Over the past couple of months, we have introduced a new format on the Citi Breakfast Show on Citi 97.3 FM, which has been commended, criticized, imitated and derided in equal measure.
My two colleagues Richard Sky, Nhyira Addo and myself (the 3 wise men on the radio) sometimes with help from Nana Ama Agyemang Asante and Godfred AkotoBoafo, have become quite vocal in our criticism and commentary on a variety of national issues, from the inadequacy of basic resources, to the docility of our middle class and the apparent “outoftouchness” of our political leaders.
Earlier on Thursday,April 4, 2013 for example, we criticized the decision to pay over US200, 000 each to Article71 office holders including MPs (a total of over GHS 40million) at a time when the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) is struggling to respond to serious flooding in the Volta Region.
The payment as far as I am concerned is another manifestation of misplaced priority of government. Only a few weeks ago, the President was forced to explain the details of an intended sponsorship of pastors to a so-called pilgrimage to Israel, at an amount of USD600, 000.
The explanation that the amount was from a benefactor hardly mollified the anger from some sections of society that the government, faced more pressing problems like shortages and strikes, could even contemplate spending its (mental) resources facilitating such a trip.
We have been accused of all kinds of things including pursuing a political agenda, running animated commentary on “issues we have no business talking about” and doing “lazy journalism” among others. Some even feel we only complain and have, in the words of a past American President, become “nattering nabobs of negativism”.
These views I believe stem from a misunderstanding of what we do and what motivates us.
Our work as media,whether as journalists (or pundits) in my view is to EXPOSE the ills in society, rigorously ASK WHY and instigate POSITIVE CHANGE: in attitudes, actions and mindsets.
If doing this attracts the criticism that we have an agenda, then thank God! Who doesn’t?
We have chosen to avoid the predictable NDC-NPP panel arrangements that pitch politicians and social commentators from the main political groupings to split hairs on predominantly partisan political issues.
These news-driven newspaper review programs have become common place on most local-language and some English speaking networks in Ghana.
Listeners deserve better than well-rehearsed political arguments from career politicians and routine answers from Ministers-of-State and public officials.
If your morning ritual includes listening to the commentary of General Mosquito, Sir John, Kweku Baako or Kwesi Pratt, then Citi Breakfast Show is not for you!
Whereas we also pontificate every now and again, we are neither wearing partisan political lenses nor have we become part of the establishment that tends to take a predictable path on national issues.
So a couple of weeks ago,we chose to highlight the importance of leadership in Ghana on a morning when almost everybody else was salivating on the akomfem saga. On Friday April5, 2013, we chose to discuss the headache of acquiring and securing land in Ghana on a day when hotter political topics were making the news rounds.
Today Monday April 8,2013 for example, the main issue in town is the rekindled strike by doctors and pharmacists, and while we found time to highlight this, we spent a good amount of airtime discussing the poor customer service, unreliability and lack ofenforcement of standards in our domestic airline sector.
Our job is not only toreport events and point out their implications but also to anticipate problemsand flag them before they become catastrophic.
In our view, the Ministry of Transportation and its allied institutions ought to wake up and strictlyenforce standards particularly for domestic airlines, to prevent the catastrophes like the Dana Air Crash in Nigeria.
This approach isimportant because sometimes events take place so quickly that we tend to miss their real meaning. It is therefore important to step back every now and again, and decide what is important for our listeners.
Radio is a powerful medium, but for it to yield positive results, it must be approached from an enlightened, well-informed and creative mindset-, which is what the Citi team tries to do every day.
This is not to say we do not report on current affairs. But any serious analysis of Ghana’s problems, be they erratic power supply, water rationing, strikes or budget deficits will reveal a predictably cyclical ring to them.
This means it’s not enough just to report the fact of the occurrence of a strike, or a road crash or such other newsworthy issues, but to situate their occurrence inrecent historical context and point out the links and common threads that run through these issues.
In these past two months we have broached subjects from the difficulty in getting blood in blood banks,to dealing with persistent armed robbery, the inappropriate content of some TV (and radio) programs, the incessant noise pollution in our neighborhoods and the inability of Ghanaian children to express themselves in their own local language.
When hawkers and traders took over the newly constructed Madina road and turned it into a market overnight we run a series of shows on it until the Municipal Assembly led a team to restore sanity at the place. Another pet topic is the menace of motorbike users who seem to think a separate set of traffic laws apply to them as they brazenly run red lights with traffic police helplessly looking on.
We are driven by a love for Ghana, a country blessed with unbelievable natural resources but suffering from chronic leadership failure on all fronts.
The country has become complacent and is resting on its oars, others have overtaken us and we still delude ourselves that having relatively peaceful elections every four years and attracting plaudits for our democratic credentials every now and again is fine! (Wake up, Kenya also has done it. And quicker too)
To put some of our developmental problems in broader context;
According to the Ghana Social Development Outlook 2012, our Water and Sanitation deficits have become a serious health threat to educational outcomes.
Our housing deficits have created urban slums with endemic problems. Unemployment has reached dangerously high levels, with social development now under serious threat. Energy Supply is inadequate for our growing population and Economic Inequality is widening even in the face of increased economic growth.
What compounds these problems is the increasing apathy of our middle classes and their resort to private solutions to public problems.
As some wise chap said, politics, (which essentially deals with public choice) are too serious a matter to be left in the hands of politicians alone, particularly because:
“Most voters are largely ignorant about the positions of the people for whom they vote, and except for a few highly publicized issues, they do not pay attention to what legislative bodies do, and even when they do pay attention, they have little incentive to gain the background knowledge and the analytic skills needed to understand the issues”**
This means media have a crucial role to play in informing, educating, framing and contextualising the issues.
This is not always easy to do in a highly polarized environment like ours. Incredibly intelligent and articulate “experts” prefer to leave the minefield of national discourse and political analysis to the IDEGs, CDDs, & IMANIs, who have borne the brunt of our acerbic politics of being unfairly branded by some disingenuous politicians.
The political space hasbeen hijacked by vitriolic political commentary, which fiercely labels and brands anyone who dares question the actions of politicians.
There is too much at stake to let the fear of being labelled as NDC or NPP or the silence of the so-called experts to make us apathetic or cower us into silence.
We will risk being labelled and talk about politically charged issues like the ballooned budget deficit, and the acquiescence of a parliament that keeps approving budgets and spending limits which governments refuse to adhere to, and risk being labelled in partisan colors.
We are privileged to be on air as broadcast journalists with access to information and decision makers through a phone call and sometime face-to-face meetings.
We will not waste this precious opportunity by asking ignorant questions nor be obsequious when we interact with our leaders on behalf of our listeners.
We will do our best to get all the facts and background information on the issues that arise and question the system as rigorously and fearlessly as we can.
We will be fair but firm,respectful but robust, inquiring and irritating if need be.
The talking we intend to do is reasoned, passionate advocacy that will prick our collective conscience and jerk our leaders from their complacence.
Our selected approach to breakfast or morning shows is neither orthodox nor comfortable. We will set people on edge but we also force them to think deeper.
It may be true that talking won’t solve our problems, but silence won’t either!
By Bernard Avle: Host of the CitiBreakfast Show