Watchers of Ghana’s political dispensation can’t but agree that the media’s role and influence serve as a clear gauge of the strides we have made. Chairman Rawlings didn’t open up to the media so we have in our history a period of what is called the Culture of silence. Ghanaians were made to ‘see no evil, hear no evil and were forbidden from speaking any evil’. As they say, all the men, including those in the media had turned into women. (Please tell the gender advocates not to misconstrue this).
When Chairman Rawlings became President Rawlings from January 7, 1993 nothing changed. The Government’s and governance issues seemed a forbidden discourse for the media. Those were the days rather when the criminal libel law was activated to throw some journalists including the Kweku Baako’s, Kwesi Pratt’s and my own GIJ mate Hon. Kwesi Biney into jail. In those days, media representatives from only the four state media organizations of the ‘People’s Daily Graphic as it was called then, The Ghanaian Times, GBC and the Ghana News Agency were allowed to cover the presidency at the old colonial castle at Osu.
Thankfully, as the good book says; …and it came to pass that the Rawlings era gave way to the President Kufour era which saw the criminal libel law expunged from our books. For the first time in two decades, journalists got the platform to speak directly to the President. Those were the days when a certain ‘Dr Asemfoforo’ who wasn’t a journalist could openly confront the president of the republic in an open forum.
Professor Ata Mills also upheld the new culture of engaging the media and the public. The media had built confidence from the Kufuor presidency and got further emboldened during the Prof Mills time and indeed had even been criticized for some excesses. Some foreign nationals in Ghana have sometimes wondered how we could allow our media so much room to go to some of the extents they can go. Indeed, President Mahama’s government too allowed more room for the media to work unfettered and had to endure some very hard punches.
Our radio and TV stations, who allow so called ‘serial callers’, who are mostly political party supporters to be part of their programming have helped to expand the frontiers of the national and political discourse. Worse of all is the advent of social media which has totally broken down all the barriers of what is news is or not. Citzens journalism is the new dispensation which has made the task of politicians very daunting.
Last week, President Akufo-Addo did a final list of his Ministers and their deputies which came 110 and the media, including the citizen journalists and political commentators went wild asking why a country of 27 million or so citizens need that many number of political heads for its Ministries. Trending on social media was a list of countries with their populations and the number Ministers and the jury was out there that Ghana would top the table after the vetting and approval of these Ministers by our parliament.
Apart from the Information Minister coming out to do what he is paid to do by explaining the rationale, His Excellency Himself (did I hear that the President is uncomfortable with this?) waded in to explain his reasons to the media.
In fact, this is the essence of this article. Haven’t the Ghanaian media come a long way? That, inspite of having a Minister in charge of Government’s business of informing the populace of the President and his Government’s plans and so on, and also with a presidential spokesperson at the presidency, the President must engage the media to explain himself connotes a powerful media and citizenry.
President Akufo-Addo has also taken the media engagement to another level.The president, right from his swearing-in has engaged the media all the way. From introducing his backroom staff to the appointment of Ministers, and their Deputies, the media has been briefed personally by himself. Probably, its one of the reasons why critics are asking why the job of the Information Ministry was not collapsed or rather combined with the Communication Ministry.
The president however, insists that he needs the number of Ministries and Ministers to carry out his gargantuan vision to achieve his mandate for this country. Indeed, questions will continue to be asked about the numbers and whether the same targets by the president can or cannot be achieved by a smaller number. But the president says, Ghanaians should wait and judge his action in four years. Time will tell.
By Kojo Ackaah-Kwarteng
Head of Station, Onua 95.1