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Opinions of Friday, 3 April 2009

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Why The GBC Boss Must Not Be Fired

By Manasseh Azure Awuni

Two days after the swearing in of Prof. JEA Mills as president, I listened to Radio Ghana’s news bulletin at 6:00PM and the Home News at 8:00PM, and one news item struck me most. It was outgoing Acting Western Regional Director of GBC, Mr. Johnson Adu’s, call on President Mills not to fire the Director-General of GBC, Mr. William Ampem Darko as had been the practice by past governments. His reason? If all past D-Gs of the corporation had worked like Mr. Ampem Darko, GBC would have been better than its current state.

Some few days later, a feature on myjoyonline.com also caught my attention, which I read and saved for future reference. It was entitled, “Is the GBC Boss Still at Post?” The writer was S. Xoese Dogbe. He wondered why the D-G of GBC did not fire himself on the day of the announcement of Prof. Mills as winner of the run-off. The feature was also published in the “daily Express” newspaper, which the writer edits. Photocopies of it were posted on the notice boards of GBC with a footnote urging employees of the corporation to read and make their own judgment. The footnote also added that the writer would be officially invited to the corporation’s Workers Durbar to express his views and offer suggestions as to how he thought GBC could be moved forward (in the right direction). I don’t know if he went.

I visited the same website a few days later and I saw another 2,039-word long, passionately-written feature entitled, “GBC is Rotten.” This one was written by Ras Mubarak, who had worked with the GBC for 12 years. According to Mahatma Gandhi, an honest disagreement is a good sign of progress. Ras Mubarak sounded very critical but if every employee of the GBC could get a copy of that feature and read it until he or she can memorize it like a Sunday school memory verse, makes an honest self retrospection and changes for the better, GBC will connote excellence.

I do not agree with Mr. Dogbe’s call on the D-G to resign, but I agree with some of the things he said. With regards to Ras Mubarak’s piece, I do not agree entirely with the title but I agree with everything he wrote in that well-thought, well-organised and candidly touching piece.

I grew up in a rural area and GBC was (and still is) the only media organization available to many Ghanaians. The only newspaper that penetrates into Kete-Krachi, where I had my primary to secondary education, is the Daily Graphic. No wonder I called every newspaper “graphic” until I gained admission into the Ghana Institute of Journalism. The fifty copies of the paper, which enter the district late in the night, are distributed to only departments and departmental heads the following day after the day of publication. When GIJ published admission list, in the Daily Graphic, it was a friend, whose father worked at the district education office, who drew my attention to it after two days. I was just lucky. Even though some people are able to get different FM stations after erecting very tall masts, GTV and Radio Ghana still remain the only TV and radio stations to many households in Ghana. This explains how relevant GBC still is even in the face of media plurality.

I was therefore greatly disappointed on September 10, 2006, the first day I entered GBC. The place looked like an abandoned warehouse and the mossy buildings were a disgrace to a country which misses no opportunity to boast of being the gateway to Africa, forgetting that the goodwill Nkrumah left behind is fast deteriorating. I was later to see more rot later when I had the opportunity to do my practical attachment with GTV News department. The newsroom was so bad that anytime people came to donate money to help some advertised children seeking help to undergo surgery, the donation was received outside so that camera could capture a viewable background. It was one thing finishing an assignment and another hell waiting for a vehicle to come and pick the news crew from the location, since it is the policy of GTV not to carry its cameras and other equipment in a taxi. The more humiliating of it all was writing a story within twenty minutes and leaving the newsroom late in the night because of the unusually long queues that formed at the editing bench of the film editors. As for we the young reporters, seeing our names on the byline was enough to offset the frustration, but the question I usually asked myself was how the usual reporters and the editors (who received countless calls from stranded crews) felt. This was GBC then!

Today I cannot say GBC is what it should be, but anyone who entered GBC three years ago and enters there today and cannot see the great transformation of the corporation under William Ampem Darko is either blind or has vowed never to see anything good about GBC. Before reading the scripture at the GBC’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Mr Paul Adu Gyamfi, the Chairman of the National Media Commission, took time to congratulate management for the significant facelift the corporation had seen in recent times. Even Mr. Dogbe admits that if there has been any success at all, it reflects in the number of new cars procured by the corporation. If he ever got stranded after an assignment at GBC, he would appreciate the importance of the cars to news crews and buses for transporting workers to and from work. I agree with Ras Mubarak that there is still more room for improvement, but the numerous achievements and transformation chalked under the Current D-G are enough to let him stay on. It is said that if you hate a duiker, you must not fail to acknowledge its swiftness. This is one reason I think Mr. William Ampem Darko must not be fired.

Another reason I think the GBC boss must stay is to restore the credibility and image of the corporation as an independent public broadcaster. It may be argued that the D-G is not a president’s appointee, but we live in a country where much of our actions are the polar opposite of what we claim we stand for. Anybody can be fired subtly when power changes hands. This is Ghana.

I cannot but re-echo Ras Mubarak’s assertion that both the NDC and the NPP must be blamed for the woes of GBC. The NDC and a good number of Ghanaians critically accused GTV of trying to prevent the NDC from ever coming to power. TV has power! In one of his satires entitled “Ananse the Vulcaniser”, Daily Graphic’s ace columnist, George Sydney Abugri, remarked:

Campaign reports on television are getting more and more intriguing as Election Day keeps hurtling towards us with increasing momentum: Several television stations telecast a report on the same campaign rally: In one telecast, the camera pans across the crowd in such a way that you think you are seeing all of humanity in one single sweep of the lens.

You watch a telecast of the same rally by another station and the camera pans at very strange angles and for only short distances across the crowd! One campaign rally, two sharply contrasting images. Intriguing, Jomo. Absolutely intriguing.” This was at play in the run up to the 2008 elections. In 1993, the NPP, while in opposition, dragged GBC to court for not giving a live coverage of a seminar organised by the party to comment on the 1993 budget after GBC had given full coverage of a similar event organised by the NDC for its supporters on the 23rd and 24th January 1993. In a unanimous decision on 22nd July that same year, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the NPP.

Per Justice G.R.M. Francois, “The free exchange of views is necessary to give the electorate an opportunity to assess the performance of government in power as against the potential of an opposition in the wilderness. It keeps the government on its toes and gives the neutral, apolitic citizen an opportunity to make up his or her mind.”

Was GBC fare to the NPP in opposition? Was GBC fair to the NDC in opposition? Did the NDC see anything wrong with the treatment meted out to the NPP while it was in opposition? Did the NPP also see anything wrong with alleged sabotage of NDC by GTV in the run up to the 2008 elections? Were D-Gs and news editors during the two periods appointed by the National Media Commission without any subtle political manipulations? Both parties are guilty of manipulations in the state-owned media. Only an independent media can be fair!

In Ghana, we pride ourselves as having one of the freest media on the continent. This, to me, is not true. I will only believe that there is press freedom in this country when the state-owned media can be critical of government, expose corrupt practices of government and still have their director generals, managing directors and news editors at post. The recent truncation of the GTV’s Breakfast show and the muckraking in its rake attests to this fact.

GBC really has a problem and another way both the NPP and the NDC are guilty is what Ras Mubarak calls insulting salaries paid to workers. Paying employees peanuts and expecting them to give their best is like putting live charcoal on the palm of a child and asking him to carry it with care. This is not possible. This explains why seasoned reporters have left GBC. A good number of employees are still there just because they have to be there and not because they want to be there. The output of GBC, in my candid opinion, is below average when one looks at the quality of experienced manpower the corporation has.

GBC is not totally rotten. GBC Radio news has, for some time now, moved from the lifeless broadcast of “the president said, and the minister said” to lively news bulletins worth listening to. Its Ghana Today and UNIIQ FM’s Perspectives still remain some of the most innovative ways of telling news stories.

GBC is not totally rotten. There is hope. The right people must be put at the right places. Until Cecil Nii Obodai Wentum’s powerful voice was taken off the Uniiq Breakfast Drive, I did not listen to Joy FM’s Kojo Oppong Nkrumah every morning. Workers of GBC should not be paid slave wages. The ‘this is how we do it here’ syndrome and mediocrity must make way for creativity and innovation. And more importantly, the POLITICIANS must keep off and allow management and staff some freedom to do what they are paid to do. Mr. William Ampem Darko should be left to do his job if we respect the rule of law we so pride ourselves in.

Finally, every D-G and editors must know that politicians will forever be changed like baby diapers, but until Jesus comes, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation must always serve the nation.

By MANASSEH AZURE AWUNI

azureachebe@yahoo.com

The writer is a Level 300 student of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra.