Today you can get a radio signal in the remotest of any Ghanaian village.
Today is World Radio Day (WRD) - a day to celebrate radio as a medium to promote access to information and freedom of expression under the auspices of the United Nations Education and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO).
Close to two decades ago , when the state-owned GBC was the only radio station in Ghana, a day like this would not matter to any of us but today, it’s a big deal, and we welcome the United Nation General Assembly’s resolution designating February 13 as WRD.
There are now more than 247 radio stations according to the National Communications Authority (NCA). It is such a phenomenal leap in the frontiers of radio in Ghana that touched lives like that of middle aged Samuel Kwesi Kissi who lived the most of his childhood life seeing the gruesome murders of the Liberian war in 1989.
When he first had the chance in 1999 to share his story on 'Curious Minds'- a youth radio show on GBC about his experiences as a child who had seen war, he did not hesitate. Ghana was then preparing for the first democratic change in leadership in nearly two decades and the stakes were high. “That first interview about the role children have to play in a peaceful election became the first of what has now become an exciting time participating in radio and in media advocacy,” he told me as we met on one of his organization’s late Saturday shows in Accra.
Grass to grace
Today, Sammy as his folks call him is a world figure. He travels all over the globe doing media advocacy and preaching child rights on the ticket of the United Nations. He’s just one out of the many young people who have gone through the youth radio programme to earn academic and professional laurels.
Through his group known as Curious Minds, Sammy uses the platform of radio, the group he belongs to, has for the last 17 years been discussing adolescent reproductive right issues. ranging from education to youth unemployment. He uses radio to question and discuss issues of national interest
He tells me radio is largely responsible for who he is now. And adds that As a child and now a young person, being on “radio gave me opportunities and access to policy and decision makers in a way I could never have earlier imaginesd”, he says.
I have been able to generate discussion on important issues and help with holding leaders accountable. I am happy to have contributed to legislation, policy formulation and programme design at national and global levels and it all started with opportunities I had at Curious Minds to be on radio.
It is in this light that the UN system in Ghana salutes and commends “all the pioneering and current radio professionals, journalists, presenters and producers alike in the quest to maximise the use of radio in the country as a discerning medium for information, education and entertainment around developmental issues such as the MDGs”.
Everywhere you go
Sammy’s story resonates with many Ghanaians who now see the radio as a second-to-none source of information. Now you can get a radio signal in the remotest of any Ghanaian village. Many Ghanaians now are part of the mainstream governance system as they can contribute to the most sensitive of national issues just by a dial of the phone.
As the widest reaching medium, radio has become a tool for enormous development in Ghana. Today, we can say that Radio sets the agenda daily in Ghana and this is because we have understood how powerful it can be in getting policy makers to act or respond. It is no wonder that when there are fire outbreaks or other disasters, people call a radio station instead of the Fire Service.
Challenges abound but the most important is the decline in quality that has accompanied the pluralism of the media especially radio. Many untrained people find themselves on radio and their output clearly is a reflection of ill preparedness.it does not seem that they take time to educate themselves before going on to inform others.
This has resulted in sensationalism and a lot of 'noise' on our airwaves. Media people do not seem to be very critical on other issues directly outside the domain of party politics and that is affecting development discourse in Ghana.
One will be shocked to hear how a broadcaster reports a rape case for example and it does not seem to be the rule to double check stories before going on air with them. Sadly, at the rate we are traveling in this direction, it seems the worst is yet to come.
The UN Ghana message, presented by the Resident Cordinator, Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, “in upholding freedom of expression as a fundamental human right, the media have – at the same time -a corresponding obligation to respect the rights of others, including their dignity and personal integrity, and to serve the broader public interest through professionalism and conduct that promote public confidence in the institution of the media”.
If well regulated, radio can and will be an important channel for strengthening democracy and championing development in Ghana. Like many good things though, it has the potential to derail all the gains we have made till date if we do not put our check and balances in place, Sammy tells me.
The example of Curious Minds clearly shows that the days where children and young people had to be seen but not heard are over. How Young people can use the radio to ensure that their issues are kept high on the discussion table and receive the priority they deserve. There is more to radio than good music and the more young people take to using this medium to raise discussion on them, the better for us.
“As a young person, I have had access, sometimes at the highest level of the United Nations, to meet with Heads of States and other influential people contributing to discussions on issues that I hold dear to my heart. All of this started from that first day I went on radio and decided to contribute to something other than my own interests” he says.