Here’s the thing about microphones: Stick one in front of a fool, and he just gets louder.
Unfortunately, you can’t really blame him, can you? Fools are foolish, just like lungs are for breathing and fire burns. Trying to change an idiot is like lecturing rocks for being too hard. They don’t care and can’t change anyway.
So when the National Peace Council of Ghana admonished MP Kennedy Agyepong for making some very nasty threats surrounding next year’s elections, they kind of missed the mark, like berating pus and ignoring bacteria. What they should’ve done is upbraid the news media.
Agyepong is a member of parliament for the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP). Like a lot of his crew, he really wants the NPP to win next year’s elections and unseat the ruling New Democratic Congress (NDC). Recently, he told Citi FM that the country would devolve into a Rwanda-like massacre if anybody from the NDC messes around at the polls. Rwanda. He actually said that. You know, like the kind of pre-planned, media-assisted, eyeball-to-eyeball homicide that kills about a million people in 100 days and forever damages a nation’s psyche.
Agyepong was answering to Koku Anyidoho, the NDC director of communications for presidency. Anyidoho recently bellied up to a microphone at a radio station in the U.K. to taunt and provoke NPP leader Nana Akufo-Addo and his supporters. This, he said, was in response to Akufo-Addo’s own slogan of “All die be die,” which, in pigeon English, basically means go fight for victory and who cares if you die. People from the NPP camp insist it was President John Atta Mills who set the whole thing off by comparing the coming campaigns to Kenya’s election crisis of 2007-08.
Ghana is a relatively stable place, but, during the 2008 election campaign, there was deadly political violence in the north. Now, with the country’s sixth election fast approaching, civil society is ringing the alarm about the increasingly volatile nature of political discourse.
So far, you don’t hear too much about the media’s role in all this. Agyepong and Anyidoho were quoted many times, verbatim, as are all politicians in this country when they work themselves into indignant lathers. First pronounced on the radio, their words were sucked into an echo-chamber and bounced all over the country. Newspaper reporters fall over themselves to publish – or, if you like, recycle – these kinds of comments. Aggregating websites group together those same stories. Morning radio panels broadcast the day’s newspaper headlines.
The whole thing is really quite dangerous. Think about it: Now, out there in the national imagination, is the suggestion that next year’s elections have bitter ethnic dimensions, that maybe cutting someone’s head off with a machete is acceptable and likely behavior, that certain political camps are ready to be actively violent in defence of what they deem as opposition transgressions.
In a country where literacy is low, poverty is high, and democracy is young, a lot of people get really swept up in this stuff. Look at the power of Radio Télévision Libre Mille-Collines in Rwanda, the role of vernacular radio stations in Kenya, and the state broadcaster in Côte D’Ivoire. Now think about propaganda in Nazi Germany. People, unfortunately, are putty, malleable little tragedies waiting to be marched off whatever cliff happens to be highest.
Media need to realize this a pre-election phase in the country. They need to think hard about the guests they invite on broadcast shows, about the quotes they run in newspapers, and the depth they give political coverage in general.
Right now, it’s kind of a mess.