“The journalist is one of the major architects of the new Ghana and of the new Africa …. It is by his pen that the will of the people can find expression, and our determination to be free, to unite Africa and to build a new society, is proclaimed for all the world to know”. [Dr. Kwame Nkrumah]
Perhaps for the first time in our nation’s history since independence, the media have asserted their influence as the true‘Fourth Estate of the Realm’. The media’s stance in the on-going crusade against illegal small-scale mining or "Galamsey” is not only praiseworthy but also, hopefully, signals the beginning of a new era of advocacy and agenda-setting, reminiscent of that embarked upon by the Gold Coast press in the run up to independence.
The Gold Coast press played a pivotal role in the country’s decolonisation process, and the subsequent creation of the modern state of Ghana. Mention can be made of “The Royal Gold Coast Gazette and Commercial Intelligencer” founded in 1822, “The Western Echo”, “The Gold Coast People”, and “The Accra Herald” (which later became the West Africa Herald established in 1857). There were also the “Gold Coast Aborigines” and “West Africa Times” launched in 1931, to cite but some.
Collectively, those simple and crude-looking publications, some of them hand-written, had a clear sense of mission during the independence struggle – to liberate the nation from foreign domination. They became a major vehicle for nationalist thought, serving as channels for the hitherto voiceless indigenous population to express their discontent against the colonial authorities.
Although the accomplishment of political independence might appear to many as the ultimate goal, in reality, the most important aspect of our freedom as a nation, has eluded us for the past 60 years.
Essentially, therefore, the assignment is far from over. And quite significantly, the mass media that once spearheaded the country's liberation struggle and onward march to political independence are also capable of championing the cause of socio-economic emancipation, given the same determination and focus. This is manifest in the impact achieved by the ‘No to Galamsey’ media campaign initiated by the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), and which has received immense support from a broad spectrum of Ghanaian society.
The reason for this support is not far-fetched, as one doesn’t have to look far to see the dangers posed by galamsey to life and livelihood. How many times have we not witnessed death caused by the collapse of mine shafts, the wanton destruction of precious vegetation, the pollution of water bodies and virtual degradation of the environment, all as a result of illegal mining?
The on-going media crusade to stamp out the practice is, therefore, a ‘just war’ to say the least. The support given to the campaign by the Government provides a crucial boost but can only yield the desired outcome if it remains constant and resolute. The tendency for authorities to yield to some form of pressure or threat from the local communities should be avoided. Arm-twisting tactics such as comments about someone trying to deprive the people of their daily bread should be discarded on account of the fact that the Government does not owe law-breakers any means of livelihood.
Time is ripe once again for the media to re-awaken the national consciousness, and to galvanise the people for action to achieve success not only in the current anti-galamsey campaign but also in the crucial struggle for the nation’s overall economic and social emancipation, without which our political freedom won on 6th March 1957 becomes meaningless. The media cannot fail in this task because considering their achievement during the anti-colonial struggle, their capability to lead and to prevail once they set the agenda for the entire nation, is absolutely without question.
Perhaps more than anything else, the campaign spearheaded by the GCGL also provides an opportunity for journalists in the country to step up efforts to de-politicise the media landscape and transform the mass media into a true marketplace of ideas, where vital issues pertaining to Ghana’s march to economic prosperity are objectively appraised. The positive use of press freedom, which includes; critical but constructive debates on development issues, has contributed to the advancement and true freedom of the world’s industrialised nations as we see them today.
In our context, the media could play a useful role in identifying and stimulating public debate on key issues of concern such as stimulating the growth of the nation’s economy, job creation, the attainment of sustainable food security, and evolving an educational system that would make young school graduates entrepreneurs rather than job seekers. By stimulating such discussions, the media would provide an open marketplace of ideas that would allow for a cross-fertilisation of views, out of which significant breakthroughs could be arrived at to accelerate national development.
Refocusing the media’s lenses, as it were, would not prevent journalists from continuing to hold Government accountable to the people. It essentially calls for a departure from pettiness, the removal of unnecessary media emphasis on partisan politics, and the shifting of that emphasis onto issues about improving the economic and social well-being of Ghanaian society – in other words moving the debate from politics to developmental issues, even as journalists continue to ensure that politicians are held to their campaign promises. Media practitioners would employ their various outlets towards exploring and exposing the country’s rich economic potential including; tourist attractions, stimulate local industry at the district level and woo foreign investors.
Of equal importance in re-directing the media’s focus is the improvement of the conditions of service of journalists so that poverty does not drive them into the hands of unscrupulous individuals and interest groups who would use them for their parochial ends. That is the only way to help transform the media into true agents of positive change, rather than political pawns for our own undoing.
In all these arguments, one thing is for certain – If the media today should gang up against poverty and under-development with the same determination and tempo as the pre-independence press approached the assignment of de-colonisation, and given a well-focused national leadership, Ghana could score another decisive victory in the crucial fight for economic emancipation – the true independence. The overwhelming public support received by the current media campaign against Galamsey confirms this assertion.