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63-years on - The Ghanaian media

Zimbabwe Journalists File photo

Tue, 17 Mar 2020 Source: Kwasi Frimpong

The media in Ghana, like any part of the world, has gone through different stages of evolution, influenced by the changing patterns of human society, brought about by development, the evolution of technology and innovation.

The media landscape, according to Professor Audrey Gadzekpo, Dean of School of Information & Communication Studies, University of Ghana, has had a “chequered history”. It has gone through the turbulent times of surviving harsh political regimes and scaling through successfully.

The media has largely been perceived as professionally quite weak, partisan, and presided over by opinionated journalists who are beholden to political power centres rather than in service for the public good. Some commentators on the Ghanaian media such as Thompson, as cited by Professor Gadzekpo in her book ‘Fifty Years of The Media’s Struggle For Democracy In Ghana: Legacies & Encumbrances’, dates the “list of woes in Ghanaian journalism” to the last coup d’état effected in 1981 when “competent administrators and lecturers at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) were replaced with ‘revolutionaries’ with barely a clue of what journalism was”.

Others such as Professor Kwame Karikari, a former executive director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), has argued that all over Africa, and not only Ghana, the mass media was very much a product of colonialism, suggesting that the roots of an opinionated, politicised press should therefore be traced beyond the “revolutions” of post-colonial Ghana.

Pre-colonial existence

Professor Kwasi Ansu-Kyeremeh, a former director of the Department of Communication Studies, University of Ghana, in his work ‘Indigenous Communication In Africa: A Conceptual Framework’, argues that less technology-influenced indigenous communication systems existed before the introduction of Western technology. He interpreted the term ‘indigenous’ as that originating from a specific place or culture.

He contends that indigenous media had been in existence several years before colonial days and posits that even in the technological change, these communication formats continue to exist.

Newspaper

From the pre-colonial era of indigenous media came the mass/traditional media. Newspaper was the first to be introduced in the country. Historians have established that the first newspaper published in the country was the Royal Gold Coast Gazette and Commercial Intelligencer in 1822, a quasi-official newspaper started by Governor Sir Charles MacCarthy and edited by Alexander Gordo Laing, a flashy Englishman.

Publication was thought to have ceased in 1824 after MacCarthy was killed in a battle with the Asante. The next newspaper was owned by Charles Bannerman, an indigene of the Gold Coast, published handwritten newspaper, The Accra Herald, established in 1857.

The Accra Herald marks the genesis of African-owned and edited newspapers in the Gold Coast; a press that was not beholden to the state, but managed by private indigenous entrepreneurs. Complementing these newspapers were the few started by Christian missionaries such as the Christian Messenger and Examiner (1859), Christian Messenger (1883), and the Gold Coast Methodist Times (1886).

Radio

Following the newspaper publication, the next form of media that was introduced in the then Gold Coast was radio in 1935 by the colonial government. Under the colonial government, radio was aimed at catering for the information, cultural and entertainment needs of the political and educated elite who consisted mostly of European settlers, colonial administrators and a small group of educated Africans. Thus radio penetration was limited and programming consisted mostly of relayed news and programmes from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Ghana News Agency

Post radio was the establishment of sub-Saharan Africa’s first news agency and, to date, Ghana’s only wire service, the Ghana News Agency (GNA), born in 1957 by the first independent government. The GNA’s primary mission was to operate as the central source of home and foreign news in the country. Among its goals also was ending Ghana’s reliance on information from foreign news sources and countering the distortions and misrepresentations of news flowing from the developed North to the less developed South. GNA news was gathered mostly by its own foreign correspondents stationed in 10 foreign bureaus, including London, New York, Moscow, Nairobi, Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta), Lagos, Nigeria, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, and Cairo.

Television

Subsequently, the Nkrumah government introduced television in 1965. Despite the fact that radio was introduced as far back as 1935 by the colonial government, expansion in broadcast media ? both radio and television – was achieved by the independence of government.

Not only did Nkrumah increase broadcast facilities across the country, he invested in an assembly factory which produced radio, and later television sets.

Several years after television, internet connectivity was introduced in Ghana. Ghana was the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to have full internet connectivity in 1995.

Colonial era

The media in the colonial era has been described by experts like Professor Gadzekpo as a potent political and cultural force through which the African elite communicated among themselves and to the non-literate population.

The media, largely newspapers, was used by their publishers to express their hopes, aspirations, and frustrations against the colonial leaders. Editors were nationalist figures. Indeed, the last quarter of the 19th century into the middle of the 20th century has been largely described by some communication experts as the “era of the politician-journalists”.

Publishers and editors were partisan and, for most of them, journalism was a patriotic rather than a commercial, venture aimed at challenging the colonial status quo. For instance, the Accra Evening News, a newspaper founded by Nkrumah, described itself as “a child of the nationalist resurgence”.

Some say because journalism was a part-time job, and newspapers were essentially tools for achieving political ends, the early press was under-capitalised, with a weak advertising and subscription base, and most newspapers operated on shoestring budgets.

Few of the colonial-era newspapers, The Ashanti Pioneer (1938), Statesman (1949), Daily Graphic (1950) and Sunday Mirror (1953), which later became The Mirror, exist today. The Ashanti Pioneer, now The Pioneer, which used to be an influential daily newspaper, was and still is based in Kumasi but can best be described as a pale shadow of itself, with little or no clout or impact.

The Daily Graphic and The Mirror were introduced into the colony by the London Mirror Company and so were not an indigenous effort like the others. Unlike the local press, they had access to transnational capital, to modern technology, ran a more efficient business organisation, and demonstrated better journalistic expertise.

In 1962, they were bought out by the state and essentially transformed into the government-orientated newspapers that they are today.

To be continued…

The author is the General Secretary of the Graduate Students Association of Ghana (GRASAG National) and a Masters of Arts (Communication Studies) student of the Department of Communication Studies, University of Ghana.

gilbfrimp@gmail.com

Columnist: Kwasi Frimpong