A GNA Feature by Samuel Osei-Frempong
Accra, Sept.16 GNA - An old rusty typewriter sits among a pile of papers that once fed it in a room reserved for the inquisitors of the past.
Its teeth; rusty, a mutilated ribbon and a sheet of paper, which time had browned, stuck in it preserving the prints of the last strokes of this old faithful machine.
It was bought to last for the years as it documented the desires, wishes, hopes, actions, and tragedies of a people called Ghanaians while ignoring its own story.
The piece of paper bore a double spaced typed story about the inauguration of a village school. The three-letter initial "GNA" ended the piece.
Number Six, Secretariat Road, Ministries Area, Accra, is the destination, (Headquarters of the Ghana News Agency) the preferred path of most pedestrians who patronise the Tema Station. Its walls bear the footprints of careless pedestrians, food vendors and a host of hawkers, who returned to the streets of Accra in triumph after the city's administrators' abortive decongestion exercise. Its glory and image lead the loss into its almost run-down offices since there are few signboards to offer direction.
Ghana News Agency's (GNA) pre-eminent role in the gathering and dissemination of news in Ghana is undisputable .The national wire service has covered Ghana extensively and as long as it is permitted to survive, no other media house could ever equate this feat. It is ignored by the few hordes of scholars in our knowledge hungry society and misunderstood by politicians, who mattered most when it came to the allocation of resources and values.
As far as its survival is concerned, the nation's wire service has few good friends in the corridors of power. The popping up of Mr Dan Botwe in the cauldron at the Information Ministry is the last lingering hope.
Many politicians both in Government and opposition still looked at who once headed the Ministry of Information, the conduit of resources to the Agency, have proved to be more antagonistic. Once upon a time, a Minister said the GNA was sitting on a "gold mine" but he did not bother to find out how this "gold could be reached" from the surface.
Another Former Minister, who displayed crass ignorance, said that an Accra based radio station produced more stories than the GNA when in fact 90 per cent of the news broadcast by that station and other radio stations originated from his "accused non-performers". If only the Minister had taken time to find out how come that all the radio stations use almost the same stories daily; he could have realised that they all take the stories from a common source - GNA. A number of politicians have said terrible things about the national wire service, which serves as one of the last reservoirs of truly professional Journalists, who are driven by patriotism and passion. In spite of its nearness to the Castle, Ghana' powerhouse and a former slave dungeon, the GNA is gradually slipping out of time like other news agencies on the African Continent.
The constant threat of commercialisation and privatisation that followed the World Bank cum International Monetary Fund (IMF) affair with Ghana have contributed immensely in driving away some of its good hands. But luckily, some of the very good ones are still around. The unfounded and dangerous argument that the Internet has swept away the relevance of the wire service as being peddled by some academics and politicians, who have not bothered to find out the actual role of a national news agency is another hindrance. Fortunately some are awaking to the reality that it is GNA and similar media houses that put the stuff on the Internet.
These reasons and others, which are abstract, have resulted in low resource allocation to GNA thus draining the passion of some of the few, who struggle daily to keep a perfect dream of the Nation's Founder, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah alive.
Dr Kwame Nkrumah on 5 March 1957, predicted: "I foresee the day when, in the press of the World, any news item warranted by the initials 'GNA' will find an unchallengeable place in any newspaper of standing, wherever it may be".
He had personally negotiated with Reuters, the World's oldest news agency directed from Fleet Street, London, to have this business, which would "tell the African story through the eyes of the African". But after his exit, no politician had had the will to direct the once vibrant information processor into a vehicle that would mobilise a group of people, who are not well fed; plagued by pre-industrial diseases and highly superstitious to remould their destiny.
The orientation of the GNA personnel is interesting. He is more concerned with the unity of his country, a group of diverse people, who speak many languages. He is happy when a Ghanaian challenges conventional wisdom to make a scientific break-through.
In the deepest bushes, he would hike to the remotest part of the land to dine with the ordinary family, which the commercially orientated media would ignore. He worries about the failing vision of the people in black-fly infested areas and the death of children due to malaria. The pain and anguish written on the faces of detained newly born babies in hospitals would not escape this attention, especially when their jail masters have been trained with local resources to care and comfort the sick.
When he walks through the corridors of the courts, his goal is to look out for those who cannot afford the huge legal fees, intimidating procedure and laws, which have been fashioned to chastise the weak rather than bring about justice.
The first stroll into the compound of any GNA office is an encounter with brevity, speed, accuracy, timeliness, precision and nationalism.
Mr John Osei Frempong, a retired Chief Editor of the Agency, who lives on the banks of the Akora Kwadwo, a clean swift stream in Sunyani, says: "In those days, the passion was overwhelming. We wanted to die for the land."
But the changing times have made this modest man suspicious of the future. He says: "Every farmer's happiness is best expressed when his crops blossom. When he turns around to take a glimpse after a hard day's work, the expansive greenery is enough to re-energise him. But with the As he writes his memoirs in the serenity of the woods, he admits that time has overwhelmed a once vibrant wire service:" It can be saved but it would take the zeal and will of the people to do it."
He celebrated his sixtieth birthday while working for the wire service in dedication and loyalty, which may not find expression in the lives of the younger troop of workers.
Delays of salaries, the lack of resources needed by writers and Journalists to function as they should, have driven many of the men and women into the arms of organisations that offer only material comfort. The once vibrant newsrooms of the Agency are gradually giving way to abandonment and desperation.
There is also the hurdle of bureaucracy, the conflict between the free spirit of the Journalist and the regimentation of the Public Service.
Nations that know the relevance of news do not joke with their wire services and other systems that offer public service information dissemination.
The French would do anything to keep their news agency. The British would not exchange the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for anything under the sun or above it. They see the BBC as the true conduit for self-expression and preservation of their culture and freedoms. But strangely, African governments, who complain about bad press on the international scene, are stubbornly supporting efforts aimed at dismantling their news agencies - their only hope to tell their own stories.
The orientation of the big international media houses is such that they do not allow sheer sympathises to cloud their quest for stories that would sell. They have created their own publics and do not intend losing them. Which middle-class American citizen would care about a biogas plant at Bawku in the Upper East Region?
There should be an immediate move to rescue African news agencies from collapse before it is too late.
In Ghana, for instance, a communication fund, which would be fed by the bits and pieces from sources that could be identified could supplement government's subvention if it insists that it cannot provide for all the needs of GNA.
It would be perfect if government had a long-term financial pact with the Agency and not necessarily the yearly cumbersome allocations, which flow in with hesitation.
This pet of Ghana's founder should not become another relic destined for the big bin called time. The biggest mistake yet to be made would be the privatisation or liquidation of Africa's once premier wire service. That would affirm the age-old western stereotype that Africa has no history because it would have alienated its own storytellers. Two years from now, GNA would be fifty years old. What would be her birthday gift? Would it be marching orders to the guillotine or showers of resources to aid it in its mission of national integration, overall national development and the projection of the African personality through positive reporting? 16 Sept. 05