The Role Of The Press - II Since the beginning of the current democratic dispensation in 1992, Ghana has seen an ever increasing level of free speech and freedom of the press. The period has seen a boom in the number of private and public newspapers and radio stations. These are all very positive developments and we salute all whose effort and leadership contributed to this reality. I personally like the decentralized nature of the radio stations, giving room for local issues and information to be raised and disseminated at that level.
In celebrating this freedom there is a need to remember that humans are admonished in the Bible that the tongue wields the power of life and death. In our personal lives the tongue takes on a literal meaning, but in our social and national life this role is played largely by the media. Recent developments on the Ghanaian media scene buttress this age-old truth and provide hints to the effect that we can tap into the life giving power of the tongue for our own common good and avoid slipping under its influence of “death”. The choice is ours.
Let met start with the “bad” note, because I wouldn't like to end with one! I may be wrong, but I think that all well-meaning Ghanaians ought to worry over the current wave of “divisive tendencies” and narrow-minded partisan press which is dominating the media scene. Granted, the reality of life is such that there will always be such “partisan” press, my cause for concern is the level to which the partisanship has been propelled. This is dividing the nation into a “they and us” situation. It is now very difficult for people to express genuine opinions and concerns without being labeled or pushed into this “they and us” groupings. Any frequent visitor to Ghanaweb's SIL will testify to this. Its like “they” are always wrong and “we” are always right. The situation has got to the point where even the indefensible is defended!
One may ask, what has happened to our sense of objectivity? Need we always see things in black and white? What do we gain by seeing things this way? What happened to our sense of tolerance? Of what use is freedom of speech if it only serves to divide us? The irony of the matter is, it is those who ought to know better by virtue of their position and training who are most guilty of intolerance and divisive language. Leaders past and present, public office holders, academicians and religious leaders have joined this chorus and their partisan and divisive flames are fanned and fueled by journalists.
The current political season has heightened this. Some of the campaign adverts one sees on the screens just make one wonder whether we have a “Palistinian-Isreali” conflict at home. In all this they fail to ask themselves, who loses, what legacy do we leave our children and how does one rule a divided nation? It is apparent that people will sell their souls to the devil for power, and that their quest has little to do with the aspirations of the masses. They are not thinking about Ghana, it is more about their own vanities. I wonder if there would be such a commotion if political office holders were stripped of all the goodies, forced to send kids to public schools, treated here in Ghanaian hospitals etc. Politics should be for self-made men, and such people can afford to forgo these pegs.
What is most troubling is the deafening silence of the whole society on the potential long-term harm this “modus operandi” is having on national unity. The press is silent. The professional bodies are silent. The religious bodies are silent. The academicians will not talk and the Council of State is mute whilst the political parties do their own mudslinging. In all this, the young and old alike are fed unhealthy language. Democracy is being redefined as painting your enemy “black” to gain power. Never mind if cracks are created along tribal lines. Never mind if unity of purpose is sacrificed and never mind if fire is started, after all passports and tickets are ready for them and their families.
Now to the life giving power of the tongue. It is not my intention to bore readers with the well known positive potentials of the press, I only want to explore how this “power of life” of the press can be tapped to address one particular aspect of leadership. Many an excellent leader has been brought down by this “aspect”. Many a well intentioned and motivated leader is let down by the same thing. I am referring to the aspect of leadership which prevents the leaders from getting to know the realities on the ground!
Is it really feasible that a leader loses touch with the situation outside governmental circles? Oh yes, very easily. The very people who leaders surround themselves with are the ones who create and sustain this reality. History abounds with examples, from the days of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, through to the recent past ex-President Jerry Rawlings. Even the current President John Agyekum Kuffour is not immune to this problem. As the saying goes, birds of similar feathers fly together so leaders tend to surround themselves with people the feel comfortable with. A popular song has it “tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies” – well these people can go all the way to tell “big and bitter” lies to get to the heart of the president!
Sometimes one wonders, why do they do this? Why do Ministers, DCE's etc go the extra mile to make the president feel all is well? Why do they stop classes for school kids to line up the streets just to wave leaders? Why do they hire crowds to attend gatherings? Why do they hastily grade roads just because the President or the Minister is coming? Why do they solicit people to sing praises? Is it to cover their own misdeeds? Why do we turn human leaders into infallible gods? Well, you and I may never know, until one day we enter their shoes!
In the light of the above, I believe strongly that we should not wait till our presidents or leaders in general leave office before we start demonizing them. We have to, and should help them do the right things for the good of all. The new type African leader will need this sort of assistance to walk the dire straits of the corridors of power. And this is where the media can be of immense help. Sadly, in our part of the world, this is exactly where the press has failed us. And we still see the praise singing, the sycophancy and the defense of the indefensible.
The press could praise where praise is due, and criticize constructively where warranted. A leader who realizes that he is under constant scrutiny is less likely to falter than one who is in bed with the very people who are supposed to monitor him. More often than not, the head of leadership who bears final responsibility for everything, has little knowledge and control over events around him. His rise and fall, can mean success or failure not only for him but for us all in the nation. We should serve as his eyes and ears to give him control over events. Even if he/she fails to heed us, persistent pressure from the press, professional bodies, religious bodies and say the Council of State can make an impact.
We do a great deal of disservice to our leaders and to the nation if, for whatever reason we keep mute, or sing praises, defend their wrongdoings or cover them. As typical examples, just imagine what would have happened if the nation had kept mute over the “IFC” or CNTI loans! Let us all help root out the sycophancy in the land. Wrong is wrong, no matter from which quarters it is coming and has nothing to do with relativity. It does not help our national development to have a one-sided press. Let us be bold to stand up for the truth. I know, truth perceived from differing angles gives differing perspectives, but these are only perspectives. That is why we need to see it through as many angles as possible – this way truth remains unchanged
Well, we cannot sit on the fence and watch the unfolding drama of misrule on the continent unconcerned. Let us act in our own small way to give hope to posterity. We would have taken a first step on a 1000 mile journey. May God help us.
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