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Opinions of Tuesday, 25 January 2005

Columnist: Public Agenda

Genesis of Broadcasting in Ghana

The British introduced radio in Ghana in the 1930s and used it as a propaganda tool to secure the loyalty and support of the colonies during World War two. During this period, radio became an important vehicle for providing information on the African soldiers fighting on the side of the allies.

Due to radio's integrative role, leaders of the newly independent African countries retained ownership in the hands of the state and continued to use it as a top-down communication channel.2 According to Prof. PAV Ansah, one achievement of radio in Ghana has been the forging of a common sense of national identity. Cantrill and Allport refer to this integrative role of radio when they wrote:

When a million people hear the same subject matter, the same arguments and appeals, the same music and humour, when their attention is held in the same way and at the same time to the same stimuli, it is psychologically inevitable that they should acquire in some degree common interests, common tastes and common attitudes (Cantrill, H and Allport G.W. 1935)

But by the 1980s state monopoly of mass media was beginning to cave in, thanks to the wind of change blowing over Africa. Ansah (1985) argues that opening up the airwaves could stimulate development and create more jobs like it did in Asia and Central America.3 Indeed framers of Ghana's 1992 constitution appear to have anticipated the inadequate role played by broadcasting in the country's efforts at integration and accordingly inserted the constitutional protection necessary to operate it. Article 162(3) is worth quoting in full:

There shall be no impediments to the establishment of private press or media; and in particular, there shall be no law requiring any person to obtain a licence as a prerequisite to the establishment or operation of a newspaper, journal or other media for the mass communication or information.

Monopoly over Airwaves

Though the constitution made provision for the ownership of private radio and television stations it was not until 1993 that intellectuals began to talk openly about the need for the government to free the airwaves.4 During a three-day international seminar on broadcasting in Africa held in Accra in 1993, many of the participants pointed at the immense contribution private radio made to the developmental efforts of countries in Asia and Latin America and recommended that African governments should use the national frequencies to stimulate development5 .

A study on the " Implications of Privatisation of Radio and Television" in Ghana, found that 90% of a sample of 100 experts welcomed the idea of privatisation. The respondents who objected were mostly employees from the state controlled Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, arising from their apprehension for competition.6

Despite the overwhelming support for the privatisation of broadcasting, the PNDC was reluctant to loosen its grip on the electronic media until May 1994, when residents of Accra woke up to the sound of a pirate FM station called 'Radio Eye'. After 24 hours of operating the security agencies shut down the station and arrested Dr. Charles Wereko Brobbey and his team of technicians.7

The confiscation sparked bloody riots in Accra, ending the first attempt at breaking state monopoly over broadcasting. It was not until July 1995 that Joy FM, was licensed to operate in Accra. Since 1995, Accra has seen 16 knew private FMs with several spread across the country. Even the most unthinkable thing has happened. Accra now boasts of three private terrestrial TV channels and several satellite channels, while Kumasi, the second largest city has three satellite channels. No doubt the introduction of private radio and TV stations in Ghana has brought mixed blessings for newspapers. And the coming of the Internet has only rekindled debate on the viability of the printed word.8

The Coming of the Internet in Ghana

In August 1994, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country, apart from South Africa to establish local Internet services. Due to Ghana's high Internet connectivity, the Wall Street Journal once cited the country as one of the five 'silicon nations' to watch in terms of connectivity, information security, human capital, business climate and the attention government gives to technology9 .

But the fact that connectivity is still limited to big cities is an indication that the Internet may not have the kind of influence in Ghana as it has in Britain. That notwithstanding, the Internet is set to revolutionarise news gathering and distribution in Ghana, as in Britain.10

Before the liberalisation of the airwaves and the launching of the Internet in Ghana, newspapers had maintained their dominant role in providing news and setting the media and public agendas for debate. This seems to be changing, given the speed with which radio disseminates news and the seemingly uncontrollable nature of the Internet.

The ongoing communication revolution in Britain and to a less extent Ghana evokes the question of how the new media will influence the future of newspapers in the two countries? The question of what went wrong with newspapers in Ghana and Britain and whether newspapers can survive competition from radio, TV and now the Internet is the focus of my study. Already in Britain competition has compelled the more established newspapers to respond by introducing new marketing strategies, while journalists have intensified skills training. What is the way forward in Ghana?

This study was conducted out of my apprehensions about the future of newspapers. Through this chapter and subsequent ones, the reader will find arguments and views that will confirm or disprove the research question whether or not newspapers "will survive the new media?"

1 Steyn, A et al (1995). "Sub-Saharan Africa". In Merrill (Ed) Global Journalism: Survey of International Communications. New York. Longman. Pp 208-217.

2 Steyn, A et al (1995). "Sub-Saharan Africa". In Merrill (Ed) Global Journalism: Survey of International Communications. New York. Longman. Pp 208-217.

3 Ansah, PAV. (1985). GBC Golden Jubilee Lectures. Ghana Publishing Corporation. P21

4 Ansah, PAV. (1984). "Problems of Localising Radio in Ghana." Gazette 25 (1) p13.

5 Conference proceedings on the Privatisation of Radio and Television in West Africa, 1993, Accra.

6 Safo, A(1993). "Implications of Privatisation of Radio and Television in Ghana." Unpublished Dissertation Submitted to Ghana Institute of Journalism for the Award of Diploma in Journalism.

7 Kwame, K. (2000). Power and Politics in Ghana. USA. Freedom Forum

8 Kwame, K. (2000). Press, Power and Politics in Ghana. USA. Freedom Forum

9 Kwame, K. (2000). Press, Power and Politics in Ghana. USA. Freedom Forum

10 "Networking Ghana." (Paper delivered by Ministry of Communication at Communications

Conference in Dakar, Senegal 2002).