Since its imperceptible evolution from oral, written, printed, electronic, and now in its digital age, media have played consequential role and continue to play and transform the way in which people everywhere in the world relate socio-culturally, economically, and politically. Media’s influences on cultures are so pivotal and all-embracing that it is not surprising some leaders or governments with dictatorial sensibilities—aiming to suppress free speech or dissenting views—first line of action right after acquiring power is to muzzle up all forms of media. Many governments’ obsession to clamp down on the media, invariably, underscores media’s incontestable capability to change the course of history or make/unmake governments.
The prevailing media terrain in Ghana evidently shows droves of “latter-days” media personnel struggle with the truth and circumspection in that most of them do not honestly have full grasps of the ethical exigencies and societal impacts of their field of practice. Considerable number of the media finds themselves mainly in that “4th estate” realm because of cheap ratings, career motives, and ambition to become the so-called celebrity. It is an unnerving spectacle witnessing ample proportions of Ghanaians today calling themselves journalists, presenters, radio personalities, reporters, talk-show hosts, or simply media practitioners but use their uncensored platforms to engage in insults, half-truths, amateurish news presentations as opposed to critical analysis of pressing national issues.
Certainly, very few Ghanaians will dispute that insults, insinuations, dirty-talks, misrepresentations of facts, dishonest analysis of events, among others, have unbelievably become a new normal in the nation’s public discourse, dutifully orchestrated by a good chunk of the media practitioners. Premised on the aforesaid unprofessional behaviors, it is safe to affirm that some media people have frivolous mindsets that under democratic governance citizens have unrestrained right to freedom of expression, including shameless misuse of the social media.
Both traditional and the new media are double-edged swords. They can cut either way negatively or positively. But this does not mean media are not a force for good, especially in our contemporary societies. It bears repeating that effective and sustainable mass communications may be impossible in this information superhighway era if the messages are tainted with innuendos. Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, two famous media historians have observed, every significant media invention brings in its wake “a change in historical perspectives.” As the invention of printing press made the mass production of printed media possible, so was the creation of the social media had caused the collapse of long distances among nations, making transnational cultural learning and integration relatively easy unlike the pre-Internet age.
The Internet and its daughter—social media, no doubt, have come to modernize the world in so many fashions, including the lightning pace with which people around the globe learn, transfer, and share ideas from each other. Ghana has benefitted from this technological feat. However, the question is to what extent? It is common knowledge that many Ghanaians are known for copying from the Westerners and end up overdoing it. In the US, as a classic example, the Federal Communication Commission will not sit idle by and allow any media upstart to use the TV, radio, or whatever media forum which is at his or her disposal to hurl insults in the name of free speech.
More so, as developing society, we need to take full advantage of the teachable innovations the digital media have unleashed and apply critical thinking approach backed by ethics with understanding that media outlets are for the imagination and ingenuity. The foregoing notwithstanding, the country sadly has mixed bag of semi-literates, poorly-trained, and attention-seekers with high-pitch voices dominating every national conversation as if insultingly screaming loud on TV or on the radio makes one’s views compelling. No question, there are descent, well-trained, and experienced journalists in Ghana providing first-class news presentation and analysis, but the Akans have a proverb which loosely translate that the “disproportionate number of fake fetish priests makes it difficult for one to determine the few good ones available.” The pseudo-media practitioners whose only MO is to ignore anything beyond insults and true representation of crucial national issues are not only undercutting the foundations of Ghana’s democratic experiment but also they are giving the media the bad name everywhere.
One of the problems in Ghana, as we speak is that, there are many people in the media sector who have no clue regarding the vagaries of modern media; yet, they have been given green lights to operate possibly without thorough screenings because of the nation’s constitutional guarantees of free press. Surely, most of us will die for the free expression of thoughts and ideas every day over the suppression of free speech. But, free-minded people also need the awareness that freedom does not happen in isolation; it comes with citizens’ obligation, accountability, and exercise of civility devoid of insults.
Let us keep this in mind: If Ghana will progress to the level close to Singapore then much will depend on the nation’s media. The mushrooming radios, TVs, or some of the newspapers must begin engaging in truth and serious analysis of unfolding events and try to deemphasize comical commentaries and the trading of insults to get high audience or ratings. Ghanaians can decide to vote out any ruling government from power and replace it today, but it will not make any monumental impact on development unless the media learn the science of constructive critique, truth telling, as well as using their various platforms for educating, informing, and promoting national security policies such as taking Ghana’s environment back from the selfish illegal miners.
No serious media outlet will ignore the juicy story of the existential threat posed by galamsey to the very fabric of Ghanaian society. The Free SHS and the fight against illegal mining are noble missions and the government needs the media’s selfless support to accomplish the missions. Let some of these comical media outlets shut down the baseless insults and sheer display of non-seriousness toward critical national issues. The stakes are high. The country deserves better from its media!
The writer is based in Atlanta, USA