Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Role of media in national advancement

Kojo Tsikata

Last week, Kweku Kpatakpa Gyampo attributed the attack of AIDS-2 (Acquired Information Deficiency Syndrome) in Ghana and Third World countries in general to successive governments' policy to suppress information and debate. Captain (rtd.) Kojo Tsikata, in a speech at the 25th Graduation Day of the Ghana Institute of Journalism last month, gave his views on why the information gap is widening.
This century in mankind's history has seen different kinds of explosions, from the atomic bomb through to the population explosion. One particular explosion that is a key part of our experience today is the communications explosion.

Technologies more powerful than our traditional village gong gong have made the word of those who control them influence the whole globe.

The interest of those who control these powerful tools is, of course, to maintain their power and dominance, and reap the benefits of continued prosperity and luxury, whatever is happening in other parts of the world.

And there is a danger that communi- cations practitioners, even in countries like ours, can become drawn into the network of these technologies, and simply become, sometimes unconsciously, cogs in the great wheel of those who dominate these technologies.

They can become tools of the powers that be, regularly transmitting the messages of the powerful and thus participating in the protection of the status quo.

In the meantime, we live in societies in the so-called Third World where basic battles for survival, for upliftment from degradation of illiteracy, poverty and disease are being waged.

The anguish of that degradation is often only passively conveyed through the images of helpless starving people in refugee camps waiting for charity from the powerful.

Historically, our societies provided enormous resources for the economic progress that carried forward technological advances such as have taken place in the field of communications.

Yet we are largely at the receiving end of the impact of the communications explosion. The voices of the mass of illiterate poor peasants of the deprived people throughout the Third World, whose resources have created luxury in other continents, are barely heard through the powerful communications systems of today.

Even access to basic instruments of communications such as the newspaper, the radio, is unavailable to them, whether because of language barriers or because there are no batteries for their radios.

Ours is a country which is pre- dominantly illiterate, the social and economic conditions of the majority of our people, in both town and country, remain anything but satisfactory; much still has to be done to encourage the creativity of the vast masses of our people, particularly those in the rural areas for whom the 31st December Revolution has provided the opportunity to break out of a culture of resignation and submission.

Rather under the guise of this demand for professional neutrality and so-called balance, a subtle attempt is being made to ensure that the press remains an instrument for protecting the status quo for depriving the poor, the hungry...

One of our Third World leaders portrayed "this tragic paradoxical essence" of our times as the "paradoxes of a society which has mastered the technologies for surrounding us with artificial satellites (some of which are used for communi- cations, as you know), for placing men on the moon and investigating the rings around planets; but which seems in- capable of mitigating the hunger that day after day strikes down one-fourth of the inhabitants of its own planet and agreeing upon an efficient system to prevent disaster in the prices of the underdeveloped countries' commodities" - disasters such as can make a country's export earnings only available to pay debts and unable to meet the basic needs of its people.

Our current experiences in Africa, in particular of drought, famine and economic instability must make the urgency of transforming these conditions very obvious.

We are faced with real human conditions which we are all part of, whether we are journalists, diplomats, engineers, lawyers, doctors or workers.

As human beings above everything else we cannot just be intellectually aware of them and indulge our minds in pure contemplation of conditions which cry out for action to overcome them.

Yet there are those who will say that the press for instance has no particular responsibility faced with these conditions; that however caring journalists may be as human beings, they have a professional role that they carry out and they must be allowed to carry out this role in glorious isolation from everybody else, especially from governments.

No matter what a government's efforts are, the press, according to this view, is required to see freedom as consisting of attacks on government; for a journalist to see anything constructive about government policy and to say so is high treason and regarded as being unprofessional.

I believe that such separation of a man or a woman as a journalist, from a man or woman as a human being experiencing the conditions of his or her society and responding in a human way to those conditions is an extraordinary deception. Rather under the guise of this demand for professional neutrality and so-called balance, a subtle attempt is being made to ensure that the press remains an in- strument for protecting the status quo, for depriving the poor, the hungry, the diseased of the solidarity of one group of human beings who can use their skills in communication, their vocation to con- tribute to the liberation of the suffering to the construction of a new society.

A barrier of professionalism is proposed by our eminent professors against the troubling currents of the human condition and the demand for transformation. In my view journalists must be a part of the dynamics of the society, not a breed apart.

Let me emphasize that I am not imagining that journalists will save the world, or that by themselves they will create a new order of humanity.

No one is better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society, and no one oppressed is better prepared than the to wage the battle for liberation; but in the measure that the journalist reflects and takes note of what is happening before his eyes, the struggles of the oppressed and becomes a mouth- piece of these human aspirations, he participates in the great humanistic and historial task of liberation.

And I would add that he exhibits that very human trait of love for his fellow men which Christ, one of the great revolutionaries, himself preached and died for.

To refuse that love of humanity, in the name of press freedom, to cross over to the other side of the street upon seeing the wounded man lying helpless, and to become a mouthpiece of those who inflict the wounds, is in my view, both inhuman and unprofessional.

That is why I would urge the members of this institution not to forsake your very humanity or a veneer of professionalism to be manipulated by more powerful forces against your own society. It is sad that journalists are often the tools of foreign intelligence organisations, conspiring against attempts to establish social justice in their own societies.

Yet in our ignorance we can even make heroes of such elements on the false basis that they were victims of government action when the reality is that they have become tools of powerful foreign governments against less powerful nationalistic governments struggling to improve the lot of the common man.

Of course a critical spirit to establish bodies, whether governments or churches or journalists' associations, is valuable to enable us to peel off some of the layers of of deception that are designed to protect certain interests.

But a journalist who ignores important positive elements of government policy which will contribute to the welfare of the society simply in order to be critical of so-called "Government" is not being sincere.

In fact, we often find sadly that journalists refuse to acknowledge the worth of the government's actions simply because of a fear that they may be labelled pro- government.

The complex experiences that we are going through as a nation demand from journalists a high degree of perceptive- ness about the various social forces that are at play, and a clear recognition that the journalist's contribution will be part of the whole current of forces.

It is of course open to a journalist to take the easy way out: to use the media simply to reproduce the images that a small privileged and well-connected social group wishes to project onto the whole society, to sell himself or herself to those who pay and twist the truth in order to help such people, or to say only the safest possible things in order not to offend authority.

I urge you to develop a greater sense of responsibility, and also greater foresight so that you do not discredit yourself before the people and limit your capacity to influence the society by taking the easy way out.

Since independence, enormous resources have been devoted to the training of journalists because of recognition of the value of a journalist whose principal commitment is to the nation, its people and other peoples the world over, especially in the Third World who struggle Finally, may I say that whether progress along with us to achieve a just and will be achieved in our nation-building or dignified existence.

A journalist with such a commitment will investigate and present consistently the many aspects of the actual living conditions and concerns of the people. He will try to present ideas which will help to explain objectively our condition, and also help us in the human demand for transformation that I earlier spoke of.

He will help us turn our ideas into a material force for social transformation. I am sure that in the course of your training here you have been introduced to the works of the fathers of our anti- colonial struggles particularly those of our immortal First President and Founder of this Institute, Kwame Nkrumah.

I urge you to study their works deeply not for the sake of passing examinations which you have already done, but to help you build upon the foundations that your course has given you.

I believe that the observations I have made are relevant not only to the new graduates, but also to those who are already practising the profession of journalism.

I understand that the Institute is organising refresher courses for journalists already in the field. This is a very good idea, and I would only like to suggest something for you to consider in both your refresher and regular courses. Very little journalism tackles the complex issues of the economy in a way which makes things meaningful to ordinary people.

This probably has to do with our educational system. I would urge that the Ghana Institute of Journalism gives thought to improving substantially the quality of economic journalism in this country.

Finally, may I say that whether progress will be achieved in our nation-building or whether we will remain the mere tools of foreign interests will depend significantly on the contribution of those who wield the powerful tool of the pen.

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