How often we get accused of either being bone lazy or unwilling to share knowledge via the non-fiction written word! Over the years, concerns have been raised about the dearth of non-fiction reference material authored, especially by professionals, politicians and public servants, thus, sharing the blame for the anaemia of locally authored reading material.
Well, Kabral Blay Amihere, journalist, diplomat, teacher and now Article 71 public office holder, says “minus me”. This week, he releases his fifth book, ‘I Spoke for freedom'…History and Politics of the Ghana Press’. In this, as in his four earlier works, he has demonstrated that the raw material we need to produce books is all around us; that no experience is valueless.
For him, every experience, every speech and every decision he has made as a practising journalist or journalism teacher, as a diplomat and as head of a governance institution, the National Media Commission, has been material rich enough
While all of Kabral’s earlier works are materials of historical value, this one, ‘I Spoke for freedom'…, is a history book. But it is a history book with a difference: it is written by a participant observer, one who either took part directly in, or observed the making of history. Beyond the history of journalism practice in Ghana, it is also the history of politics in Ghana as it interfaces with journalism.
It is judgment day, and in these pages, Kabral has judged the good and the ugly. He paints in bold angry brushes, men and women who thought Ghana could not do without them; who, having inflicted themselves upon Ghanaians through the barrel of the gun and who, having tasted the alcohol of power, became so intoxicated with it that they sought, therefore, to perpetuate themselves in it. Discovering in the media a veritable instrument of mental manipulation of the masses, they proceeded to control it and use it to impose a culture of silence upon the nation.
These demons he pitches against the few angels, the bold men and women, journalists, printers and publishers who, fired with the zeal of martyrs, were prepared to shed their blood so that Ghana shall taste freedom.
‘I Spoke for freedom is a compilation of speeches delivered by Kabral as President of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), as Ghana’s Ambassador to Sierra Leone and La Cote d’Ivoire and as Chairman of the National Media Commission. Though providentially, Kabral in his encounters with the powers that be, never tasted the inside of jail or even police cells, this account of his involvement in Ghanaian history is proof that he, indeed, spoke for freedom.
What makes the title even more poignantly prophetic is that he started speaking for freedom 40-plus years ago. It is almost as if he knew way back then that one day, those speeches will become a volume that will adorn not only the libraries of journalism schools, but Departments of History in universities and will become a source of inspiration for freedom seekers.
Today, in 2015, this book is being launched with all the fanfare. At the time, the words that constituted its content were spoken, it was not only unwise but very dangerous to be heard uttering them. No wonder as he reveals in the book, many were the well meaning friends and relations who, at the time, thought he was on a suicide mission.
Like all of his earlier works, this book is also autobiographical. It is the autobiography of a journalist.
Journalism is the heart that pumps the blood in Kabral’s body: freedom, or the quest for freedom is his heartbeat, the pulse that sends the blood coursing through his veins.
‘I Spoke for freedom revisits the age-old controversy about who qualifies to be called a journalist. Citing examples from history and from Ghana and elsewhere, the author, himself once upon a time the Director of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, sides with those who hold the view that journalism is output; that it is what one produces not what qualifications one holds; that though training is key, it is not necessarily one obtained in a lecture hall. On page 223, he proceeds boldly to state the true qualifications of a journalist. Very instructive.
For 30-plus years, Kabral has held on to one stand, that the way to cure the excesses of journalists, some of which he admits have been veritable recipes for chaos and immorality is not to muzzle them but advocates rather that “the courts are the only forum to determine when the right to free speech has been violated”.
Of course, he recognises the need for self-regulation and more on-the-job training for journalists.
The author is merciless against dictators; he comes down even harder on sycophants in the journalism profession, a few of whom he names here. Emphatic that “our submissive and sycophantic role has helped bad governments to feel comfortable in their politics of deceit”, he said he learned from his days on the state-owned media that “servility to governments was not the path to nobility”. There is anger in the bones of this writer.
He thinks the cure to sycophancy is to empower journalists to be independent. Citing from history and other nations, he advocates that the GJA and Private Newspaper Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG) could establish a co-operative to jointly own printing machines. It is, for him, an answer to the intolerable situation where politicians own newspapers and radio stations, particularly in the light of “evidence that those media which are very guilty of deviant journalism are tied to political stables” He also endorses the concept of Media Development Fund but is against it being administered without board of trustees.
This reviewer disagrees with the author that state media CEOs found to be corrupt should not be investigated by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), now Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO). I personally think that the NMC does not possess the capacity to investigate crime.
For a publication which I strongly recommend as a history book, the absence of footnotes takes something away from its authoritativeness. In many instances, the incidents described and the references made by the author should have been expanded in footnotes to aid in further reading.
This book suffers one sin: sloppy proof-reading. Also, because the material is mainly speeches, the author made very little attempt to have the work edited.‘I Spoke for freedom is predictably a best seller. My recommendation is that when this print-run gets sold out and a re-print is being considered, fresh editing is needed. The printers, on the other hand, have done a great job, giving us such a perfect binding that the pages do not come apart even with much folding.
All told,‘I Spoke for freedom is a must-read. It is the latest addition to a few publications in recent times that are causing Ghanaians to look back into our ugly past, shame our demons and praise our angels who spoke and died for freedom