Perhaps nobody under the age of 20 in Ghana can remember that there was a time when GBC ruled the airwaves. The corporation was at the time probably well funded, and enjoyed approval – or at least was not resisted and rebuked to the degrees that it has experienced in its recent history and more especially, in the days following the launch of the reintroduction of the collection of TV license by the National media commission.
Growing up as a child I remember how we used to anxiously wait for TV transmission to start at about 5:00PM, and close down at about 11:00PM with the ever familiar “Yen ara asase ni” tune. Even as a child then, I do recall how every household that could afford a TV set had no choice but to watch GBC TV. Those who did not enjoy the privilege of owning TV sets would perch behind windows to peep through curtains in order to catch a glimpse of Osofo Dadzie, Obra, and “Inspector Derick” and much later, “Inspector Bediako”. There were no alternative providers of television programs about our own communities, in our own languages. So GBC TV it was!
All that has now changed. GBC now struggles for stable funding and loyal customers. Strapped for cash, they cannot be selective about their statutory duties to inform, educate, and entertain the people. Investment in technology is far below expectation. Staff morale is usually low. Overly reprehensible politicization is no longer endured by an audience, which deserts them for new platforms and younger people especially, are unimpressed about GBC’s output, and understandably so.
Having informally interacted with many of the retired staff who are invited on an annual basis by GBC to celebrate senior citizens’ day by presenting some of the programmes they used to present while they were in active service; and also having interacted with senior staff members who have seen it all through military regimes and how GBC was usually at the heart of activities during coup D’états, to a democratic era, where every Ghanaian citizen demands for their pound of flesh from the state broadcaster, I have come to form my own opinions about how GBC has come to be what it is perceived to be.
First, it appears all Governments since independence have conducted some transformation exercise on the state media in General and GBC in particular. Unfortunately, that transformation was not directed towards an independent broadcasting service run by professionals to serve the public, but into their propaganda machinery.
Over time, the funding regime of what is expected to be Ghana’s public service broadcaster appeared to have been smeared with a heavy dose of confusion – combining commercial broadcasting with public service broadcasting. This kind of scenario is akin to rearing a cat and a mouse in the same cage. With your eye constantly on the lookout to prevent the cat from consuming the mouse, and to prevent the mouse from irritating the cat, you will have no time to attend to anything else. That is the case of GBC – a “jack” of all forms of broadcasting and a “master” of none – unable to do either proper commercial broadcasting or proper public service broadcasting.
GBC does not appear to be attractive to commercial advertisers because they are compelled by law to take off commercial programmes anytime there is a national event.
No sooner had the National Media Commission announced that the collection of television (TV) license fees would resume in August 2015, than the Ghanaian public received the news with mixed reactions. They argued that paying the money to support GBC is unjustified because of the poor service the corporation renders to the viewing public. Other media houses picked up the issue and instead of critically analyzing the root causes of GBC’s challenges, proceeded to run down the state broadcaster and casting aspersions and insinuations. On one morning show programme on a private commercial station, the co- presenter’s “beef” with GBC was the way its presenters dress. According to her the cloth they wear makes them look old. Obviously, this presenter had no clue and did not bother to find out why GBC presenters wear the Ghanaian cloth. Well, as for being “old” or looking it, it is just a matter of opinion.
Another morning show host introduced his programme by laying a very false premise upon which he invited his one sided panel of “anti TV license” people to discuss GBC and the TV license. According to him, he does not remember the last time he watched GTV and yet he was being asked to pay GHC36 Ghana cedis for a channel he does not watch. This definitely isn’t the truth of the matter and one would have expected the presenter of such a show to have done his homework well. Especially as the said station had in the past critiqued yours truly for not getting my facts right before an interview. His discussants then proceeded to criticize GBC for all its shortcomings – rightly and legitimately so.
Unfortunately, many of the discussions were done without recourse to understanding or even attempting to understand or educating the public on the mandate of a Public Service Broadcaster. That would have been the best and fairest way to critique GBC.
The truth however remains that over the years, GBC has not always lived up to the expectation of Ghanaians. They complain: There appears to be little commitment to original journalism on GTV. This is mostly because there’s very little time for it. Secondly, Our culture is dying. GBC is neither able to adequately entertain nor educate nor inform its viewers. It appears to be losing what Ghanaians need most and becoming more like the private commercial stations most of the time. No wonder people are asking; why fund GBC if they sound like everyone else, or maybe even worse? Thirdly, it seems watching GTV is watching TV without pictures – boring and unexciting.
Thankfully, that is changing. With the introduction of GBC’s digital channels, the burden will eventually be taken off the shoulders of GTV and distributed among the 6 digital channels. For instance, GBC24, the corporation’s all news channel, which from all indications, is decently picking up, has been extensively covering events which previously were unseen on GTV.
In order to put this conversation in proper perspective, it is meet that we properly understand what Public Service Broadcasting is. While the debate over TV license raged on, I engaged people of different backgrounds in separate conversations over the matter and what they would like to see GBC become. While some believe that the role of a public broadcaster in relation to the government is properly served through informing the public on government’s activities, sensitising them towards government policies and programmes and generating feedback, others say that the public broadcaster should set the agenda for government and hold it accountable to the people through objective and balanced programming.
Some believe that the public broadcaster should reflect the full spectrum of public
opinions and concerns on issues. Others argue that on issues involving the security of the country the broadcaster must be selective.
On the Issue of what constitutes public interest, there were diverse interpretations. Some say the public interest is served when government is criticized or commended at appropriate
times. However when I posed the question about whether or not one is able to “bite the hand that feeds one” none of my respondents could give me a straight answer. GBC still depends on government subvention. This, I believe, is one of the main reasons why GBC has over the years been unable to critically criticize any government now, or in the past. Let government not feed GBC again. Let GBC be fed by its true owners – you. That way, GBC will be accountable to you and not any government.
On the other hand, if GBC is made to continue going in the direction of commercial Broadcasting, we may all end up as a country, being ruled and dictated to by only the commercial interests of corporate bodies with financial muscles. My grandmother in Goripie who cannot afford a satellite dish somehow would still need to be informed and entertained even if Goripie has no commercial value from which advertisers can feed.
As one of the 25 million plus citizens of this country, I have always complained and whined anytime time I have had to dip my hand deeper into my pocket to pay extra for services, that are not tangible to me. I am not happy that I have to pay more at the toll booth, I am not happy that I have to pay more for electricity. The last time I looked at my pay slip, the tax component alone nearly sent me into a coma. When the mobile phone company for whose services I pay, fails to deliver, I go bonkers, I get mad. When I go to the chop bar and pay for fufu, I will be mad if the waiter serves me banku instead. So when my tax money goes to pay for GBC’s services, I will expect value for my money. And I dare say that even as an ordinary worker I am not happy that I have to pay another Tax through GBC.
Yes, people must understand that GBC is just a state agency that has been given the responsibility of collecting this Tax and not because you watch GTV. Once you own a TV set you must pay a fee.
My taxes go to fund education even though I do not have a child in any public school. Yet there are Private schools that are out-performing public schools. Should we then abandon the public school system? Obviously not, there is always a neglected minority whose interests need to be considered too. No?
On any given day, I would prefer “boring” over “exciting” and “sensationalized” news items which have the potential of causing harm.
Having said this, GBC too must sit up and discard the proverbial “public Service” mentality. The obvious unforgivable mistakes we have committed in the past must not continue. The “I don’t care” attitude of some workers must cease. The general “it belongs to the government” approach must end. Whoever is still carrying this baggage has no business still being at GBC. Let the real owners of the corporation – Ghanaians- show such people the exit.
The BBC, CBC and SABC are just a few examples of public service broadcasters who are solely funded by the people. Their output is there for all to see.
GBC must work for you and I. Let’s own it and demand that the people we pay to work actually work. Let’s own it and take it away from governments and politicians. That way GBC wil work again. We must make it work.
Author: Abdul Hayi Moomen