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Opinions of Monday, 11 March 2013

Columnist: Antobam, Kobina

The Pathetic Ghana Media & Credentials

By: Kobina Antobam

It’s about time I took on the Ghana media: electronic, radio, television, and print. Are you journalists scared of your politicians and prominent individuals in the country? Or have you found an inextricable custom that has glued you permanently to irreversible brain atrophy? Without exception, you guys act like you have no backbones. You follow each other lockstep without even one of you attempting ever to buck the trend and say enough is enough. This has gone on for too many years and it’s about time I took you on.

Before I get to my point, let me run you through a little historical perspective. Just a couple of generations ago, educational institutions and opportunities in the country were far, few and nonexistent for many. Just before and right after independence, a small number of Ghanaians, mostly male, had varied levels of formal education. Illiteracy rate was extremely high and almost 100% with females. Most Ghanaians who had the opportunity to go to school couldn’t continue beyond the Standard 7 middle level. Brutal corporal punishment was an expected accompaniment to the experience. And the educational process in most cases was tortuous, rigorous, and terrifying for school-aged kids and preteens, and it bordered on sick entertainment for crude and abusive teachers and headmasters. That level of education was supposedly basic, but with that basic education, most Gold Coast Standard 7 graduates could read well, write grammatically well, count very well, and reason coherently.

I can boldly make the claim that Standard 7 leavers those days were and are still superior to today’s high school graduates and many of the current crop of college educated Ghanaians. I clearly understand that the school-aged population in the country has exploded in the last three decades and that in turn has debased the quality and quantity of available materials, instruction, and facilities. It’s also the truth that the state has not been able to keep pace with the steadily increasing demand for up-to-date quality classroom instruction and teaching materials.

Anyway, under their stupid racist colonial masters, those middle school leavers filled much needed indigenous mid-level and lower civil service and corporate positions, such as office clerks, secretaries, receptionists, telephonists, customs and excise officers, and police officers. By the time of Ghana’s independence, many of the Standard 7 graduates had acquired the academic and experiential savvy to rise to leadership positions in their careers.

My father was one of them. He was well-read. He had only Standard 7 education and began his work experience with the Royal Air Force in Takoradi during the Second World War. After the war, he went on to become a high-ranking civil servant in a government department and later ran his own successful business. He gave his children the middle class lifestyle that provided us higher education as well. We went on to attain higher levels of education than what was available to my father. But we knew that he was the smarter one.

During my father’s time and our school years, University of Ghana, Legon was the only university in the country. And a few secondary schools were sparsely dotted across the southern and middle portions of the country. The very few Ghanaians who were able to attend the country’s only university and graduated with bachelor’s degrees went on to hold higher level positions than the secondary school and the Standard 7 graduates. In those times, it was the norm to let everyone aware of one’s university education. It was acceptable and respectable to identify publicly with one’s undergraduate credentials; for example, Joseph Kofi Mensah, BSc., or John Akwasi Mintah, BA (Honors). Of course, people those days even signed documents with those credentials. I mean they wrote or signed their names and actually added their undergraduate degrees next to their names. A bachelor’s degree was a top level prestigious achievement then because very few Ghanaians had it. I know you can do that today if you want to but you better not attach today’s dime-a-dozen undergraduate degrees to your names anymore. You will be dismissed quickly and become the butt of all kinds of jokes. Those were also the times when lawyers, without exception, were addressed as Esquires.

When Kwame Nkrumah expanded education in the country after independence and more Ghanaians had the opportunity to attend the additional universities in the country and increasing number of Ghanaians began to travel to the western world for higher education, more Ghanaians began to attain degrees beyond the undergraduate level. We then began to notice more credential identifications like: Edward K. Boakye, MSc., Elizabeth Araba Donkoh, MA, Kweku Annan, ACCA. And, almost at the same time, undergraduate credential identifications began to slowly recede and disappear. If a new generation was becoming more educated then undergraduate education wasn’t adequate and fashionable anymore. Inferiority complex had suddenly set in for the undergraduates.

As a result of the proliferation of PhDs and other higher levels of specialization in the last decade, it has truly become blasé to attach BSc., BA, MSc., MA, or any other degrees below PhD to anyone’s name anymore. Bachelors and Masters Degrees have almost conveniently disappeared as a form of visible identifiable academic credential. PhD is now the fad. These days, if you falter and loudly proclaim your undergraduate education, the guy next to you will dismiss your hoity-toity claim with, “But I have a master’s degree.” Then the guy next to the other two will put his foot down and proudly write both of them off with, “But I have always told you dunderheads that I have a PhD. And you better not forget to call me ‘Doctor’.” I have a strong belief that this PhD and Doctor phase will fade soon, too. It has already begun to be relegated, very significantly, to the credential dust-gathering cellar in most advanced countries, especially for people who enter politics and public service. A very good example is in America where a significant number of U.S. politicians and media figures are PhD holders, but you would be hard pressed to know who they are. The American media does not constantly harp on their education.

But in Ghana, however, it is still fashionable in politics and public service to separate oneself from everyone else as a PhD holder or a Doctor, and it has definitely become a class distinction. As soon as one obtains a PhD, not only does he or she rightfully announce it in the appropriate professional circles but strangely to everyone else who doesn’t care to know. If they write a couple of paragraphs in the form of an article in the cyber world, they want everyone to know that that bland “excellence” came from a PhD. There are also a few who have not achieved it yet, but choose to announce to the world that they are on their way to getting a PhD so you better pay attention to what they write. They strangely feel insulted if they are not addressed as “Doctor.”

Many Ghanaians, I believe, are currently in pursuit of doctoral degrees simply to make up for their personal inadequacies and insecurities. Don’t worry because we definitely know that, with its proliferation, today’s PhD is yesterday’s Masters Degree, and today’s Masters Degree is yesterday’s Bachelors degree, while today’s Bachelors degree is yesterday’s high school diploma. Additionally, most Ghanaian college students have arrived at the truthful conclusion that in order to make it in a country like Ghana today, a PhD is the fastest-track ticket to power, influence, and corrupt prosperity in politics and public service.

In the meantime, a great number of highly educated intelligent Ghanaians are on reputable campuses, in research laboratories, and renowned institutions all over the world, I mean the real erudite PhD holders, quietly teaching, researching, desperately searching for innovative products and medicines, and writing and publishing in-depth, intelligent, readable well-researched papers and books. The really distinguished highly educated Ghanaian is usually a faceless, quiet, hardworking, results-oriented contributor to society, or a busy doctor in a hospital or in private practice, or a devoted research scientist; unlike the lazy, loudmouth, tribally biased, burnt-out teachers in many run-of-the-mill schools who regurgitate the same elemental subjects to remedial students semester after semester and find ample time to splash their faceless incompetence all over the web and in public service; or the rudderless PhD politicians who have become sly in theft but are bereft of real transformative accomplishments to improve the decrepit lives of their countrymen.

Again, while good things are going on with the quiet, serious, and smart Ghanaian PhD holders, the sewer-rat scoundrels have found refuge in the cyber world and politics where they regularly expose their incompetence, shallow “intelligence,” and immaturity. I have read the cyber postings of many of these PhDs, and have made degrading judgments of their dismal thought processes. I have also listened to many of these PhD politicians who cannot put two intelligible sentences together, figuratively cannot chew gum and walk at the same time. Many of their utterances are so elemental and so lacking of depth, coherence and substance that one wonders how they obtained that level of education and whether they actually belong in public service at all.

My position on academic credentials is this: Those of us who have been lucky to have advanced our education should be extremely careful not to rub it in the faces of the rest of Ghanaians. That said, I also maintain the position that it is the personal choice of degree holders to want to publicly display their credentials. Though others feel secure in the public declarations of their academic work, I choose not to do so in my cyber postings. The fact that 99.9% of opinion contributors in the cyber world do not personally know or will never meet web visitors and readers of their opinions, it is important for contributors to be aware that they better be exceptionally good if they choose to let the world know that their opinions are from PhD holders. Telling the invisible world on the web that a contributor has a PhD implies that his/her opinions are superior to those of the untitled contributors.

All the same, I strongly disagree with those who would rather have everyone identify himself/herself generically and without credentials. Again, it’s a personal choice. But I only have a singular exception, which is, those who choose public service, especially politicians, should not encourage an academic and professional caste system in the country by exacting unearned respect and adoration through credential aggrandizement and useless self-promotion. It is actually silly and debasing for the rest of the world to pick up a newspaper, watch television, and read online repeated mention of Ghanaian politicians with titles of Excellency, Honorable, Doctor, or Professor. I fault the media for propagating this head-swelling silliness. Those encomia belong in their rightful places not constantly in the media.

Ghana is also the country where one carries his/her profession with him/her into public service. If a politician who used to teach at a university is always President Professor or an ex-soldier is always President Flight-Lieutenant, why not attach the previous professions of all politicians to their names. The former was only a glorified teacher and the latter was just an intemperate soldier. Since that’s the case, former Accountants, Attorneys, Engineers, Businessmen, Teachers, Taxi Drivers, Policemen, Traders, Civil Servants, and so on, who are elected to office should also then logically attach their previous professions to their political titles throughout their public lives. Wouldn’t that be crass silliness?

And, what about this obsession with excessive and nauseating credential identification that make conferees of honorary degrees become PhD holders all of a sudden? I fault the media in this case, too. Out of deference to all honorary degree conferees of Ghana, I opt not to mention the names of any Ghanaian who boastfully adorn himself/herself with the Doctor title, except to say that even the notorious former heavyweight boxing champion, “Iron” Mike Tyson, “Mr. Ludicrous” himself, at the prime of his career, had at least once been conferred with an honorary doctor of humanities. Now, does this make this lazy whining ex-convict rapist conferee, Mr. Tyson, a bona fide PhD holder? I feel heartened that I have never heard anyone address him as Dr. Mike Tyson. Now, I want you guys in Ghana, especially journalists, to think about that.

Nearly five months before the late President John Evans Atta-Mills died, he was invited to the White House by the U.S. President Barack Obama. An official communiqué was issued by the Christiansborg Castle about the invitation. The press release was reported verbatim by our knucklehead journalists to the Ghanaian public, and I quote what I read on-line at that time. (I have chosen to strike out areas of the communiqué which would have been a simple edit and would have made a comparative sense for public consumption.)

“Source: Koku Anyidoho (Head, Communications) At the invitation of President Barrack Obama, His Excellency President John Evans Atta Mills leaves Accra after the Independence Day Parade on March 06, 2012, for an official visit to the United States of America. As part of the itinerary, President Atta Mills will be the guest of President Obama at the White House on March 08, 2012, where inter alia, both Presidents will hold bilateral talks on Ghana/USA relations. His Excellency President Atta Mills will also interact with, Senators, Congressmen/women, Captains of Industry, as well as members of the Ghanaian community in the Washington catchment area. His Excellency President Atta Mills will be accompanied by, First Lady, Dr. Mrs. Ernestina Naadu Mills, some Ministers of State, and a high powered business delegation. His Excellency President Atta Mills is scheduled to return to Accra on March 13, 2012.”

A clear flaw in this verbatim reportage is that ex-President Mills was excellent and Obama was just plain President. Have Ghanaian reporters paused and considered the derivations or origins of the two words, Honorable and Excellency? To have honor is to maintain a consistent unblemished trusting reputation, unquestioned and doubtless probity and defensible untainted integrity. Excellence denotes uncommon, above average, superior intelligence and performance. Honorable and excellent citizens are people who are extraordinarily ethical and who have superlative performance skills. I understand that these are just titles. But what will happen if the spineless Ghanaian news media begins from this time forward to peel these titles off the politicians when reporting the news? Nothing! I know that those crafty thieving Ghanaian politicians will not chop off your heads if you simply call them Minister, Parliamentarian, President, or just name them plainly and then explain the office they hold. They will not kill you if you did that. If you journalists could change, those politicians will then begin to earn your respect, and vice versa.

My next example is a news report that appeared in the Daily Guide on November 22, 2005. “The New Patriotic Party (NPP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Nkoranza North, Hon Eric Amoateng, who is facing criminal charges in the United States for drug-trafficking was said to have used his resources to help his community by providing development projects……”

If it hasn’t yet set in to readers what my point is, this is an excellent example why simple sensible changes in the media should improve the quality of news reportage in the country. Why, in heaven’s name, is it that the shamed convicted international criminal, Amoateng, who has forever tainted Ghana with utter embarrassment and disgrace, is still honorable? This guy lost all respect and standing in Ghanaian society as soon as he was arrested for international drug trafficking. Damn it, he was a high ranking Ghanaian official, a Parliamentarian. Yet, Ghanaians continued to ascribe to him that useless “Honorable” title. It is true then that the only innocent and honorable politicians left in the country are the ones who have not yet been caught. I guess as long as Ghanaians have never caught any corrupt politicians, tried them, and imprisoned them, there are no dishonest politicians in Ghana! How about that? Ghanaians do not fail to amaze me.

I also have a gut feeling that the empty-headed media in Ghana will readily pick up from where they left off as soon as Amoateng is released from U.S. prison and sent back to Ghana by immediately singing his praises, working hard to rebuild his lost reputation, and restoring his lost titles including “Honorable.” When that time arrives, please, people, remember that Amoateng is and will always be a CRIMINAL. Do not devote any significant spaces in your newspapers or website to report extensively of his return. Don’t even dare show me his return photographs. The appropriate punishment for Amoateng in Ghana is for Ghanaians to ignore him completely when he returns. If I had the power, I would re-arrest him, charge him with breaking Ghanaian laws by exporting those drugs out of Ghana and blemishing the country’s reputation, then put him on trial one more time and let him rot in Nsawam! Unlike the weak and corruption-ridden law enforcement system and the judiciary in Ghana, Americans do not play around. Please, believe in the Americans: the guy was 200% guilty!

So, Ghanaian journalists, please, grow up. Provide us news with intelligence, professionalism, and maturity and not present us with lazy verbatim press releases as news. Have the fortitude to take a deeper critical look at your politicians and be strong and drop the superfluous titles of politicians when you report the news. Treat Ghanaians readers with the respect they deserve. Instead of being the “rented press,” as Ghanaians often label many of you, plain and simple objectivity should be the driving force behind your news reporting. Academic credential over-reporting is only one of the failings of the Ghanaian press. Other shortcomings of the Ghanaian media can be taken up at an appropriate time later.

Good day.