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John Tia misses the point

Information Minister, John Tia, has responded to suggestions that the information ministry should be scrapped. Obviously, he cares about his job. It’s only human. But as you can see from the following Ghana News Agency report, besides doing what anyone whose job is threatened would do, Mr. Tia just doesn’t have any cogent, well-thought-out justification for the existence of his ministry. He’s just saying what we know already – based on which the likes of myself, John Ndebugre and Prof. Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi are calling for the ministry to fold up. So I have decided to respond to his responses. Mine are in blue…

Bolgatanga, Aug. 12, GNA- Mr John Tia Akolgo, Minister of Information, on Thursday, described critics calling for the scrapping of the Information Ministry, as ill-informed about the role of the Ministry.

The Information Minister said this at a Press Conference held in Bolgatanga.

The Minister said he was surprised to hear critics, including Mr John Ndebugre who said he would prefer that the Ministry was dissolved. He pointed out that, the Ministry has existed since the first republic and past governments have utilized the Ministry to propagate their programmes and policies and wondered why these same critics could not call for the scrapping of the Ministry during those periods.

Blah… Blah… Blah… We have heard all of this before haven’t we? I am infact surprised that Mr. Tia says the fact that the information ministry has been in existence since independence means that it cannot be shut down if we realize it has outlived its usefulness. And, please, I for one couldn’t have called for the information ministry to be scrapped in 1958 because at the time my mother was still a virgin. I suppose both Prof. Gyimah-Boadi and John Ndebugre couldn’t have called for the information ministry to be scrapped at the time because they were either too young to care or they were waiting to see whether anyone would convince them that there was a justification for the ministry’s existence.

Either way, we have all lived through a constitutional era for almost 20 years and we know that with the liberalization of the airwaves, the proliferation of various media organizations and access to the internet, we don’t need an information ministry.
The fact that we have allowed this bad, useless appendage of government to exist for 50 long years, doesn’t mean that we should allow it to exist in perpetuity – even when we come to the realization that we don’t need it.

Who in their right senses says that the old order should never give way to a new order? That’s what John Tia appears to be saying. If that’s the case, why is Atta Mills in power claiming to be building a better Ghana? The crappy Ghana has been with us for more than 50 years – and most Ghanaians would say it is really not that bad, especially in comparison with Somalia and Niger.

If we are to go by Mr. Tia’s spurious argument that if a thing cannot be scrapped because it has been in existence for 50 years, then we could also ask why we need two deputies in a ministry which has always had just one deputy? Also if change is so bad, why is the government John Tia serves in wasting our money and time amending the constitution, which is not even as old as the information ministry? Very few have complained about the National Youth Employment Programme, which has been existence for less than a decade, yet the government is carrying out all sort of reforms to the NYEP. Why? Because change makes our lives better. Change is the only constant in life. Someone should tell that to John Tia.

The Minister said, just as other regulatory bodies, including the various Ministries in the country, the information Ministry was established to regulate state media activities, including activities of the Information Services Department, the Ghana Broad Casting Cooperation, the Ghana News Agency, Graphic Communications Group and the Ghanaian Times.

“The Information Ministry is mandated to explain government policies and programmes to the people, especially those at the grassroots, and to take reactions from the people on government programmes back to government for any improvement if necessary.”

Obviously, the minister doesn’t know what his ministry is supposed to do. The information ministry is not a regulatory agency. It is just a monstrous contraption that gets in the way and ensures that state media organizations do not exert their independence. The information ministry doesn’t regulate the operations of any media organization in Ghana today. It doesn’t issue frequencies and it doesn’t control content. It even lost its power to appoint the heads of state media organizations in 1992. That power now belongs to the Media Commission.

All the information ministry does these days is to needlessly meddle and try to force the hands of the editors at the state broadcaster and the state-owned newspapers, making sure that the president’s face is constantly on the front pages of the Daily Graphic and the Ghanaian Times and whatever story involving the president (even when he is commissioning a public toilet) is the top headline story on GBC radio and television.

The only form of regulation I see the ministry doing – if you can call it that – is when they issue press accreditation for major national events. If the information ministry had anything to regulate, it would have sacked the editor of the Daily Graphic long ago because let’s face it, this administration doesn’t like him.

And, please, I really don’t get the point of the mandate of the ministry being “to explain government’s policies and programmes to the people”. Government ministers are on radio stations everyday explaining and debating policy. Only two or three of them are from the information ministry. The rest don’t need to get clearance from the information ministry before speaking to journalists. And they do a fairly decent job defending even the most outrageous and indefensible of government decisions. These days almost every minister, DCE or government appointee does his or her best to explain the administration’s policy on various media platforms. So even without the information ministry there is a lot of explanation going on. If we shut down the information ministry, we wouldn’t really miss it at all.

[Mr. Tia] indicated that, as part of these functions, the ISD for instance is tasked as one of its core duties, to do what he termed “Public Reactions Collation Report”, which are then sent to the government for attention.

Don’t make me laugh. We need further explanation of the use of this report. I am sure it is one of those documents Mr. Tia wouldn’t mind using when he runs out of toilet roll in the office.

[Mr. Tia] noted that the citizenry have the right to know whether government executes its plans and policies based on its promises and that invariably, government is obliged to explain these policies and programmes, which could be done better through the Information Ministry.

In a democracy, the emphasis should be on debate and analysis of government policies and programmes. Mere explanations are not enough. Times have changed. In case, Mr. Tia doesn’t realize it, Ghana is now a democracy – a 21st Century democracy, not a mid-20th century autocracy where “explanations” were forcefully shoved down people’s throat.

[Mr. Tia] added that for purposes of evaluation and re-evaluation, the Ministry would continue to pursue vigorous information dissemination through the Meet the Press Series.

Meet the press is as useless as the ministry which organizes it. Over the years, people have come to realize that it’s just an opportunity for government ministers to spew out crap they themselves don’t even believe so most of us don’t pay attention any more. Even journalists are not as interested as we were in years gone by. As I have argued previously, every ministry should have its own well-staffed, well-equipped PR outfit to disseminate information. The defence minister will always be in a better position to defend defence policy better than any information minister ever will. I also don’t get the point of a minister moving a whole entourage from one end of town to another to speak at ‘meet the press’ when he could just organize a media scrum in front of his office to say whatever he necessarily needs to tell the nation.

The Information Minister indicted that critics of the government are bent on using dubious methods to silence the Information Ministry from discharging its mandate and said such moves could not deter the Ministry from performing its legitimate functions.

Nonsense. If I had the power to silence the information ministry and all its staff, I would have done so long ago. It would have taken less time than sitting down to write this response to the minister’s lame justifications of why his ministry should continue to exist. Nobody wants to silence anyone. In a democracy, once again, we debate issues. It is in nobody’s interest for anyone to be silenced. The silly conspiracy theories should be discarded. The ease and the speed with which the minister and his lieutenants craft conspiracy theories to brush aside every argument they disagree with is as baffling as it is alarming. Whatever they say, the ministry’s mandate in 21st Century Ghana is very questionable if not dubious.

He said the ISD, through the Ministry has set up an information desk at the various district, Municipal and Metropolitan assemblies to undertake public education on health and other developmental issues that have helped transformed the lives of Ghanaians.

Bull crap! With filth all over the country causing cholera outbreaks in different towns and cities, I want the minister to give us proof that these so-called information desks have transformed lives. I just want see one life that has been transformed by the information desk. I bet there is none!

He quashed suggestions from critics that government could depend on the private media, including radio and print, to disseminate its policies and plans, saying that, such thoughts were misplaced and baseless.

“He quashed”? Ah, this is a GNA report. No wonder. They need to make the minister feel he has won the debate. The minister can’t quash anything. Government already depends on the mass media – private or otherwise – to disseminate information. If government still depended on the ISD to spread information, John Tia would be acting as a transport and logistics officer, fuelling hundreds of vans to spread his message around the country. If the minister feels the vans of the ISD do a better job disseminating government information, he should stop his people from sending out press releases. What is misplaced, is the minister’s head and from where I see it hanging, it looks baseless too.

Mr Akolgo said many Ghanaians, especially the rural folks, could not read and write and wondered what they would be buying news papers for.

My mother reads little. But she listens to radio – a lot. She gets all the information she needs from listening to the local language stations. Millions of rural folks do the same. And you will be amazed at their level of awareness. All over the country, there are radio stations, which are doing a fantastic job creating platforms for people from all walks of life and political persuasions to discuss pertinent national issues. The ISD vans are not as useful for information dissemination as they used to be. I think they will serve us better now if we gave them all to the police to be used as patrol vehicles.

[Mr. Tia] said the internet could not be relied upon to perform the functions of the ministry since most people do not have access or afford to utilize the internet.

No one has said anything about the internet just yet. But since that the minister mentions it, perhaps, we should point him in the direction of Egypt, Tunisia and Syria. The internet is a powerful tool for mass mobilization. One day it will become affordable and many can access it – that is if we are to believe government would effectively implement its own ICT policy. I have a feeling the minister has not read that policy. Yet, he wants me to believe that he can “explain” it to me?


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