In July this year, Ghana's Center for Media Analysis (CMA) released a study suggesting “the extreme negative [portrayal of the] image of President John Agyekum-Kufuor and the Presidency as a whole.” Titled “Media Not to Blame,” a report on the study, which was posted on Ghanaweb.com (7/20/05), quoted the Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Media Analysis, Dr. Messan Mawugbe, as urging Ghanaians and the country'' corporate institutions against any rash tendency to blaming the media for the perceived negative portrayal of societal affairs in general. The media are a reflection of the feelings and thinking of the society, Dr. Messan Mawugbe opined.
The CMA chief, who made the preceding remarks at the launching of the International Quarterly Journal, a publication sponsored by the CMA, further observed: “The media is not leading the society and [the] corporate [establishment] to grope in the darkness as it has always been alleged. Rather, the most effective way to understand[ing] the relationship between the media and the corporate [establishment] is to observe [the latter] through the media”(Ghanaweb.com 7/20/05). Indeed, to the extent that the media are a part and parcel of society, as it were, Dr. Messan Mawugbe may be deemed to be quite accurate in his analysis. Nonetheless, the CMA study would have been more far-reaching in its analytical thrust, had the Center's CEO also recognized the fact that there are “Gate-Keepers” in the media – variously designated as editors, publishers and even reporters – whose duty is to take a morally and politically responsible attitude towards the content of news that is reported. For, needless to say, while many an event occurs unpredictably, the determination of whether such breaking news events get into the newspaper or broadcast news is not wholly accidental, or a matter of happenstance. And to be certain, even as journalists vehemently insist on their professional objectivity vis-à-vis news reportage, the fact still remains that like everybody else in society, editors and publishers are proverbial “political animals,” in Aristotelian terms. Consequently, while media practitioners may not be responsible for the general conduct and operation of society, the media are, nonetheless, fundamentally a vital force in the shaping of public perception of the polity. In other words, whatever Ghanaians know about their society and the officials who run the country's day-to-day affairs, can only be made possible by the work of journalists and other media practitioners.
Furthermore, it would have been more enriching, had the CMA study also broadened its focus beyond the ten (Ghanaian) privately owned newspapers which constituted its analytical purview. For, here again, needless to say, humongous numbers of Ghanaians continue to patronize such media perennials as the “Daily Graphic,” the “Ghanaian Times,” “The Mirror” and “The Spectator.” And so the study would have been more interesting and far more objective had it been accorded a more rounded, critical purview. Indeed, it goes without saying that many Ghanaians have yet to accord substantive credibility to the private media which they, by and large, deem to be primarily serving the ideological and commercial interests of their proprietors and sponsors.
Similarly, the government-owned and operated media have considerably lost much of their credibility through the visionless enactment and execution of repressive media policies during the course of the last quarter-century. And, indeed, it is such brutal cannibalization of the government-owned media establishment – in the form of wholesale dismissal of talented and independent-minded writers and editors – which has contributed to the abysmally low opinion which many a well-meaning Ghanaian reader has for the national dailies and weeklies.
The preceding mauger, on the sticky question of the “extremely negative portrayal of President Kufuor” and the Presidency, in general, the answer may be aptly seen to lie both within and without. In brief, to the extent that the Ghanaian media have become deafeningly vocal, verging on the abjectly and glaringly vitriolic, this may be indisputably attributed to the unprecedentedly free rein accorded the media over the last half-decade by the Kufuor-led New Patriotic Party (NPP) government. Indeed, the latter's prompt and swift move to abolishing extortionate anti-media edicts, promulgated by the Provisional National Democratic Congress (P/NDC), shortly after the NPP's assumption of the democratic reins of governance, must be singularly credited with having induced the current salutary media climate in the country. Interestingly, the latter situation has also, quite ironically but hardly surprisingly, rendered its architect as the most vulnerable premier in post-colonial Ghanaian political history. And here, of course, it ought to be observed that freedom of the press, like all other freedoms, is a double-edged sword, which is why under the tenure of the Provisional National Democratic Congress, the media was the number one enemy of government.
But whether, indeed, the media, as they currently operate in Ghana, are unduly negative in their portrayal of the executive, one thing, though, is certain: The traditional role of the media has been that of an “adversary,” as clearly distinguished from an “enemy” – for the media, unlike what the P/NDC strong-armed Ghanaians into believing for some two decades, do not exist as sycophantic collaborators of government. Rather, the media exist as a “watchdog” institution to keep public officials on their proverbial toes, as primarily servants of the people, rather than the latter's overlords. Consequently, the negative publicity accorded the executive is not necessarily a bad thing. To be certain, if constructively engaged, such publicity is wont to perpetually alert the government of its primary responsibilities, as aforementioned. And as a salutary countervailing measure, the government ought to engage the services of high-end, or astute, publicists (or public relations practitioners) in order to deftly further its ideological agenda. For, needless to say, the moment the media become sycophantic mouthpieces of the executive – as pathologically prevailed under the terror-charged tenure of the P/NDC – they automatically become a virtual nuisance, and the Ghanaian people are the ultimate losers.
On the other hand, sometimes the media may be manipulated by cynical politicians, as well as other ideological malcontents, in order to gratuitously pave the way for such regressive regimes and ventures as that which was wantonly inflicted on Ghanaians for some two decades by the Provisional National Democratic Congress (P/NDC). Consequently, it could not be overemphasized that the media need to be constantly on the alert and lookout for any subtle, and not-so-subtle, attempts aimed at its ultimate demise and the systematic dehumanization of society at large.
The CMA study also decried what the Center's Chief Executive Officer claimed to be the unsavory “interlacing of English with Akan language” on many a local radio talk-show. And here, also, we are prompted to observe that Dr. Messan Mawugbe's exhortation vis-à-vis indigenous Ghanaian languages' rhetorical purity would have been more meaningful and constructive had the distinguished media theorist also called for the promulgation of a language development policy on the part of the Ghanaian Parliament, as well as that of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP).
Indeed, the irritable problem of linguistic admixture, as alluded by Dr. Mawugbe, is very much a reflection on the general crisis of identity which post-colonial Ghanaians continue to suffer. Not very long ago, for instance, someone issued a call for the institutionalization of a lingua franca in the country, which almost brought the country to the brink of war. And while we may smugly pretend to be a multi-lingual polity, it still stands valid that Akan constitutes the primary medium of communication by a Ghanaian majority. And while we may also quibble about the percentage of Ghanaians who are of Akan extraction, it cannot be gainsaid that nearly half of all speakers of the Akan language are not of Akan cultural extraction or heritage. And until someone in government boldly comes out with indigenous language policy, the grievance of the likes of the CMA's Dr. Mawugbe, regarding the inordinate and culturally disorienting dilution of indigenous Ghanaian languages by official Ghanaian speakers of English, would not amount to the proverbial hill of beans. For the CMA chief appears oblivious of, or to ,the fact that the political neglect of the development of indigenous Ghanaian languages has meant that the latter would recede into the proverbial back-seat of a mere “vernacular,” a lower-class argot or jargon not worthy of intellectual and philosophical engagement. This abject state of affairs has, indeed, given rise to a group of impudent “Afropeans,” or Eurocentric, African intellectuals parading the halls of academic conferences here, in the West, insisting vociferously and brazenly that no such phenomenon exists by the designation of “African Philosophy.” Indeed, to these lost souls, African Philosophy is essentially the parody of Western philosophical ideologies and theories by Europhone African parakeets. And, indeed, until a national language policy is promulgated and our indigenous languages academically developed, with scientific and technological textbooks written and published in our indigenous langauges, within the certain course of a few generations, our African identities would become fossilized and defunct; and, needless to say, with the terminal occurrence of the latter would also be spelled the doom of the proverbial African personality. And I fain should rather not be around when this happens. *Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of Commentary Notes on Senanu & Vincent's A Selection of African Poetry(“O” Level”) 1985-1987, as well as the author of ten volumes of poetry and prose, including Atumpan: Drum-Talk, all of which are available from Amazon.com, Powells.com, Borders.com, iUniverse.com and Barnes & Noble.com. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.