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Uneducated citizenry is like a pitch any game can be played on it. Illiteracy is what has given the politicians in Ghana the chance to fool so many people for so a long a time.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Are the Ghanaian media growing?

A little over two score years ago when I was in primary school in my holy city of Breman Asikuma, I developed interest in current affairs. I used to read every newspaper and magazine I laid my hands on. I always tried not to miss any of the GBC (Ghana Broadcasting Corporation) Two major news bulletins (at 6 a.m., 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m).

When in those days it was difficult for people like us from poor families to even get what to eat before and after school, I still managed to make some little savings to buy the Daily Graphic quite regularly, and at the weekends the Sunday Mirror (as it used to be called then) and the Weekly Spectator. Perhaps it was no co-incidence that I later worked at Daily Graphic most part of the over 20 years I have been a journalist.

In fact in those years almost every newspaper was referred to as “Graphic” especially by most rural people, many of whom were illiterate. However, my choice of the Graphic was not based on any other reason rather than lack of adequate funds to buy the Ghanaian Times in addition. What I therefore did was to regularly visit two of my close friends whose parents were senior public servants in town who ‘subscribed’ all the papers.

The only person who sold newspapers then, was Opanyin Kojo Akomanyi, who incidentally is the only person still selling newspapers at Breman Asikuma. In those days there were two groups of buyers of newspapers. The first was the ‘Subscribers’; that is, those who bought them every day and for that matter their copies were reserved first before the rest were sold to the other group – the occasional buyers.

The parents of these my friends were subscribers so any time I was not able to buy the Graphic I had to read it from their house. Again, I went there regularly to see the ‘Kong’ cartoons in the Ghanaian Times. Usually most of the stories in the Graphic were in the Times so I usually did not bother to read the news pages of the Times apart from the Kong cartoon series which I never missed. Alternatively, when I laid hands first on the Times I did not read the Graphic.

I got so used to the GBC news bulletins that it became so easy for me to identify the voices of Vida Koranteng Asante, Harriet Tachie Menson, John Hammond, Edward Farkye, Gertrude Opare Addo and the rest of the fine news readers of the time. Later, as I grew up I added to my list the voices of Beatrice Aidoo, Lucy Banini, Daniel Adjei, Mercy Sowah, Komivi Ameko, Ellen Avorgbedor, Lily Derfor, Akosua Yamoah and Isaac Anthony, among others. These were very excellent news readers that one would always like to listen to.

My love for the Sunday Mirror and the Weekly Spectator was influenced by two writers, Adwoa Yeboah Afari’s “Thoughts of a Native Daughter” column in the Mirror and “Baafuor” in the Spectator. For Adwoa, I even kept in my photo albums her portrait which accompanied the column. For Baafuor, it became a topic each time my friends and I met to play, especially during our Middle School days.

Adwoa’s incisive thoughts were never to be missed while Baafuor and his adventures with Sister Akosua and her friends, and Baafuor’s own friends at the palm wine bars clearly depicted the typical rural life. The other attraction of Baafuor is his excellent writing style. Believe it or not this column still runs.

But it seems those good days when we had excellent journalism and news reading are completely gone. These days it is regrettable to note that many of our newsreaders lack that excellence, dexterity and the finesse with which the Vida Koranteng Asantes, Harriet Tachie Mensons and the John Hammonds displayed behind their microphones, while laziness and unwillingness to learn are leading to poor journalism among some journalists. Standards are really falling and falling too fast!

Currently, we can boast of a crop of newsreaders whom we can be proud of. However, there are others who never learnt to crawl before started running and therefore do not provide the pleasure with which people used to listen to news. Though we can count many newsreaders at GBC Radio, GTV, TV3, Metro TV and the many FM radio stations, the very good ones are very few. The reason for this might be that a lot of them had not undergone any serious training before being handed the microphones. The other big problem is complacency.

For instance, we have very good newsreaders at GTV and GBC Radio, but regrettably some of them have become too complacent to the extent that in recent times they commit a lot of mistakes while on air.

After having the district assemblies since 1988, it becomes worrisome when Ghanaian newsreaders still cannot pronounce names of some districts or district capitals properly, yet they take pride in correctly pronouncing places like Pyongyang. This is regrettable, for which the GBC in particular and the rest of the electronic media must be concerned.

My biggest worry however, is with the Akan newsreaders of the various FM stations. As if their managements and News Editors have gone to sleep and left them to do their own things on air, most of the Akan newsreaders of the FM stations read news as if they were in a proverbs competition or performing a comedy. The common practice is that news bulletins are turned into a battle of which reader knows more proverbs or which of them is a good comedian.

The most disturbing aspect of this latest unacceptable practice is that in most cases the proverbs which are used to precede news items are completely unrelated to the news items. What our Akan newsreaders must note is that news is nothing but news and the duty of the newsreader is to read it without any embellishments.

I never used to listen to vernacular news on any regular basis, but when I was young there were times I chanced to listen to Amankwaa Ampofo reading the Akan news, and I can tell you, dear reader, it was lovely to listen to him at 6.30 a.m. or p.m. in his perfect and infatuating Akuapen Twi. Surely those days are gone and now we are bombarded with news items rapped with comedy and unnecessary proverbs many of them even inciting passions.

Managements of our FM stations need to sit up and get their newsreaders properly trained in news reading as well as the ethics of the journalism profession as far as news presentation is concerned.
The deterioration of news presentation is not limited to the electronic media alone as the print media have also tended to overlook some basic professional techniques. The layout of most private newspapers leave much to be desired, while editing and proofreading are messy. Stories in some newspapers are either not well researched, badly written or go with unrelated headlines. A headline in the Daily Guide of June 25 (page 3) read: “Iman kills wife” instead of ‘Imam ...’.

The same paper had “Boy shot dead...over sugarcane” on the front page of its June 28, 2008 issue but the only closeness of the story to the headline was that the boy was shot in a sugarcane farm and not that he was shot either while stealing or taking sugarcane, thus sharply contrasting the headline.

The Dispatch of June 9, 2008 had a front page story with this headline: “SFO indicts top Govt official for ‘chopping’ $208,000”, accompanied by the picture of then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joe Ghartey. Strangely, the story did not mention the minister or link him even remotely to the alleged ‘chopping’. The story was rather about a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Development Studies, Prof. John B. K. Kaburise. So why “top government official” instead of a former Vice Chancellor? The answer might be obvious: “Government Official” sells more than “former Vice Chancellor”. But is this ethical?

The Ghanaian Chronicle on June 19, 2008 used a picture of Prof. Atta Mills on page 2 with the caption: “Aspiring Presidential Candidate of the NDC, Prof. Evans Atta Mills....” though Prof. Mills was then not an aspiring candidate but already a candidate. This was pure poor proofreading.

Not even the Daily Graphic is uninfected with the bug of complacency to the extent that occasionally you find poor proofreading, headlines with unrelated stories and misplacement of priorities in terms of selection and placement of news or pictures. For instance, on May 12, 2008 a headline at page 14 of the paper read “71 Police recruits passout” instead of ‘pass out’. That was poor proofreading.

The Graphic again on June 18, 2008 used a picture of one of its reporters and the Corporate Affairs Manager of Fintrade Group on its front page instead of one of the two more catchy pictures, one hidden at page 20 showing people of the newly created Akyemmansa District at the People’s Assembly where one disable person was in the long queue awaiting his turn to express a view. That showed how deep democracy was getting at the grassroots level. The other picture was on the back page about the inauguration of the Automatic Voltage Regulator at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital which was to support the hospital’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan machine. By the way, what was the story being told by the prosaic picture of the reporter and the Fintrade official?

And on the back page of the Graphic of July 7, 2008 was this headline: “Emotional exit for Olympics”. But strangely the accompanying story did not mention anything showing the emotions of Olympics players or supporters, neither was there a picture to show that.

The Graphic also got it all wrong on July 17, 2008, when it ignored the biggest story of the day, the launching of the “Zoom Captains”, but rather used as its front page lead the story about the visit to the paper’s offices by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) as well as the IGP’s picture on the front page. With all due respect to my colleagues and bosses at Graphic, the ‘Zoom Captains’ story which the paper buried at page 53 was the news and not the IGP’s visit to the Graphic Offices. What was news about the IGP at Graphic offices apart from publicising himself?

The fact that female street sweepers and cleaners who hitherto had no meaningful qualifications had within only six months been transformed by Zoom Lion Company into operators of heavy-duty machinery including excavators, rollers and tipper trucks was the biggest news of the day.

The paper’s editorial on the same day was on the Zoom Captains, describing the launching of the captains as “a major landmark event to further empower women in the country and boost affirmative action”. Therefore how can a major landmark event be buried while the huge picture of the IGP was splashed on the paper’s front page with a false alarm that “Police Alert to fight crime”, when there was no new message in the story showing any new alertness apart from what everybody knows? In fact, there was no “alert” in that story as the IGP did not say anything new apart from what was already known by many of us. That was a clear misjudgement on the selection and placement of the two stories.

On the quality of the newspaper, Graphic has at times produced poor quality. For instance, on page 53 of the June 30, 2008 issue almost all the pictures there were of poor print quality with that of then President Kufuor and His Beatitude Theodoros II barely legible. The same picture was excellent in the same day’s issue of the Daily Guide except that the Guide was the only paper who got the name of Theodoros wrong (spelt Theororos) both in the caption and the main accompanying story.

Considering the excellent picture quality on the front page of the Graphic of June 9, 2008 on the Ghana Consolidated People’s Party’s (GCPP) Kumasi congress, and also the superb pictures on the spread of the June 11 issue of the paper, one wonders what goes at times where the general quality of the paper becomes poor. The management of Graphic does not need anybody to remind it that the paper, is the pacesetter of Ghana’s newspaper industry, and therefore any little shortcoming becomes magnified.

Graphic’s sister paper, The Mirror, on June 28, 2008 put a picture of Azumah Nelson and a lady on its front page without any description (either in a caption or in the main story) as to who that lady was. The paper perhaps assumed that every reader should at all cost know who that lady was.

The Enquirer of Monday, July 21, 2008 carried a story on page 8 headlined: “Vodafone begs Parliament”. The first paragraph of the story talked about Vodafone’s frustration over “the inability of Parliament to ratify the sale of Ghana Telecom”. In paragraph 2, the paper wrote that “the deal as it stands now has been suspended indefinitely”, but went on in paragraph 5 to write that “whiles the government maintains 30% interest in Ghana Telecom it has sold 70% shares ...to Vodafone. The next paragraph also went: “Vodafone has acquired a 70% stake in GT...

How can the Enquirer report that the deal “has been suspended indefinitely”, and yet it says in another paragraph of the same story that “government has sold 70 per cent shares”, and that “Vodafone has acquired a 70 per cent stake in GT”? And there was nowhere in the story indicating that Vodafone was begging Parliament. This was a clear example of lazy, unethical and unprofessional journalism.

With the liberated media environment, it is the hope of many that the quality of the Ghanaian media will improve, and indeed we can talk about some level of improvements in all aspects of the media.

Regrettably, however, it seems complacency has taken over and thus leading to mediocrity on the part of some media houses and some journalists. Though it seems too early to expect miracles from the Ghanaian media judging from the way various governments had treated them in the past and muzzled them, one still have the feeling that more professionalism in all aspects of the industry must be the yardstick. One is therefore awaiting the time when most newspapers will be of high quality both in terms of news content, layout and print quality. And we are also awaiting a return to the good old days where people will clamour to their radio and TV sets to listen to “And here is the news...

- fasado@hotmail.com or My Blog @ http://asaredee.blogspot.com

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