Ghana is truly unique within the African continent. It has a thriving democracy, is advancing economically and has maintained peace. For these reasons, Ghana is rightly held up as a model for other African countries whose leaders are brought here to observe how things can be done.
Ghana should also be proud of its freedom of speech. The proliferation of newspapers, magazines and radio stations is evidence of this. Again this is an unusual situation within Africa.
Like anything which is relatively new, Ghanaians are exploring how to use this freedom. They are finding their voice and exploring the ways it can be used. Unlike some countries, where loose talk brought terrible conflict, Ghana’s stability has, perhaps, encouraged a slight recklessness from some commentators.
Because of this, I have to confess, I have stopped listening to most Ghanaian radio stations. I don’t like conflict and, ironically, I don’t believe Ghanaians do either. I see Ghanaians as the ultimate conflict resolvers whose culture has developed sophisticated ways to bring peace where there is disagreement. It is perhaps no accident that Kofi Annan led the United Nations for so long with his calm, diplomatic and thoughtful manner.
Human nature means we like to assert our will and radio has offered us this opportunity, as has the internet. It is a form of vanity to know our voices are being heard and sometimes our pride gets the better of us: we get carried away and we say things we might think twice about saying if we were talking face to face. It is our human weakness and the radio stations need to take this on board and find ways to curb our enthusiasm!
There is a technology where comments can be blocked off the air and presenters could also challenge guests to adhere to basic decency and politeness. If necessary, they can just take the person off the air until the lesson is learnt. If the presenter is the problem we have to rely on the head of the network. Can we?
Sometimes I wonder if people know how to conduct a debate. Not many schools teach this skill anymore and how many of us have seen one? The debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on whether religion is a force for good or bad was surely a wonderful example of two gentlemen who respected each other whilst vehemently disagreeing with the other’s arguments. Perhaps we need to bring back that old concept of honour.
I wonder how much responsibility networks want to take. They have to compete for an audience and what is more entertaining than a form of Gladiatorial conflict! The worst part of our human nature feeds off it. A gladiator contest ends up as nothing more than a spectacle which avoids dealing with the real issues. It is perhaps the reason why some MPs use this as a tactic to avoid talking about the things which are really important!
But guests and commentators create the culture of a radio station which also feeds into the culture of society. I don’t believe we need more laws to restrict free speech but we do need responsibility. If the radio stations are unable to show this, we the public, can use our civic duty to call them and convey our disappointment. We are all responsible and we all have a role to play in maintaining the stability of our society.
Ultimately, radio stations are selling us to advertisers. Boycotting radio stations and letting their advertisers know, will hit them hard. They rely on people like you and me to pay their bills and something as simple as turning to a different station will decrease their income and encourage them to show responsibility. Individual radio presenters often have high ethical standards and may well be our allies. Sometimes they are caught between their own feelings and their allegiance to their bosses.
Democracy and peace are fragile. They need love and care to preserve them. Politicians, advertisers and the media are truly our servants as they rely on us for funding and votes. They have to respond to public opinion to keep their positions. The media has given us a way to make our opinions heard. Can Ghanaians use their voices effectively to create the kind of change they truly want to see?