Media set standards; government must learn to live with it!

The message landed on a social media platform I am on less than an hour before the Resurrection. My gut feeling was, this amounts to taking away the producers’ power over their own show. It demanded an unqualified apology from the Multimedia Group Limited for failing to admit a member of the ruling party, the New Patriotic Party, who showed up to represent the expected guest on Multimedia’s weekly news analysis programme, Newsfile. My understanding is that the Deputy Attorney General, Godfred Dame, was the expected guest. It is important to understand what production of a show like Newsfile entails. The producers need to scan the news over the week to identify the most suitable subject(s) for its audience, research possible content and the most suited sources. Given its relatively long period of running on Joy FM and in the last couple of years, Multi TV, Newsfile is in a class of its own, and one hopes it doesn’t succumb to pressures of the political elite. That’s what they seek to do. If the production team in its wisdom sets out the priority topics for the week and invites individuals, given their association or affiliations with political parties, one would think that that’s the way to go. However, political parties often want their seal of authority on their representatives, even though they lack the structures to make that happen. I say so because I have personally dealt at that level with the major parties for years and can share practical experiences of how parties, for some strange reasons operate sometimes worse than the Civil Service they all chastise. Even in election years, I dare say that the CPP and PPP seem to be more responsive than the two big parties (NPP and NDC). As for the PNC, attempt looking for its office and you will discover that there’s a building near Pig Farm which in nearly always closed, however, it also operates efficiently in sending guests, once the right sources are contacted. For the majority who have no direct encounters with the parties this is news but for journalists and CSOs working with parties, they may not be any different from the Civil Service, for the most part. Often, one needs to show copies of letters sent there before a new one is demanded; before the appropriate individuals are notified for action. Again, it is common knowledge among media practitioners and producers that communicators have different attitudes to the media, depending on the fortunes of their parties. Those who flood shows while their parties are in opposition, may not be keen once elections are won and a government is formed. Tony Aidoo and Ama Benyiwa Doe were regular media pundits until the NDC formed government, where were they over the last eight years? Not even on the shows they appeared quite frequently. Anyone with the slightest idea of show production knows that some politicians are the most difficult to get when their expertise is the basis for the invitation. However, if all you want are representatives of parties, you may have a stadium full of loose canons and intellectually bankrupt pundits. But then again, media houses need to satisfy their paymasters, the advertisers as well as loyal patrons, whose fuel keeps the engines for media organizations running. Therefore, for a show with the pedigree of Newsfile, not every Tom or Jerry can be on. They could have appeared on Stephen Sackur’s ‘HardTalk’ or Richard Quest’s ‘Quest Means Business’, but those certainly are not Newsfile. The producers who own the show reserve the right to vary the panelists and if the invited guest for any reason is unable to show up, must engage the same producers for a suitable replacement. To assume as a Minister of Information or General Secretary, acting or substantive, that because the party sent a ‘misfit’, he or she must appear on the show is taking the public who placed you in office for granted. Why was Nana B not the NPP’s rep on Newsfile, when the party was dying for political power? Why has he all of a sudden become the panelist Multimedia must either accept or not have a show? (They wish). Can any Ghanaian insist that Paul Afoko should remain the Chairman of the NPP with Kwabena Agyemang taking his rightful place as General Secretary because they were duly elected by congress? I’m sure the answer is obvious, but that isn’t the case because as a party, the NPP decided to suspend them for reasons it considered prudent. The producers of Newsfile had to make a judgment call on what to do without the substantive guest. Did they think the show could run smoothly without the expected guest from the ruling party or the replacement? Did they need a replacement by all means? Was the delegate the suitable replacement for the show? Could they have appealed to the demands of the producers to prevent this public outcry? All the above questions are relevant. However, the critics also need to hear the producers. Party communicators are a different breed. They can hurt your show in many ways. They will either not show up or show up late. In all of this the irony is they won’t even pick up the producers’ calls or return messages, but the show must run. Unlike radio, where you could keep the guests on the phone, that isn’t the most conducive thing for television. Viewers want to see the action in the studio as it unfolds. It’s not a big deal when the guest needs to make a point or two. But to call the guest who is supposed to sit through an entire show, is nearly impossible. Don’t forget that’s additional cost to the media house. We need to ask a number of questions. Did Godfred Dame agree to appear on the show? I’m sure he did otherwise, the producers could look for alternatives affiliated to the NPP, if this was a question of law. If he did, at what point did he realize he was unable to attend the show? Did he communicate with the producers? Was there an agreement of a replacement? Who did they settle on? Why was someone other than the agreed guest show up in the studio? I remember the many times all the major parties; NDC, NPP, PNC, PPP, CPP reps will fail to show up and only sent notification at the 11th hour. As a producer, no one wants to know these challenges, so you need to do ‘magic’. In these times, relationships become  your salvation. Given the platform that Newsfile presents, any serious analyst won’t appear just because they’ve been invited. You need to build a war chest in order to do justice to the topics. It’s not a platform for idle rambling. It’s serious business. In fact, if you got a less than 24 hour notice to appear on the show and you did, there could be two explanations. Either you considered it your rope to prominence or have all the details of the topics at your fingertips. If the former was the basis, it could spell your doom. That rope could hang you to death. If the latter was the case, you could be saved. I’m unable to offer any verdict on the motivations of the replacements who were turned away, even though having engaged Eric Amoako-Twum over a long time, I think he passes for any show around here, given the needed prior notice. It is important for the NPP leadership and Information Minister, to engage to understand the constraints within which the producers operated. The seeming fixation on the host of the show, must be condemned. The host takes instructions from producers who may not even be known by viewers and listeners. If in the view of the producers the guests sent were below the standard of the show, why are we drawing blood? Don’t owners of shows reserve the right to determine how their shows run any longer? Why must everything be about politicians? They want us all to catch cold when they belch? That certainly won’t happen! The Journalists Association and the Independent Broadcasters Association need to send the strongest signal to politicians that the media isn’t an extension of government. In fact, why must they determine what is discussed or who discusses what on a particular media platform? The ruling NPP must be asked to withdraw the letter sent to the media house, since it amounts to interference in the production of the show. As indicated by the Information Minister on his Facebook page, the NPP can insist on maintaining the same guest for Newsfile, but it must know that the station and the Show’s producers reserve the right not to put him on. Some sanity needs to prevail here. Politicians want to set the agenda and lead the discourse their way. They have succeeded in buying nearly all media houses and their owners. If the few that serve public interest goes with them, they can then rig the public space to perpetuate their parochial agenda. Well-meaning members of our society must resist these attempts by politicians to also take over the media space. I rest my case! By Kobby Gomez Mensah The writer is a broadcast journalist]]>

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