*By Lord Aikins Adusei
Many Ghanaians are dismayed and horror-struck at the kind of journalism being practiced in today's Ghana. There is no doubt the NDC and NPP are the two leading political parties in Ghana and to replace them with a third party is unthinkable for now. But for journalists to defend their lies, their corrupt cocaine ridden behaviours, their ill-conceived economic policies, and their mismanagement of state resources, is something that the people of Ghana cannot understand. Almost all the journalists in Ghana appear to be either speaking for the NPP or the NDC. There is nothing to show that the journalists in Ghana write and talk as journalists. Ghanaians are looking for independent and neutral mind, but they cannot find any. There is no independent or middle voice. There is no voice speaking for mother Ghana and her children. There is no voice speaking for Ghana and the millions of Ghanaians who are languishing in poverty, without jobs, without electricity, whose houses have no water and who lack basic sanitation, not to talk about good roads, better housing and hospital facilities.
The old colonial and tribal mentality that has characterised Ghana's politics has been transferred to the field of journalism. This has resulted in three sets of journalists and three groups of media outlets in Ghana. One of them belongs to the NDC including The Ghana Palaver, The Ghanaian Lens, The Daily Democrat, The True Democrat, The Crystal Clear Lens, The Weekly Standard, The Informer and The Ghanaian. Another group belongs to the NPP including, Daily Searchlight, The New Punch, The Mail (Formerly Accra Daily Mail), and Daily Guide. The third one is owned and controlled by the NPP or the NDC depending on who is in charge of government. I am referring to the so called state media (GBC and its cohort). Each of these media houses spews nothing but propaganda messages devoid of truth and matters that are at the heart of the people. When I was growing up as teenager I used to respect The Ghanaian Chronicle a lot. There was another paper called The Free Press. I would not rest if I did not read these two papers. That was in the 1980s and 1990s. These papers were committed to informing Ghanaians about the state of our nation: the poverty in the rural areas, the corruption that was so rampant in the country, the human rights abuses and the military brutalities that defined the politics at the time. Today that is all gone with Anas Aremeyaw Anas being the only journalist who appears to care about the well-being of Ghana.
When NPP tells lies and NDC does the same the only body that can rightly inform the people is the media. But what happens when the journalist is in bed with the very politician telling the lies? Thanks to the media everything in the country has been reduced to NDC and NPP, nothing more nothing less. The poor nature of our roads is not discussed with the same intensity in which the media houses defend their clients (NDC and NPP). The corruption at the Accountant General's Department and in the ministries of education, finance, health, roads is not exposed because the journalists are busy defending the lies of NDC and NPP. The poverty in the rural areas is ignored completely in our discussions because the journalists are interested in writing lies. We hear the names NPP and NDC more than we do about unemployment. We do not hear about poverty in the rural areas unless they are talking about NDC. Where is their sense of patriotism? Where is our love for mother Ghana? Do we have to blindly follow NDC and NPP and speak for them? Do we have to defend their politics of insults, their politics of lies and their corrupt cocaine lifestyle?
In the 1980s and 1990s The Daily Graphic, Times and the GBC were singing praises to government officials and ignoring the poverty that was swallowing the masses because the journalists and editors there were interested in nothing but their stomach. Has anything changed since then? No. Today because of the competition from the private media the practise of singing praises to officials in order to secure their jobs has become even more intense. The Graphic and Times are always full of images showing Ministers commissioning toilets. I mean toilets. Editors in both media outlets see toilets as so important that they have to devote pages to report them and even have images spread inside their papers. I wish the editors there will have the opportunity to read the New York Times, the Guardian in UK and the Washington or Jerusalem Post to check what they usually report.
Publishing toilets is nothing but propaganda designed to deceive the people that something substantial is being done to help them while the issues so close to their heart are completely ignored. But that propaganda has brought us nothing but misery, poverty, and hardship. People have to sell on pavements and in the streets of Accra, Kumasi in order to make a living. Children are dropping out of school in the northern part of Ghana in order to become kayayos and street vendors in Accra and in Kumasi and all journalists are quiet. Who should write to defend the homeless and the voiceless when the journalist trained to do so is busy telling and defending lies spewed by corrupt and cocaine mafias masquerading as politicians?
There is no doubt that every human has his or her own biases but when the biases are taken too extreme it produces effects that cripple progress and development and that is exactly what is happening in the field of journalism in Ghana today. The biases of the journalists and the media houses in the country have been carried too extreme to the point that they are not able to speak or write the truth anymore. Take for example the damning cocaine revelation captured in the US Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. Anyone who critically read the cables can tell for sure that the operatives of the NDC and the NPP have been deeply involved in the cocaine trade. The inglorious revelations show that both the NDC and NPP politicians have succeeded in making Ghana a hot bed for and epicentre of cocaine smuggling in West Africa. When the revelations were made public instead of journalists asking questions like why has Ghana become the epicentre; who is involve; what method do the perpetrators use; and what can be done to eliminate the cocaine threat, the discussion and the analyses that followed were quickly reduced to the usual NDC and NPP politics by journalists who should have asked critical questions and put those failing to protect Ghana from the menace of the drug trade on their toes. The media spent a lot of time apportioning blames to NDC and NPP without any serious analysis as to what can be done. As I write the damage of the cocaine revelation is being felt by law-abiding Ghanaians travelling abroad as they have become target and suspect of drug and law enforcement agencies in Europe. The nation's reputation and its image internationally have been severely battered thanks to NDC and NPP politicians and their uncritical media friends. I have been forced to ask where the Kofi Coomsons and the Haruna Attas have all gone.
We are slowly moving towards a situation where Ghanaians get to know the truth about what is happening in their own country not through local journalists/media but through revelation by foreign media. We have come to this situation because the biases of the local journalists have blinded them from practicing any serious journalism. If journalists want to be politicians they should leave the field and go into politics. It is unacceptable that they claim to be journalists while in fact they are bidding for NDC and NPP politicians, the same people who have made Ghanaians slaves of poverty. I have a serious problem when journalists write and speak like politicians; I also have a problem when they defend political corruption and when they ignore the plight of the poor.
What kind of journalism is being practiced by the Ghanaian Democrat and Palava that sees everything in the NDC as good and everything in the NPP as bad? What kind of journalism is practiced by the Daily Guide when everything is black for NDC and white for NPP? If you want to hear favourable messages about the NDC listen to Radio Gold. If you want to hear anything negative about NPP listen to Radio Gold. Is that how we want to develop Ghana? Is that how we want to build fast railways networks, build high quality houses, provide affordable healthcare and jobs for our people?
Over the last couple of months I have been listening to Asempa FM. There is a programme hosted by one Nana Kwabena Bobie Ansah. I do not know if the programme is a comedy show or not. I cannot take the programme and its host any serious because there is nothing about Ghana's current economic quagmire that is discussed. His programme is more about personalities, whipping tribal and ethnic sentiments and making disparaging remarks about women than about Ghana's total development. Nothing close to the heart of Ghanaians is discussed except politicians making hate and tribally charged statements and spewing their usual lies and the journalists who blindly support them. There is no civility and decorum on Mr. Bobie Ansah's programme. The panellists engage in verbal insults with each other when that is not enough for them they proceed to exchange blows as happened on Wednesday 9 February 2011. They frequently interrupt one another and shout on top of their voice as if they are talking to people standing thousands of miles away. The worse thing is that the analyses are often shallow, uncritical, not-balanced and most of the issues discussed are without substance. At the same time the language used on the programme is raw and undiplomatic. I ask myself whose interest is Mr. Bobie Mensah serving, is it that of Ghanaians? Does he and his cohorts watch or listen to Dateline London on BBC; Fareed Zakaria's GPS on CNN or Fault Lines, Empire and Inside Story on Aljazeera and can he contrast the atmosphere on these programmes with his usually confused and ill-moderated programme?
But Nana Kwabena Bobie Ansah is not the only one whose work in my opinion is out of touch with ordinary Ghanaians. In January 2011, after Mills government increased fuel prices, Mr. Kwesi Pratt is reported to have said that the current hardship in the country is too much and it is like the NDC government stopped thinking a long time ago. Well the truth is that Mr. Pratt also stopped thinking so many years ago. What does he expect when he focuses all his effort defending the government and not the plight of Ghana and Ghanaians? I see Mr. Ametor Kwame, Mr. Kwesi Pratt, Mr. Kwaku Baako and their colleagues in journalism as part of the machinery that is producing the sickening poverty situation and deprivation in Ghana. I say so because their pronouncements indicate that they speak for NDC and NPP rather than Ghana and Ghanaians. Most of Mr. Pratt's debates have been to defend the NDC and to criticise the NPP. Likewise Mr. Kwaku Baako has most of the time defended the NPP and criticised the NDC all to the disadvantage of the country and its people. Ghanaians are really suffering but the message of the senior journalists has often tended to show that everything in the country is fine when in fact everything is bad. The consequence is that Ghana's development is being sacrificed for the same politics that has brought us nothing but misery.
The politics of insults which has come to replace government policies to fight cholera, poverty and water shortage in our cities, towns and villages couldn't have gotten worse without the media playing a role. Hannah Bissiw and Ursula Owusu couldn't have gone far with their foul-language politics if the media were critical. Koku Anyidoho and his cohorts in the NDC and the NPP would have refined their language and their thinking if the media had been critical. Visit www.ghanaweb.com and experience the kind of language that the editors and moderators there allow users to use there: Ghanaians are literally tearing one another apart with words, language and insults some of which are too appalling to be described yet the editors at Ghanaweb see nothing wrong with that. Where is their sense of responsibility?
In some countries that I know, it is journalists who set agenda for governments. Some of the journalists are so specialised in their field that they are able to speak authoritatively on issues affecting their countries. The reports and stories they run put fear in politicians and make governments shiver and run for cover. Those journalists are on the side of the people ready to inform the people what their governments, parliamentarians and political appointees are doing in their name. Do I see that in Ghana? No.
Am I disappointed? Yes. I am very disappointed that those who are given the platform to speak in favour of Ghana's development have betrayed the country and its people by siding with NDC, NPP and their corrupt representatives who for decades have been impoverishing the people, milking the country while asking the people to keep tightening their belts. Members of Parliament are asking for 7000 new Ghanaian cedis as salaries, but how many people in the country earn even half of that? And who is to inform the ordinary Ghanaian about the kind of rape that is happening to their country? The NDC and NPP politicians keep spending money on themselves building presidential palaces and buying presidential jets while ignoring the people's cry for water, for electricity, for food, for better housing, better education, and employment. As I write there are communities in Accra that have not received a drop of water for three years yet all that the media could do is to bring Hannah Bissiw the so called Minister for Water on air to engage in politics of insult.
I am not the only one who is disappointed and dissatisfied with the work of our journalists and the media in general. I recently read a book authored by Ivor Agyemang-Duah (2008) titled 'An economic history of Ghana: Reflections on a Half-Century of Challenges and Progress'. In the book Dr. Nii Moi Thompson also expressed his unhappiness about the lack of critical and objective analysis of economic and social issues in the country as well as the willingness of the media to publish things without questioning and without checking their accuracy or authenticity. He made reference to some statements made by some politicians prior to the 2008 elections to buttress his point. “One of the presidential candidates for the December 2008 elections recently launched his campaign and the statistics he had in there were just flat-out false! It just didn't make sense; they actually indict his government. But no one questioned it. The main opposition party didn't question it. The media, well they are somewhere else. Anything you give them they will publish. No one has a critical mind as to say wait a minute, these numbers don't make sense” Agyemang-Duah (2008, p.64). “Whenever I go on radio or talk to journalists, I remind them that they have a professional responsibility and a patriotic duty to ensure that this democratic infrastructure is actually preserved by watching or editing the kind of language people use. I tell them they need to avoid things like this is a do or die election.” This good advice was offered in 2008 by Dr. Nii Moi Thompson but in 2011 we have the media playing over and over again a statement purported to have been made by Nana Addo in which he is reported to have said 'all die be die'. That is what is called irresponsible journalism indicating that the media has neither been rational, critical, objective, patriotic nor observant.
Reverend Mensah Otabil in a recent comment published by Joy Online on Friday, 25 March 2011 also registered his unhappiness with the way the media focus time and energy to debate unnecessary issues in the country while issues that need attention are ignored completely. He said: “Can't we see the damage we are doing to ourselves? We are a third world nation; we have a development deficit of 250 years, our cities are chocking with filth, educational standards are [low], infectious diseases are killing us, our highways are unsafe for passengers, our water bodies are polluted, our forest cover is gone, industries are dying, homes are breaking up, the gap between the rich and the poor keeps widening, yet when you listen to our parliamentary debate, read our newspaper headlines, listen to radio or watch television for a whole month, you will not come across any sustained intelligent discussion offering responses”.
The journalists in the country are trading the dignity of their profession for peanuts, ignoring the people they were trained to serve. It is because of their behaviour that is why the NDC and NPP have taken Ghanaians for a ride, not addressing the unemployment problem in the country and not doing anything to improve the lot of Ghanaians who are facing poverty, and hunger. Think about how many patients would die if doctors and nurses were to trade their profession for political lies.
So what do Ghanaians want to see? They want to see critical, objective and balanced position being taking by all the media houses and the people professing the profession of journalism. Ghanaians want to see journalists asking critical questions and putting politicians and other officials on the spot to extract from them information that the public need to know. They want to see the politics of insults be removed from our national debates. They want the media to focus on the education sector and ask critical questions as to why Ghanaian universities did not make it to the top 100 of the recently published university ranking. Ghanaians want to see the cocaine debate highlighted and policies fashion out to remove its threat from the country. They want the problems of unemployment, water shortages, sanitation, waste management, and electricity be placed within our national dialogue. They want the problems of gender inequality, child labour, kayayo, teenage pregnancy be brought into our national discussion. They want a national development dialogue that will focus on how to build roads, rail networks, and telecommunication infrastructures to increase broadband access and internet speed in all parts of the country. They want national resources to be devoted to develop the rural areas and reduce the rural-urban migration that is contributing to governance problems in our cities. And finally they want the media to play its watch-dog role to police the oil revenue that is beginning to flow into the coffers of government so that the NDC and the NPP politicians will not steal it and mismanage the rest as they have done with proceeds from gold, cocoa and other valuable resources of the country.
There is so much to be done in Ghana to make it a better place for all its citizens and we must do it with critical mind, with critical eye and with critical ears, and with a sense of patriotism without the parody that has come to dominate our media landscape.
*The author is a political activist and anti-corruption campaigner. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org