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Opinions of Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Columnist: Reynolds Agyapong Antwi

Why Pastor Mensa Otabil gave Ghana’s media a mirror

In the 1700s, the German philosopher, Georg C. Lichtenberg, perhaps frustrated by a display of folly by another person, uttered these words which I have since come to love so much, “We have no words for speaking of wisdom to the stupid, he who understands the wise is wise already’’. Fast forward some 200 years later and those words become the perfect answer to some of the reaction Pastor Mensa Otabil receives anytime he drops those wisdom bombshells that provoke the heart of our nation and shake its intellectual foundations.

Truth is like a strong wind that strips us of all the coverings of deception and reveals us to ourselves: It is like a giant mirror that allows us to see ourselves for who we really are. Being the hypocritical people that we are, it’s not surprising that we despise truth at the level we do, because truth is uncomfortable, it’s a bitter pill we would rather not swallow.

But don’t you worry because you can count on the fearless preacher to drop these bombshells occasionally, and on Sunday 4th March he dropped one. In a sermon delivered to his congregation, he lamented the depressing content the media in this country produces, their tendency to focus on the trivial, their perpetual discussion of politics and their constant ‘comedic’ approach, despite the serious challenges which have bedeviled our nation.

And here comes the icing on the cake: he topped it up by saying he would rather watch animals (I believe he meant programs like Animal Planet or maybe National Geographic) than watch Ghana TV. Saying, at least he would learn a lot more about how to optimize his life. A friend of mine, who has never owned a TV, believes, next to not exercising and eating well, the surest way to die early from depression, is watching television in this country.

You can learn a lot about a nation after about four hours of flipping through their TV channels and listening to their radio stations. The content the media produces reflects a nation’s soul: their beliefs, their character, their priorities and by some extension, their culture. The content the media in this country produces can be summarized arbitrarily like this:

40 percent is dedicated to politics, and usually during the most productive hours of the day. Citizens are bombarded with nuisance political talk, from one election to the next, that do not translate into any meaningful outcome. And here, it is often the case that government appointees, sometimes including Ministers of State and Heads of Departments, are empaneled by these stations to discuss essentially what they should be doing from their office desks.

If they are not in TV studios, they would be jumping from one of the over 390 radio stations to the next. And they like this because it makes them feel good, feel accomplished, grants them the necessary exposure and creates the impression that they are working. And whilst at it, they get to educate the nation on all subjects; from oceanography to archaeology. Because, thanks to the media, the average politician and journalist in this country consider themselves a god; a fount of all knowledge. It’s not surprising to find a botany graduate on a television or radio panel discussing issues related to finance and economics.

30% is dedicated to all kinds of ‘Men of God’; their shenanigans are deserving of an article of its own! Half of their time is dedicated to selling all kinds of ‘weird stuff’ to their unsuspecting victims. The other half is spent polluting the minds of the many millions of our citizens who identify as Christian. Frustration is an economy, and this ‘industry’, through a general lack of ‘regulation’ and no expectation of accountability, rides on the back of the airwaves to fatten just a few people at the expense of the nation. At the expense of the many poor and desperate people who, having lost hope in their government’s ability to restore their economic dignity, consider God, and by extension the pastors, as the only avenue of solace. To describe watching these so-called pastors as depressing would be an understatement.

20% of the time is dedicated to marketing all kinds of alcoholic beverages and drugs. The ‘interesting’ names many of these alcoholic beverages are given is enough to give one an idea of the perception these companies have about the drinking public. And here again, it’s all about cashing in on the ’frustration economy’. Some send their problems to God, others to alcohol; the role our media has played in creating a nation of alcoholics can only be described as monumental.

10% is dedicated to reasonable content: investigative journalism, topical issues, educational/motivational messages and many of those things that become a solid foundation for the socio-economic advancement of a people. The challenge here is this: just a fraction of our citizens is watching or listening to these programs! Why? Because triviality sells, especially in our generation. Less interest in a programme means less advertising money to pay the bills, which explains the tendency of the media to drift to the trivial.

It’s important to highlight the fact that some media people do understand the power they wield and are using it dutifully in the service of our nation. The media is described as the fourth estate for good reason: it is a central pillar of our democracy. This is not only because of holding the government accountable by putting a spotlight on the issues that matter, but also due to its role as a ‘mass educator’. Think of the media as a giant classroom with citizens being the students and the content they produce, their curricular. A strong independent media still matters, even in the social media age.

Hopefully, Pastor Otabil’s message, far from generating a backlash, would become a wake-up call for the media fraternity to raise the bar of excellence. I was excited when a radio show host of one of the most popular morning shows in Accra, declared in anguish, that he was tired of hosting politicians year after year without seeing any real change, and that he was going to dedicate his show to hosting technocrats and experts on relevant fields of our economy to discuss matters which speak to the core of our development.

May this mirror of introspection become the springboard for creating a media we can all be proud of. Amen!