2018 begins! fake news, fake jobs, fake courts

What a beginning! A republic’s anniversary, an immigration service professing medical expertise while practicing discrimination and a media house DG declaring new courts of prosecution.

Happy New Year. Although January’s beginnings in the world of news in Ghana revealed we are off to a troubling start. The above stories signify deeper issues and require critical analysis.

Ghana’s Immigration Service faced the public’s ire as it abandoned its actual remit and turned itself into a body with medical expertise. We now know the story. 500 jobs. 80,000 applicants. Each applicant paid a voucher fee. GIS’s provided public jobs criteria – i.e. height or educational requirements. Post applicants’ payment to apply, long, long, long lines in Ghana’s unforgiving Harmattan, a missive is released by a GIS ‘official’ that stretch marks and bleached skin exclude you from this service.

Really? I mean, GIS, seriously!

This is beyond problematic. It is discriminatory, it is an outrage, it should be criminal. It is an act of a dangerous kind of leadership that already flourishes in this nation.

GIS is not qualified to make medical decisions. Skin bleaching is a problematic personal decision buoyed by an institution that has turned self-hate and international beauty standards of whiteness into a multi-million dollar profit industry. Ghana’s government has already banned the primary ingredient in the bleaching crèmes; and yet such products are still widely advertised – and certainly more needs to be done. The GIS is not the body engaged to perform this service.  Its additional declaration that stretch marks impede effective job performance is beyond ludicrous. Mothers in particular are stretch mark carriers. So, this becomes a gender discrimination issue. I mean, in our history one of Ghana’s revered warriors is Yaa Asantewa – a grandmother, a leader, a woman – whose courage has been celebrated throughout the years. Might she have had stretch marks?

Of course, I am being facetious. But GIS is being ridiculous beyond measure.

What is dangerous is such declarations lack any weight in evidence, expertise and yet they are issued as if they are fact. They are then repeated with other equally ignorant voices added to lend weight to such stupidity.

The added issue? Accepting  80,000 applications for only 500 jobs; where paid application guarantees profit for no work is symptomatic of the worst elements of leadership in Ghana. For me, it is an act of corruption, it is fraud by omission and beyond calls for individuals aggrieved to seek redress in courts, there needs to be institutional amends, accountability and transformation.

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Hardly an auspicious beginning!

The outrage is easy. The change is the challenge.

And change is what is required.

From a troubled immigration service’s jobs policies to an equally troubled media house’s leadership call for bogus courts.

Ghana’s Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) is our nation’s public broadcaster. Its current stint in hot water is the result of the new DG’s – Dr. Kwame Akuffo Anoff-Ntow – flawed and foolish decision to announce special new courts where non-payers of tv licences will be prosecuted and punished.

That declaration triggered equal parts outrage and condemnation. It was swiftly followed by a humiliating walk back from GBC’s DG. The latter was the result of the legal world highlighting their utter ignorance of such a major move – and their lack of knowledge of such a move, meant simply it was never an actual move. There is little more damaging than empty threats followed by a public dressing down. GBC’s DG had gone rogue. Seemingly without consultation or practicing the leadership role – for which he had been hired – he made an announcement that turned into a public dressing down.

There are deeper issues that require engagement here.

I strongly believe in our nation having an active public broadcaster. In our media world dominated by private media houses whose bottom line profit impacts content choices – a public broadcaster holds a different mandate. It must serve a nation with content that engages history, context, nation-building. It is subject to different scrutiny because we the public are its shareholders.

It holds a history steeped in politics due to its beginnings and its life under the varying administrations.

GBC was birthed in 1935, and formerly known as the Gold Coast Broadcasting System. Its beginnings were the brainchild of our colonizers. The aim was to bring news, entertainment and music into the homes of millions. It was described then as an essential ‘path to progress’. It was the brainchild of then governor Sir Arnold Hodson.

The GBC – like all media houses – is ultimately a content creator. As the news broke, I spent time watching GBC’s tv content. I was appalled. Watching the news bulletins was like a journey in time travel. The presentation felt like it belonged to the 1970s. This is a direct reflection of leadership’s failure to focus on transforming a historical, weak structure that does not function for the 21st century – while calling for the public to engage,  respect and pay for it.

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For me, media is passion, purpose and profession. I believe in its power to do important, transformative work when led with vision, conviction and skill. Public broadcasters matter. GBC – like many media houses – have focused, talented and committed individuals working under challenging circumstances within weak institutions and incompetent or mediocre management and leadership. That combination is disastrous for any media house – but for the public broadcaster it is particularly egregious.

Building strong institutions needs to be a work in progress not a go-to sound bite. And our nation’s public broadcaster is an institution.

TV licenses are a bitter pill for Ghana’s public to swallow. They are bitter because watching the channel prompts the valid question – what is money being spent on? Where does the TV licence money land? GBC’s content should be educational, historical and engaging. It can – and should – reflect the modernity of global media. With a guaranteed income, a stronger structure should exist with forward thinking leadership and visionary management. GBC should not be the media house where great ideas go to die, or where great people eek out a living navigating frustration and inaction.

As Ghana honors the 25th anniversary of the Republic, discarding the legacy and shackles of our colonizers must be a priority for Ghana’s national broadcaster. Individual vision without institutional restructuring cannot stand. GBC was born in our former colonizer’s time.

Media in Ghana is a modern tool; not just of communication, but of leadership. It carries the power of narrative. It nurtures nation building by the choices it makes regarding content and contribution. GBC is not exempt from hard choices because of its historical beginnings.

We are currently governed by a president who called for an engaged citizenry. Such citizens will not just condemn outrage but actively call for, demand and persist in pursuit of change.

What are we willing to give up, transform, exchange, remove, replace in order to make CHANGE?

In 2018, our word for the year when it comes to media and leadership should be: CHANGE.

About  the author

Esther A Armah is an Accra-based international award winning journalist who works across radio and print. She is Director of EAA Media Productions, a Media Communications Lecturer with Webster University, a Content Creator and a Master Class Media Trainer. Every Friday at 9.30am, listen to her weekly show #finePRINTfriday on Class91.3FM. Her website is www.eaarmah.com

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