Ah, permit me to be very Ghanaian and say “I do not want to say I told you so.” Ha ha, but I said it. What am I talking about? Well, the worries about the state of the media in Ghana is about reaching a crescendo as over the weekend we heard the deputy minister of information issuing a release that drew parallel with my concerns. They are very worried about the rampant and blatant pornography in our newspapers. He went on to mention a similar practice in the other mass media such as the television and radio stations as well. But well, I would still stay on the newspapers.
As I alluded to in the previous writing, the freedom of speech, and for that matter of the press, is one of the most respected freedoms in Ghana. Despite a few hiccups like the delayed passage of the Right to Information bill and alleged gagging clauses being ‘smuggled’ into that bill, there is still a lot of freedom in the press scene in Ghana. The Vice President of Ghana proudly beat his chest in his interview with the CNN over the weekend when he made a similar claim. He even went further to dare say that the media in Ghana is about the freest in the world and not even sub-Saharan Africa. As he said further, the mass media is filled with newspaper reviews on hot political issues in a no holds barred match which when you survive as a politician, you are bound to survive the rest of the day.
That is all fair and well. But my amazing father taught me, that freedom goes with justice as we have it in our coat of arms. In other words, rights go with responsibility (he didn’t say that bit though). These two are inseparable. Anyone who decouples the marriage of these two made in heaven is putting asunder what God has put together and the consequences can be catastrophic. A vibrant free press is definitely a powerful tool for ensuring and enforcing other human rights as we have enshrined in our constitution, unearthing corruption and bad governance that eats away the development potential of Ghana, keeping the estates of Ghana on their toes, and the list of benefits goes on.
On the contrary, when this same liberated free press does not play by the rules, they unnecessarily open the floodgates to troubles. Pornography and political party alignments (or loss of objectivity) are but a few of the diseases that have been diagnosed of our media. Specialist reviews of the media front and the newspapers continue to make more diagnoses. Indeed, if the newspapers were to be a human being, the myriad of problems facing it (symptoms) would easily graduate it from a disease to a syndrome such as HIV/AIDS. That means we are not to take the issue lightly or it would fester and eat us up like a cancer.
Turning our attention back to the newspapers, I am sure we have all seen and read of the symptom of sensationalism. Sensational HEADLINES AIMED PURELY AT ATTRACTING BUYERS FOR PROFITS IS BECOMING WAY TOO MUCH. Yes journalism calls for creativity and play with words but that should not amount to sensationalism. You see headlines that have no bearing to the body of the article and you wonder what it was all about. This area is not too provocative like the issue of indecent headlines so I can cite examples if I recall them. For instance, there was a newspaper headlines like “ET Mensah impregnates ……” Automatically, ones mind goes to the honourable ET Mensah who is a Member of Parliament and the Minister for Employment and Social Welfare. I picked up the paper to read the article only to realise it is about a certain ET Mensah in a village that is not even on the maps of Ghana and this earned front page place? You must be joking you guys. Are you kidding me? This definitely is sensationalism that passes for a prank to ‘swindle’ readers.
Another aspect of this sensationalism is the aspect that touches on tribalism. This is very worrying indeed. Issues of tribal nature do sell but against the backdrop that we are in Africa where tribal considerations come before nationality and other allegiances, this is very troubling. As we typically say in Ghana, you do not need to be a rocket scientist to see that almost all the civil strife and wars on the continent have tribal underpinnings. It is a fact that some people and political leaders make statements that smell of tribalism and that the media are to report factually. But at the same time, I also know that the media are to play the august role of being gatekeepers. Do we want to blackout such speeches and persons or do we want to fan smouldering pieces of fire so they flare up into a ‘magnificent’ conflagration.
The newspapers may not be responsible for what the radio and TV stations do but it is a fact that these mass media are thriving on the currents created by the newspaper review segments and programmes. In like manner, the radio and television in reviewing newspapers are often guilty of picking on the scurrilous sensational headlines. The newspapers directly or indirectly are proving ammunition or fuel for this explosive situation. My worries are further heightened by the fact that the review in most cases are done by persons who are not authorities in the area and more often than not are politically biased. When the phone lines are opened for listeners to call in and contribute, my worries are but confirmed. Illiteracy and gullibility are high among the average Ghanaian. i.e. IGNORANCE. Psychology tells me such individuals are easily deceived otherwise.
We have seen our soldiers go all over the world as peacekeeping forces. We also have the paradoxical privilege of hosting refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and recently Ivory Coast. Do we as a nation want to tow that line? The boom speeches as they have come to be known are sensational and do sell but do we consider that illiteracy is high, and that the political and tribal temperature in Ghana is very high, near boiling point or point of explosion. Going into an election year, at least, the political temperature is likely to heat up further and we ought to beware.
We are in the information age and information is everything; both good and explosive. Through the timely release and dissemination of information, some nations are going places. As it stands now, Ghana’s poverty gap is a technological gap. I dare say that there is a huge element of information gap as well as technology in advancing nations is primarily used to push information. The job and business of the media is well cut out for them and a paradigm shift from these contra-productive issues would do Ghana a lot of good.
The social, development, health, and other vital issues that the newspapers can tackle are enormous. The educational and information gap or deficit of the citizenry of Ghana is wide, as far from the sun as the planet Pluto.
UNTIL GHANAIANS ARE ARMED WITH REQUISITE AND ADEQUATE INFORMATION, PLAYING THEIR ROLE TO FACILITATE DEVELOPMENT WOULD BE DIFFICULT IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE. THIS IS THE INFORMATION THE NEWSPAPERS SHOULD BE PROVIDING AND NOT GOSSIPS AND OTHER TRIVIAL OR PETTY ISSUES.