February 13 has been set aside by UNESCO as World Radio Day. It is a day to celebrate the radio’s intrinsic role in people’s lives, including their social, economic, political, and mental health.
Like in other countries, radio has been phenomenal and instrumental in the government’s development agenda in Ghana.
The theme for the 12th edition of World Radio Day is “Radio and Peace.” For Ghana, it couldn’t have come at a better time, especially when Bawku in the Upper East Region of Ghana is battling years of ethnic conflict. Even more so is the role the media and radio, in particular, played in the largely peaceful 2020 election.
History of radio in Ghana
To understand and appreciate the impact of radio in our current dispensation, it is good to take a walk down memory lane and find out how radio has become a friend rather than an electronic gadget.
Broadcasting began in Ghana on July 31st, 1935 “from a wired relay station opened in Accra. The brain behind the introduction of broadcasting into the country was the then Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Arnold Hodson, affectionately known as the “Sunshine Governor.”
He was assisted by a British radio engineer, Mr F.A.W. Byron. By 17:00 GMT on that historic day, gramophone records comprising martial and light music were relayed. At exactly 17:45 GMT, the voice of Sir Arnold Hodson came through to break the tension and the suspense with this explicit message:
“One of the main reasons for introducing the Relay Service is to bring News, Entertainment and Music into the homes of all and sundry. This will end the barriers of isolation and ignorance in the path of progress and also enable the people of Gold Coast to improve on their very rich cultural music.”
From that historic evening some 87 years ago when the Sunshine Governor’s voice reverberated into Ghanaian homes to February 13, 2023, when the 12th edition of World Radio Day was celebrated, a lot has changed about radio. Together with his listeners, Kwame Sakyi Armah, popularly called Lexis Bill, host of Joy FM’s late afternoon programme, Drive Time, underlined the huge impact radio has had on people’s lives on the occasion of World Radio Day.
The stories about how radio changed career paths, inspired people and brought joy into many homes were so captivating and inspiring that DUBAWA decided to spotlight it.
Back then, the main corporate vision of radio broadcasting was to be Ghana’s authentic and trusted voice. The mission is to “provide credible, reliable, and quality Broadcasting and Communication Services, as well as promoting national consciousness, loyalty, integrity, and self-reliance and providing a strong sense of national identity.
“It also includes being guided by a high standard of professionalism, objectivity, accuracy, balance and excellence; and pursuing sound policies and best business practices in dealing with our stakeholders.”
Today, according to the National Communications Authority, Ghana has over 119 Community Radio Stations, 24 Campus Radio Stations, and 528 Commercial Radio Stations with a more nuanced vision and mission largely persuaded by commercial interest and programming. The new vision notwithstanding, radio has remained a powerful tool for promoting peace and stability in Ghana.
With the coming into force of the 1992 Constitution, the media landscape has been pluralised, breaking the monopoly of the State broadcaster.
So how has radio been of benefit to Ghanaians?
One of the objectives of World Radio Day is to raise public awareness of the importance of radio and how it has helped in the development agenda of the country. DUBAWA decided to explore some of the benefits of radio broadcasting in Ghana.
Radio stations in Ghana in recent years have indeed, true to their design and mission, provided the people they serve with unequalled access to developmental information in the various areas of their like.
For the first time in a long time, several communities now rely on expert information from their local radio station on what seeds to plant and which crop to grow according to the demands of the markets in the city.
Over 600 youths in Asokore Mampong have been for skilled jobs under the No Business As Usual Project sponsored by the SOS Netherlands and the European Union.
The former Training and events coordinator of the project, Mr Shaibu Hussein, shared how radio was instrumental in that project:
“Radio remains a tool for local development. Radio was used as a tool to sensitise community members about our intervention so that they could enrol. This ensured that applications were received across different community sections, resulting in the selection of vulnerable yet motivated youth. Additionally, radio ensured that project results were disseminated and impact projected to community members. This resulted in a cordial relationship and goodwill between and among the project team and the local community.”
On his part, Ibrahim Khalilulahi Usman, Managing Editor, Ghanaian Streets, said: “Radio has played an important role in shaping Ghana’s democracy. Most importantly, indigenous radio stations have helped keep the electorate informed by broadcasting in the local language, allowing people to appreciate what is happening inside and outside the country.”
“However, sensationalism and politics have eroded radio journalism’s credibility. Ghanaians believe everything they hear on the radio, so practitioners must exercise caution when broadcasting information,” he added.
Another example is in Asokore Mampong Municipality, Kumasi, Ghana, where the radio station (Haske Radio 91.7) is now at the centre of preserving the local language and culture. This has reinforced the relationship between the station and the local communities.
“The quality of every community is a result of their knowledge and how informed you need to be able to understand everything that goes around you. In our case as Haske Radio, we realised many people were not involved or had not been involved in issues related to governance, for example, because we hardly understand the languages in which these issues are being discussed. So they now understand what inflation means, what government policies are and what the budget means etc. And all this has been made possible because of the Hausa language in which we broadcast,” said the General manager of Haske Radio, Mr Suhail Abdul-Mumin.
Radio for peace or war?
Radio in Ghana has primarily been an instrument for peace. When the country was on edge, ready to explode in a closely fought election run-off, as seen in the 2008 election in Ghana, the radio came to the rescue. Rather than inflaming passions, radio, particularly private radio stations, was used to provide information about which candidate was in the lead. This eased the tension and led to a peaceful transition from an incumbent New Patriotic Party government to an opposition National Democratic Congress party. And there have been many such close elections in Ghana since then, with the impact of radio even more palpable.
However, on a day when the world is celebrating World Radio Day with the theme “Radio and Peace,” the Member of Parliament for Bawku Mahama Ayariga told Joy News’ Upfront programme that all radio stations must be closed down in Bawku. In the interview monitored by DUBAWA, the MP is concerned about what he believes to be the inflammatory use of radio in Bawku, which has led to an escalation of violence in the area. Bawku is no stranger to violence. For over six decades, the once buoyant community has been torn to shreds due to a bloody ethnic conflict between the Mamprusi and Kusasi ethnic groups. Dozens have lost their lives, with properties running into millions destroyed. Mahama Ayariga is not happy about how some people are exploiting the power of radio to incite violence in the area and would want all radio stations to be closed down for at least a period.
However, the Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah has charged owners of radio stations and journalists in Bawku to be circumspect in their reportage about Bawku and to promote peace and tranquillity in the community.
The sad state of Bawku notwithstanding, radio has served the country well, and on the occasion of World Radio Day, one can only say that radio has been more of a friend than a foe.