Opinions Thu, 15 Sep 2011
“The Pen is mightier than the sword” -The role of the mediaA Presentation by
Kwaku A. Danso
At The Third annual B- Summit, Sacramento, California, USA
Saturday September 10, 2011
It gives me great pleasure to meet you all and to be given the opportunity to share my views and opinions on this topic.
At first I thought the topic was a little bit like old high school debate topic. However in this day and age where communication and the media have become such a major aspect of our way of living, and diplomacy and the democratic process have become the most popular way of governing our lives, and doing business, it is important to re-evaluate this topic in the modern light of the media. We cannot do business effectively without a friendly environment and we cannot obtain a friendly environment without common shared values, which must be communicated. Is the pen mightier than the sword?
In the modern era-
In the modern era, the topic of the pen being mightier than the sword could be phrased as to the net impact of information and technology and communication on society or in decision making. After all it is information that triggers intelligent and effective executive decision-making. It is this decision making that lies at the base of every war, or ever conquest, or if you want to be peaceful and think business, at the base of every business strategic success.
Examples of Media Impact -
A best case example of our modern day impact of the media in changing society can be the case of the Pentagon Papers in 1971-74 time in USA. I was a young Engineering student at Berkeley and for the first time experienced the full organizational impact of information on national leadership with global repercussions. In 1971 the New York Times published a series of articles that would shake the foundation of democratic communication and help end a war. It was provided to them by an insider in the Pentagon, Dr. Daniel Ellsberg. Let me read an excerpt of a movie that has been made of that era:
"The Most Dangerous Man in America" is the story of what happens when a former Pentagon insider, armed only with his conscience, steadfast determination, and a file cabinet full of classified documents, decides to challenge an "Imperial" Presidency-answerable to neither Congress, the press, nor the people-in order to help end the Vietnam War. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg shook America to its foundations when he smuggled a top-secret Pentagon study to the New York Times that showed how five Presidents consistently lied to the American people about the Vietnam War that was killing millions and tearing America apart. President Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger called Ellsberg "the most dangerous man in America," who "had to be stopped at all costs." But Ellsberg wasn't stopped. Facing 115 years in prison on espionage and conspiracy charges, he fought back. Ensuing events surrounding the so-called Pentagon Papers led directly to Watergate and the downfall of President Nixon, and hastened the end of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg's relentless telling of truth to power, which exposed the secret deeds of an "Imperial Presidency," inspired Americans of all walks of life to forever question the previously-unchallenged pronouncements of its leaders. "The Most Dangerous Man in America" tells the inside story, for the first time on film, of this pivotal event that changed history and transformed our nation's political discourse. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1319726/plotsummary)
The world has experienced recent revolutions in North Africa that experts and analysts could not predict.
If we go back a little into history, the work of Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 - 1527) stands out as perhaps one of the most powerful use of the pen to influence executive decision-making and society. Machiavelli had been a diplomat and in the government services in Florence, Italy and had lived in Germany and France. When the Medici government came to power, he had been imprisoned, tortured, banished, and later exonerated. He was poor and lived on his small farm. However to demonstrate his influence he wrote the documents that have come to be known as “The Prince” and Discourses. The Prince was meant for Lorenzo de’Medici, and was meant to help influence and change the city-State of Renaissance, Italy, which had fallen into the hands of inept rulers and foreign domination.
RECENT TIMES –
We hardly think of the pen now but we have the keyboard. The most current use of the pen and media is what is called Social media, a network of fast communication system that allows small bytes of data and video messages across the globe. In the year 2010-2011, the world has witnessed the transformation of the Middle East society into an activist quest for democratic involved governance.
In Tunisia in 2010, the treatment of a young college graduate frustrated with bureaucratic maltreatment of his nation’s officials as he sought to make a mere living selling produce in the open, led to frustration the young man could not bear anymore. He set himself on fire. There was media sharing of the information and hence a galvanizing of the young men and women who marched and demonstrated till eventually the President resigned.
In Egypt, a 40 year military dictator-President, Hosni Mubarak, well accepted by the West, was overthrown in an 18 day popular revolt that ended his resignation in February 11, 2011. Today he is being tried and comes to court in a cage. The power of the pen has proven mightier than the rifles and armored vehicles of the Egyptian army.
In Libya, the once-popular Colonel Muammar Muhammad al Gaddafi, who had ruled for 42 years since 1969, and the longest ruling Arab leader, fell in August 2011. Small groups of demonstration and revolt had been met with his street shootings and stern warning by Gaddafi. It threatened mass reaction, and appeared to the world of an impending massacre. This led NATO to send massive air power to destroy Libyan power bases and give the revolt the impetus it needed. After six months of fighting and over 30,000 dead, the Transitional National Council, TNC took over the capital Tripoli on August 23, 2011.
Other revolts, catapulted by organizations using social media communications, have taken place or are in process in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and nobody knows the end.
Martin Luther King - In America, the power of communication of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., helped ease centuries of tension in American society created by man’s greatest inhumanity over man through slavery and domination. Within a period of about ten years in the 1950s to early 1960s, Rev. Martin Luther King who was not an elected leader, used the power of communication to convince and persuade leaders for change. Nobody doubts his contributions in the last century and how he has changed America and the world.
Barack Obama – Perhaps we can never forget the time we live in since 2008 when a young first time Senator from Illinois, USA, did what no man had done in America before. Using the power of communicating the pain, hope and aspirations of the masses of Americans, Obama was able to inspire hope in Americans to forget about racial and even political divisions and capture the imagination of Americans and the world. He was elected the 44th President of the US and the first black. The economic and other challenges he faces today are typical of America, and in critical times, but like Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) before him, Obama is using the power of communication to buttress his actions and deal with the social criticisms of his opponents.
In OUR GHANA-
Revolutions in Ghana have not been of the mass demonstrations leading to revolt except for two occasions. The first one was a short era when under the influence of Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), men and women were led to rally and march to the offices of the colonialist government at the Christiansborg Castle in February 1948. The British colonial government used brutal lethal force, firing and killing Sgt Adjetey and others. Nkrumah and the executive of UGCC were imprisoned and soon released. Again in January 1950 Nkrumah organized a mass rally, boycott of British goods and civil disobedience called “Positive Action”. These led to arrests and a three-year imprisonment of Nkrumah. Nkrumah was eventually released and his party, the convention People’s party, won elections and formed the first Independent government in March 1957. The power of Nkrumah’s pen in organizing can be shown in this struggle when he used to write letters on scrap paper and had them smuggled outside the prison through the guards.
The PNDC ERA – Ghana, the nation most of us come from, has had four coups d’etats - in 1966, 1972, 1979 and 1981. All these have come about due to social dissatisfaction. However the revolts were not of the mass type but overnight military take-overs. Of all these, the Dec.31, 1981 coup of the PNDC era may be described as the longest (lasting till 1992) and most brutal and disparaging of all post-independence eras under one ruler. Some of us had been very active in writing in the media such as West Africa, Ghana Drum, Daily Graphic, The Chronicle, The Statesman, Africa Monthly. Among these writers advocating for return to civilian rule credit must go to one Prof. George Ayittey of the American University. In 1992 finally, Chairman Jerry Rawlings yielded to international pressure and accepted to call for elections in November 1992. In or around August 1992 I changed my style of writing and addressed Chairman Rawlings in as nice a manner as I could, in two series of articles. The first one calling for reforms was titled by the Editor of the Ghanaian Chronicle: “From California with Love – An Open Letter to Chairman Rawlings”. It did receive some favorable reading and comments. We must remember that at that time, all Radio and Television were owned by the Government. Again in August 1992, I wrote another article published in a two part series by the Chronicle titled something like “Using Communication and Mass Media for Profitability” In the latter article I showed in a step by step approach how government could raise money by licensing Radio and Television stations in Ghana and stimulate business, which would then be taxed by government, all for profitability as I called it. Insider information from the office of the Chairman indicated that Mr. Rawlings liked the article and idea, even against the opinions and advice of his Minister of Communication, one Mr. Totobi Kwakyi. The latter had argued in the papers that the International Telecommunication Union indicated African nations had on average two Radio station per country and hence that was enough for Ghana.
Anybody who knows Ghana today will attest that our democracy is at the stage of many daily debates and talk shows on the scores of channels of FM radio stations, every one of them trying to outdo the other in fierce competition. Many of them like Joy-FM, Asempa-FM, Citi-FM have their own Websites now, and some of them have Internet broadcast radios. During elections radio stations announce the results per constituency, before even the Electoral commissioner announces the results. Many have suggested that this has made it very hard for elections to be rigged in Ghana. Many African countries have come to Ghana to learn how we conduct our elections so peacefully.
I like to end by saying that the power of the pen has changed and keep changing. The power of the pen lies in and implies the ability to communicate among ourselves as humans, from the bottom up and also the top down from leadership. Effective leadership will need to communicate any visions to the people in the organization or society. Whiles we may focus on political leadership, let us remember that these leaders of organizations in critical times in recent history have include men like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Mohandas Gandhi of India, Lee Iacocca of Chrysler, Martin Luther king, Jr., and Barack Obama of America. We should not forget that the pen can also be used to write bad or negative things, as human communication can also be used to incite and invoke the devil in us -we may perhaps recall men with fiery speeches such as Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein, and our own Jerry Rawlings of Ghana. In short the pen is mightier than the sword but the human will behind the pen to do good for humanity and love one another is even mightier. Let us use our pens to help influence change for human development in Ghana, Africa and the world we live in.
Kwaku A. Danso (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Columnist: Danso, Kwaku A.