“If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle”—Hillary Clinton
“The whole notion of journalism being an institution whose fundamental purpose is to educate and inform and even, one might say, elevate, has altered under commercial pressure, perhaps, into a different kind of purpose, which is to divert and distract and entertain”—Tom Stoppard
No doubt, Dr. Mensa Otabil is one of the greatest preachers ever known in this part of the Jordan. He affects you to good effect when he undertakes what is usually an intelligent treatise of the Bible. Beyond the pulpit, he takes homiletics (the art of preaching) to higher intellectual levels, way into the stratospheres of deeper thinking and biblical scholarship. He does it with what Baldassare Castiglione calls ‘Sprezzatura’ (doing something extremely well, as if with no effort or thought).
Dr. Otabil has become one of our country’s most important opinion shapers. The media wants to hear his word on armed robbery, open defecation, corruption, and his pet subject–generational thinking. Like Hillary Clinton, Mensah Otabil could knock a story off the front pages the day he wears a political suit, instead of his trademark African print.
Ironically, those who decide what goes onto the front pages of our media spaces are often not in the good books of the media. Conversely, they are also very suspicious of the media. President Trump is not the only person who hates CNN. In April 1961, President J.F. Kennedy said: “Even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.”
Politicians and pastors need the media for various reasons, but the former, we agree, need it more for the spin and populism usually shunned in the pulpit. The only populism seen in the pulpit is the kind fuelled by the prosperity narrative that seeks to inject false hope in the poor in order to get them to give their last penny. The media has often been an invaluable tool in the propagation of the prosperity gospel. Many charismatic and Pentecostal churches have media and publicity departments with clear mandates.
NPP and NDC politics
The church has an interest in what happens in the media space and how the media conducts itself. The public deserves a quality and professional media that effectively plays the fourth estate role and shows educative and informative content. We should be concerned and voice out our revulsion when we are fed with repulsive content that does not enlighten, inform nor educate.
If all we get from newspaper reviews is a partisan banter between NPP and NDC apparatchiks about who stole less from the state, then we should be concerned about the professional quality of the Ghanaian media. If we are fed with mediocre and depressing content, it says a lot about who we are and the things that occupy our minds.
Is this the state of the Ghanaian media? Here too, Dr. Mensa Otabil attempts to speak the collective conscience of Ghana and pronounces a verdict: “If you listen to our national conversations, you wonder, are we serious? Are we? We argue politics from morning, afternoon, evening. Check all your top radio talk shows, take politics out and they have nothing to talk about. Just say, this morning, no NPP no NDC. There will be no conversation because we can’t even think beyond two parties.”
Animal TV vs Politics
The founder of the International Central Gospel Church has resolved that instead of watching anything on our televisions, “I will watch animals. I’ll watch cheetah, I’ll watch lion, I’ll watch antelope anytime…I’ll watch giraffes anytime because at least they’ll tell me how to hunt, how to get to your goal, how to avoid being eaten.”
First, let’s examine the programme content/reporting direction of two radio stations (Joy FM and Citi FM); two television stations (GTV and TV3) and two newspapers (Daily Graphic and the Today newspaper). Is it all politics every time of the day? What is politics, by the way? If a school building collapses and kills a child in a rural community, what kind of discussion should it provoke? A moral dialogue? If we call the Minister of Education to tell us the government’s policy on educational infrastructure, is it politics?
The morning shows of Joy FM and Citi are packed with informative and educative content. Here, journalists seek answers to perplexing questions about development challenges. They don’t always talk to politicians; they interact with medical doctors, subject experts, and victims. Pre-recorded documentaries about some critical issues are played. Joy FM’s Hotline documentaries and Citi’s Management Development series have produced good results. There are instant feedback sections where listeners can phone in.
Otabil’s Living Word
TV3’s ‘Mission’ and GTV’s ‘My Journey’ are social development programmes that highlight peculiar problems in neglected rural communities. News 360 on TV3 is a comprehensive hour-long report on Ghana–from the presidency to the market. There are factsheets, expert interviews, weather, sports, entertainment and international news. Oftentimes, political reports are dropped for news on open defecation. Our newspapers are adequate for our journalism practice. It will be good to get to the level of the New York Times.
True, we have a long way to go, but we have not lowered the bar as Dr. Otabil asserts. I worry that commercials of sex-enhancing concoctions have filled our advertising space. I worry that one of our newspapers wrote ‘Bawumia Returns Back’ on its front page. I also worry that some radio stations have really funny creatures masquerading as journalists. I worry about what I see on Angel Obinim’s OBTV.
We have grave challenges but we have better content than antelopes and lions. Animal TV offers good relaxation after a hard day’s work, but news (loosely ‘notable events, weather and sports’) typically does not include animals. It is about people.
Pluralistic media has its own challenges but our democracy is richer for it and we the people are lucky for it. It is 6:30 p.m., and I am wrapping up to watch Dr. Otabil’s ‘Living Word’ on TV3. It provides good education and spiritual edification than antelope TV.
Tissues of the Issues
…with Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)