In search of the good news

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The buses remind us of the scandal that led to the refund of some money by Smarttye.
The buses remind us of the scandal that led to the refund of some money by Smarttye.

I can say with a degree of certainty that I am not included in the cabal that the President of the Republic accuses of having hijacked the media and blocking his good news stories reaching the people of Ghana. 

When I first heard President Mahama on the subject, I must confess I wondered if I was one of the people in his crosshairs. I do after all write a weekly column in the state-owned daily newspaper. 

In trying to check out the truth or otherwise of the President’s complaints, I have come to the very uncomfortable conclusion that if the President is correct, then it must mean the state-owned media is no longer an influential source of news in our country. 

If you doubt my assertion, listen to any of the GBC fm stations, watch GTV, especially GTV news, you would have to be very hard to accuse them of not telling the story of President John Dramani Mahama and the National Democratic Congress. 

Sometimes it is embarrassing for those of us who have been around for a long time and had fought battles to ensure we have a public-owned and independent media. The heavy hand of the government on the state-owned media was supposed to have been removed and those who worked there were supposed to feel free and independent and be as professional as possible in all they do. 

The National Media Commission (NMC) was supposed to protect the journalists from any undue pressure from the government of the day. Sometimes watching GTV news makes you feel like we were back in the bad old days and the journalists were getting phone calls from Flagstaff House and being warned what to put on air and what to take off air. Mr President, give credit where it is due. 

Ghana News Headlines

For latest news in Ghana, visit Graphic Online news headlines page Ghana news page

The state-owned newspapers give the impression they are able to show some backbone of independence. It is however not difficult to discern where they think their sympathies should lie and their default position is to try and project the government in as good a light as possible. 

My preference would be for these media houses to try and give us an honest accounting as possible of the state of affairs and leave the public to decide if the government emerges from the honest accounting with a fragrant odour. 

I do acknowledge that old habits die hard and it is probably easier to simply fall into the routine of reporting on the President without any questioning. 

If the publicly owned media are going to all this trouble and the President of the Republic dares to complain about his good news being blocked and not getting through to the public, then a number of things must be happening. 

Unpleasant truth

The President might have to accept the most unpleasant truth that the people of Ghana have decided there is no good news and there is no transformation and no matter how beautifully packaged, they are not buying. 

It might also be that there has been too much of a hard sell and it has put many people off. If you have built 12 school blocks and you want us to believe you have built 120, you are stretching the tolerance level of the population. 

There might be some among us who would appreciate the 12 that have been built; but once you tell us you have built 120, you would get no credit for even the 12. 

The same goes for roads; we might appreciate the 50 kilometres you have built, but if you want us to believe you have constructed 500 kilometres, it becomes easier to say you have done nothing. 

Mr President, there has been far, far too much exaggeration of your achievements by you and your spokespersons. 

There is the other problem of the inconsistent story. For more than two years, you insisted those who were warning about the borrowing spree you were on were alarmists and did not know very much economics and we hadn’t reached an intolerable debt level. “I will continue to borrow” you said. Six weeks later, the story changed and you were at the IMF. 

Then there are the realities of our lives these past five years that cannot be glossed over: Dumsor, for example. I know Mr President says Ghanaians have short memories; but are we really expected to forget about the nightmare of the past five years because things have improved in the past two months? 

The broken appliances, the lost jobs and how can I put this delicately? What about the dramatic hike in utility charges? Where does that fall in the good news package?  

Constant reminders

Then there are some things that do not need enemies to remind the population that this government got some things spectacularly wrong. 

Take these buses with the President’s pictures on them. The buses are on the roads, they are in our faces everywhere we turn, we can’t avoid them, and every time they remind us of the bus branding scandal; all 3.6 million cedis of oil money. Maybe the pictures on the buses should have been painted over once the scandal broke because if the colour photos of President Mahama were supposed to tell us he was the young, post-independence President, I am afraid each time one of those buses passes by, I see Corruption. 

It might also be that as I suggested right at the beginning of this piece, the privately owned media now rule the country and we of the state-owned media can sing the praises of the government as we want and it will make no difference. 

This theory too would hardly hold up the President’s complaint. If we were to count sheer numbers, there are more NDC- leaning newspapers than any other; just as there are far more NDC-leaning radio stations and Information centres than any other. Would they also be controlled by a cabal that would block the good news of the President?

I must say that whining and whingeing about bad press does not become JM the Great Communicator. Good news cannot be blocked; it will out. Just as bad news cannot be hidden forever; it will out. That is the nature of the business we are in.