Thu, 14 Nov 2013 Feature Article

Citi Breakfast Show Budget Evaluation: Comment Is Free But The Sacred Is Fact

Finance Minister Seth TerkperFinance Minister Seth Terkper

I was taken aback with the recent shift in radio broadcasting discussions, especially Citifm, Breakfast show budget evaluation series which seek to interrogate the NDC Budget Statements and Economic Policy outlook for the year 2013 as presented to Parliament and Ghanaians at large in March 2013.

I am quick to add that the Budget and Economic Policy statements put forward by governments and in this case, the NDC governments in 2013 are not cast in iron. These are developmental project milestones put forward at a given time by governments in line with their manifesto pledges to be performed, in instalments, over a period of time with available resources or projected revenue income. The successful implementation of such projects are based on many economic variables, which includes central government's projected revenue income, donor funding, resource mobilisation and the economic environment at both national and international level.

The Citi fm Breakfast show budget evaluation discussions which started this week, I thought was a brilliant responsible broadcast journalism which attempt to shift the focus from the intrusive journalism and the crude, irresponsible institutionalised vulgarity we hear every day on our airwaves in recent times, to a rather more decent discussions on developmental issues that affect the lives of Ghanaians and to hold government accountable to its manifesto pledges.

However, I find it very disturbing and misleading when a broadcaster draw out discussions on a subject matter which carries no disclaimer to the effect that a particular developmental project under discussion span over a number of years; rather than to mislead the listener or the public to believe otherwise. " Within the calendar year you promised to finish the road you must explain to the people" At this point the agenda has been set, the fat is in the fire to make it inevitable that the government was in for a roasting. This is what broadcasters enjoy most. Despite the fact that, for example, a road project which government is providing funding over a three year period is not expected to be completed within the financial year in which the government's budget and economic policy statements was read. When a broadcasters set the misleading agenda obviously he or she should not expect political opponents to respond favourably. Anyone can call in the programme to castigate the government. After all "You and I were not there"

Yet, on an occasion when a minister attempt to reveal the real facts on the performance ratio of a road project within the stated financial year or set the records straight, he is presented as an opportunist and even called a liar. The failure to issue such a disclaimer misled listeners to an illogical conclusion that the government minister was peddling falsehood. No matter how innocent the programme presenters on Citi Breakfast show portray themselves to be, what we witnessed and heard on the programme on Thursday morning was a warped broadcast journalism. The uneven hand of Citi fm Breakfast journalism was all over the programme. The occasional attempt by the minister to argue the case for decency and good sense met with more robust rebuttal, "The reality on the ground is what the people say not what you say in your books" What reality and Which people? How do you judge the credibility of those people? Citi fm Breakfast serial callers may be? Bernard, what were you expecting to hear from the minister? Knowing for a fact that not all your serial callers see eye to eye with the government's determination to improve the country's road infrastructure.

Any attempt to evaluate and monitor the performance or the performance ratios of development projects has to be done in the context of the economic variables mentioned. The debate has to be done with the rider of the economic variables at play and within the context of the life span of the project under discussion. The performance ratio is equally important, especially when the project is to be funded over a number of years.

It is possible to see what lies behind the broadcasters' attitude. Broadcasters generally are not in the business of breaking stories and certainly not of forging government policies. It does not need much imagination to see what lies behind their programmes. As the abuse and insults which the programme presenters have helped institutionalised began to rear its head on the Show, the programme presenter, Bernard had some difficulty in distancing himself from the institutionalised vulgarity being used on his show. He retorted " We do not use such words on this radio station" When did he realise such vulgarity is not permitted on his show? Only inveterate Citi fm listeners will fail to notice Bernard's brilliant defence of sarcastic journalism. "For those of you who think this is personal, this is not so"

Oh, yes we've heard it all before, many times, although one suspects not with quite frequency and vehemence that now is the case. Much of the renewed introspection within the broadcast environment has to do with the way the press- not just the radio broadcast, either- regard the government and increasingly turned to exposing the private behaviour of government administrators. The broadcasters themselves have helped to put in place a situation leading to the collapse of creditability in modern broadcast media and journalism.

I do not blame the journalists either. It is the government complete failure to react, respond or even issue a tentative "tu-tut" that has allowed radio, the social media and the print media that this was the agenda. It is the ability to play on the gullibility of journalists, from editors down that secures a few important victories on behalf of government. Political principle should not take a back seat to media- relations expediency. That is the challenge to the government as it moves into its much awaited second gear.

And there is also the challenge to the broadcasters not to swallow whole an agenda which so debases both politics and the media industry. I do hope the Citi fm Breakfast budget series represents a milestone in the qualitative shift in broadcast journalism.