One of the most refreshing and significant developments in the last two decades so far as the history of Africa is concerned has been the resurgence of private, independently owned mass media on the continent. Over this period the private media has provided a semblance of balance and forthrightness in the way news has been covered particularly by the mainly well established state-media or government media.
In spite of their imperfections which are inherently human, the consensus out there is that the private media has done a good job and deserve praise.
The history of the private press and media cannot be fully compiled without taking into cognizance the role played by newspapers like the Ghanaian Chronicle, the Independent, the Ghanaian Voice, the Pioneer, the Free Press and many others before them who are now defunct or out of circulation However the journey to expand the frontiers of free speech which had been asphyxiated as a result of the overthrow of the constitution of the Third Republic did not take off until the late Tommy Thompson and later Kabral Blay-Amihere established the Free Press and the Independent-practically defying the newspaper licensing laws of the PNDC regime
The electronic media also had their moment when fate led Dr. Charles Yves Wereko-Brobbey to establish the radio station he named “Radio Eye”. Though ruled a pirate station and an illegal entity, it set the pace for the eventual liberation of the airwaves which is being enjoyed by Ghanaians up to this day. At the last count it is estimated that there are about twenty to twenty five privately owned radio stations in Ghana. Out of this conservative number, Accra has almost 15 and counting. Free on air Television stations are also on the rise in Ghana, a giant leap in the broadcasting history of our country.
WAIT A MINUTE!!!
While we pat ourselves on the shoulder for making a lot of strides in the expansion of the frontiers of free speech in our country-which has been reprised in other countries on the sub-region-we need to apprise ourselves of the danger an unbridled and irresponsible media could pose to the peace we enjoy in this country in the build-up to the December General elections. The great role the media is playing and continues to play in deepening free speech, the rule of law, good governance and all its ancillary components pertaining to democracy notwithstanding, we have to remind ourselves of the need to place objectivity, balance and truth above other considerations. The media has to wean itself of sensationalism and muckraking. Yellow journalism and muckrakers belong to the William Hearst era and must stay there. The December elections is five months away but the headlines the media is spewing out is 70 per cent sensational. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the political temperature is very high. Careless comments made by politicians on the stump which are subsequently splashed on the front pages of the newspapers ups the ante and raises the political temperature unnecessarily. Comments like “Ghana shall be like Liberia, Beating war drums, War drums are meant to be beaten” only impose fear among the electorate, unnecessarily inflame passions and sets the tone for disaster. That is all the purpose it serves.
The media has to perform its gate-keeping job very well as the general elections approaches the homestretch.
ISSUES AND LESS RHETORIC
We have to make this election an issues-oriented one. Journalists have to ask questions about health care, jobs, education, poverty reduction, good roads and other issues that affect the lifestyles of all Ghanaians.
While at it they should also tour the constituencies of our Parliamentarians and to apprise themselves of the living conditions of the people. We have to make the battle to unravel the truth a crusade and then take it to the doorsteps of the politicians. We can only assess our politicians better by following up after the interview is over. Following up gives us the opportunity of gaining a first hand appraisal of the situation in the back yard of the politician. This in turn informs any judgment we make of that politician. The media has given our politicians a pass for far too long and it has to stop. We need to hold our politicians from both sides of the divide accountable for all the promises they have made both in the past and in the present. That is how we can sustain our democracy and make a success story out of it. We have come too far to let the gains we have struggled to make implode before us.
We cannot afford to lose sight of the icebergs in the water. The Titanic did and sank in the 1920's. We need to be on the look out for the ice bergs in the water to avoid the same fate.
By Paa Kwesi Plange For Gye Nyame Concord