, it was evident that GBC’s employees, who were going to celebrate the yuletide without any salary had one common chorus to sing: “This is what we will certainly get in the absence of Ampem-Darko.”

GBC has real problems that need real and immediate attention. Anyone who knows GBC very well will agree with me that Mr. William Ampem Darko is about the least of GBC’s problems. The National Media Commission should find innovative means of dealing with the institutional problems of the corporation.

In an organization where 20 per cent of the employees work hard and share the spoils with a redundant eighty 80 per cent, one person cannot be blamed. In an organization where factionalism and political interferences are a norm, the blame must not be borne by one person. In an organization where incompetence is a merit, thanks to political recruitments, it will be unfair to blame Ampem Darko alone for the woes.

Heads of GBC, GCGL and the Ghana News Agency (GNA) have either been removed or resigned within two years of change of governmental. This is neither coincidental nor accidental. The agitation for their removal started when power changed hands. If the state-owned media will be free, the NMC must not only sit up but stand up. It is also important that heads of such institutions ensure fairness to all political parties. They must always stand firm and resist any attempt to be manipulated to malign certain political parties. It is only in this way that society can stand up in unison when certain invisible forces are threatening to undo their achievements. As for the pressure, the man in the street knows its intensity.

GBC is one media organization that has a collection of greatest number of quality journalists. But their efforts are shackled by decades of systemic and institutionalized anomalies. Until these challenges are dealt with, even Jesus Christ will find it “difficult” to succeed there. I avoided the word “impossible” because of my faith in Christ Jesus.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [azureachebe2@yahoo.com] The writer is a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana. To read more of his writings, visit www.maxighana.com