THE ROLE OF THE GHANAIAN MEDIA TOWARDS ACHIEVING INDEPENDENCE
THE DUTY of journalists is to educate, inform and entertain the public through the use of radio, television, newspapers and lately superhighway Information Communication Technological means such as internet, facebook, WhatsApp and others. The journalists among others also provide liberty to the people through their activities because they expose and oppose arbitrary rule.
The media have played an important role in the governance of Ghana since the colonial era. Being the Fourth Estate of the Realm in terms of the country’s governance system, it has continued to play its immense role to date.
The media during the colonial period always acted as the mouthpiece for the people. They ensured that what the people of the then Gold Coast wanted was communicated to their colonial governors. Through the writings of the few but prolific journalists and editors the media was able to inform, educate, entertain the people, as well as fought for the wellbeing of the people and self determination.
The few media houses used their columns to propagate the message of self government to the colonial administration and this aided the people in understanding the urgency for self governance.
“Ghana our beloved country is free forever…” were the words of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah when Ghana attained independence 50 years ago. Today, people still look back and link the ‘Big six’ to the independence forgetting the contributions some journalists and other individuals as though they were nothing when recalling events and activities leading to independence.
When we talk of independence today, the role of the media in the attainment of Ghana’s independence cannot be overlooked. The media contributed massively to the attainment of the freedom we all enjoy today. Media practitioners during the time of independence were forthright and wrote articles to justify the need for independence in support of the politicians.
The genesis of journalism in the Gold Coast which went through several phases was traced to General Sir Charles McCarthy. Indeed, the first media channel to operate in the then Gold Coast was a newspaper he founded called ‘The Royal Gold Coast Gazette’ in 1822 in Cape Coast.
It was cast in the mode of what obtains today as public owned medium because it was established by General Sir Charles McCarthy who was the first Crown Governor of Gold Coast to act as the mouthpiece for the government. Few days after he landed in Cape Coast, he launched that official newspaper. The paper was edited by Captain Alexander Gordon Laing who was credited as having discovered Rokelle, Sierra Leone’s major river. Captain Laing like the governor’s printer William Cooling resettled in Cape Coast from Freetown for military reasons, according K. A. B. Jones-Quartey in his book ‘Ghana Press 1822-1960.’
The Royal Gold Coast Gazette newspaper was similar to the one he set up while he served as Governor in Sierra Leone.
Prior to the arrival of Sir McCarthy in the Gold Coast the Forts and settlements were managed by the Royal Chartered African Company under a British civilian leader by name John Hope Smith.
But, the paper which operated between April 1822 and December 1823 could not survive after the death of the governor in 1824. Sir McCarthy was killed by the Asante warriors in the battle of Nsamanko along the River Bonsa in the present day Western Region.
Several newspapers sprang up after that but they could not survive. It was not until 1885 that a native of Gold Coaster, Charles Bannerman established ‘The Accra Herald’ and later changed to ‘The West African Herald’ with James Hutton Brew as its proprietor and editor. This gave the natives the opportunity to express their social, economic and political views to a wider readership. ‘The Accra Herald’ newspaper was essentially hand written on foolscap paper while ‘The West African Herald’ was printed.
As indicated earlier, though there were other newspapers which came later, they all did not veer into politics with the exception of ‘The Gold Coast Times’ which maintained its true nationalism and was mild about politics. It must be noted that these days were the early days of the struggle for independence.
This was the time journalism became fully and finally established in the country. It was established in 1874 by James Hutton Brew of Abura Dunkwa. The Times was “the Gold Coast’s first African-owned, fully printed newspaper that was also wholly produced in the country from beginning to end…It was a fortnightly paper, was produced in Cape Coast and lasted from March 1874 to November 1885; a performance which in such early times in the African colonial territories was remarkable.”(K. A. B. Jones-Quartey-A Summary of History of the Ghana Press).
Mr J. H. Brew did not entirely stop journalism when the operations of his paper-the Gold Coast Time came to an end. He rather transposed his strengthen and journalistic prowess to establishing an even more meaningful publication. It is on record that Mr Brew rose to popularity through his second newspaper-The Western Echo. The paper introduced two young men into journalism, his own nephew “who was later to become a beacon on the horizon of Gold Coast history, Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford and Timothy Laing, who likewise developed into an outstanding local figure in the journalistic and political world of Ghana in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”
Though the paper ran for only two years, he used his column-‘The Owl’ to demand ‘independence’ and ‘self-government’ in those very terms in which the 1940s and 1950s were thought to be new words about a phenomenon called “nationalism in West Africa.” (K. A. B. Jones-Quartey).
He again wrote extensively and ridiculed the then colonial governor-W. Brandford Griffith and his son W. B. Griffith Jr., exposing them as “enemies” of the people.
The Methodist Church was one institution that also contributed greatly to the growth and development of journalism in this country. Just before the activities of Mr Brew and his Western Echo came to an end in 1887, following his departure to London, early 1888, the church launched a missionary paper in Cape Coast called ‘the Gold Coast Methodist.’
The paper was set up ostensibly to spread the gospel and was initially edited by two English missionaries-Reverends W. T. Coppin and W. M. Cannell. The two ran the paper until 1894 when an African clergyman of Ga and Asante parentage, Reverend S. R. B. Solomon, who later become the celebrated and known Reverend S. R.W. Attoh Ahuma, took over as the editor.
In the course of time, the paper became the Gold Coast Methodist Times and Rev. Attoh Ahuma was able to change the philosophy of the purely missionary journal to a nationalist newspaper that projected the columns burning with patriotic passages and anti-colonial feelings. That was so much for the mission that it could no longer contain Rev. Attoh Ahuma and therefore by 1897 he was sacked for being a trouble maker.
Reverend Attoh Ahuma’s love for the nation to liberate itself from the colonial exploitation and misrule did not die with his sacking by the church. It rather strengthened his resolve and just two years after losing his job as the editor of the Methodist Times he was joined another native clergyman and nationalist Reverend K. Egyir Asaam to edit a new newspaper for a new social organisation-the Aborigines’ Right Protection Society.
Several journalists and newspapers such as J. E. Casely Hayford’s Gold Coast Echo, the Gold Coast Chronicle and the Gold Coast people founded and edited by John Mensah Sarbah, the Gold Coast Independent, edited by James Bright-Davies emerged and played their parts one way or the other in the struggle for freedom even in the period before 1900.
The involvement of the media in the country’s politics became significant in the period between 1900 and 1939 when the nationalists, incipient or ‘proto’ as they were called, began to take roots and demanded changes in the educational, economic, social and political fronts.
To achieve these goals, the nationalists made effective use of newspapers at the time to advocate such reforms. Among the earliest papers of the 20th Century was the Gold Coast Leader which was edited by prolific writers as J. E. Casely Hayford, Reverend Attoh Ahuma, J.P. Herbert Brown, John Buckman and Gaddiel Acquaah, who became a Methodist Minister.
This was perhaps the longest surviving newspaper having “ran from December 1902 into the early years of 1930s” (K. A. B Jones-Quartey). This made the Gold Coast Nation (1912) and the Gold Coast Leader become closely associated with nationalists groups like the Aborigines Rights Protection Society which had been formed to resist a colonial land policy, which followed the passage of the Public Lands Bill of 1897.
Through his writings, Casely Hayford for instance, was able to mobilise support from other West African States in a movement that set the tone for Pan-Africanism. He was not only a good journalist but undoubtedly the most outstanding political leader in West Africa. It was no wonder that he became the pivot in the formation of the National Congress of British West Africa and was its Organising Secretary. Casely Hayford and the National Congress made a number of requests to the British Crown for local reforms which angered the colonial governor. He also used the columns of the Gold Coast Leader to highlight racial awareness among the people of Gold Coast. Casely Hayford could not achieve his dream of a free Gold Coast, unfortunately, he died in 1930.
Journalism took a different turn in the Gold Coast between 1930 and 1937. In fact, some had described that period as “the most turbulent and exciting in the history of the Gold Coast press.”
Although, the era ushered in a new age of commercialism in the newspaper industry as opposed to what Jones-Quartey called “Quality Press” prior to the time, newspapers and journalists during the period worked essentially for the emancipation of the country. They brought intense pressure to bear on the colonial administration.
Among such journalists was Dr Joseph Kwame Kyeretwie Boakye Danquah popularly referred to as Dr J. B. Danquah, and commonly known as the doyen in Gold Coast politics. Dr Danquah wrote extensively through his paper the West African Times which later became the Times of West Africa founded in 1931 as a true daily newspaper. Other attempts to establish a daily newspaper had challenges more or less in regularity of publication.
During this period, one female journalist whose contributions cannot be overlooked was Mabel Ellen Dove, later Mrs Mabel Ellen Danquah, the wife of Dr J. B. Danquah. This woman was a freedom fighter, political activist, became first female member of the Legislative Assembly in the Gold Coast, journalist and prolific writer.
Like the catalysts speeding reactions, the entry of other West African journalists into the Ghana media landscape promoted the cause of history. One such journalist was Nnamdi Azikiwe who later became the first Nigerian President in the 1930s. His writings gave a new impetus to the political struggle, as well as the practice of journalism in the country.
Azikiwe’s African Morning Post as well as the Gold Coast Leader and the Gold Coast Spectator were very vocal in their criticisms of the colonial government.
Dr Azikiwe like other Pan-Africanists believed in the necessity of black brotherhood and fraternity as a strategy to claim their dignity and rightful place in the world.
As all other African countries were also struggling for independence, the entry of another freedom fighter Isaac Theophilus Akunna Wallace-Johnson, a Sierra Leonean and British West African Workers’ leader, journalist, activist and politician also contributed greatly to the struggle.
In 1936, Wallace-Johnson was arrested for sedition after publishing an article in The African Morning Post condemning Christianity, European civilisation and imperialism.
His writings made him popular in Accra and other major cities in the Gold Coast. Colonial authorities were alarmed by Wallace-Johnson’s support base, so they passed legislation prohibiting the importation of “dangerous” literature. Colonial Governor Thomas Shenton W. Thomas proposed a sedition bill in 1934, which he believed was needed to prevent the flow of seditious literature into the colony. He stated, “Everyone knows that there are in the world certain seditious organisations, whose aim appears to be the destruction of law and order.” These organisations are very active, and hardly a country in the world is free from their attack. In consequence, most countries have found it necessary to protect themselves by law against such attack.
Nnamdi Azikiwe was also not speared; he was framed up as having planned subversive activities and subsequently deported to his native Nigeria.
In 1939, The Asante Pioneer was established as the mouthpiece of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC).
It must be emphasised that journalistic activities during the struggle for independence were purely in the print media. The world was not then in tune with the operations of the electronic media. The Gold Coast was introduced to the Electronic media in 1935 when the colonial governor set up a small wired relay station, ZOY, to transmit BBC programmes to some three hundred colonial residents and privileged native elites. (Source: Asante 1976:8-9). Service was subsequently extended to Kumasi, Sekondi, Koforidua, and Cape Coast. The radio station later became the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.
British radio not only provided information and entertainment but also a means of countering the anti colonial campaigns of the nationalist press. Later, the Information Services Department was established as part of the central colonial administration. The purpose of this media conglomerate which had given birth to many of the current institutions in the country was to educate the people about the progress of the Second World War. Therefore, the government through the Information Services Cinema Vans had to send news and showed pictures on the war to the people.
The media went through a lot of oppositions from the colonial government, what was even worse laws passed were meant to control the media and as early as 1861, Charles Bannerman suffered conviction on the charge of contempt under the sedition ordinance which was one of the laws under the colonial government.
By 1951, the colonial government established another ordinance purposely aimed at editors of the Pro Convention People’s Party (CPP) newspapers including some top notch of the party.
After breaking away from the UGCC, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah founded his own newspaper called the Evening News in 1948 which became the official mouthpiece of the CPP with the aim of championing the cause towards independence.
Other pro CPP newspapers formed include The Morning Telegraph and the Cape Coast Daily Mail which were all geared towards the fight for independence. These newspapers were used to launch a campaign of ‘positive action’, a policy used to demand self-rule unconditionally.
When Dr Nkrumah took the centre stage of politics in the Gold Coast after he founded his CPP in June 1949, Ms Dove became one of his early converts and journalists for his paper. She became a member of staff of The Accra Evening News. Like all the staff of The Accra Evening News, she used her journalistic prowess, will power and her newly-found bitter distaste for British rule in the country to pour venom on British imperialism and agitated for immediate self-government for the Gold Coast. She had earlier worked exceptionally well on the issue of independence struggle with her husband –J.B. Danquah on his newspaper The Times of West Africa.
She later joined and supported the Positive Action of January 8, 1950 launched by Dr Nkrumah and the CPP after she sought divorce. She whipped up the enthusiasm of the people in her articles in the Accra Evening News. She joined the propagandists in the media house and waged a persistent and unrelenting war on the British, demanding ‘Self-Government Now’!
J.B. Danquah himself used the columns of his newspaper and others to propagate the name and date of birth of the new baby-Ghana before it was born. He informed the people through his writings that most of the people living in Gold Coast migrated from the old Ghana Empire.
Again, he argued that March 6, was the acceptable date for the country’s independence since the Bond of 1844, that gave legitimacy to the British was signed on that date. J.B. as he was affectionately called “had consistently espoused the name Ghana for the nation to be. According to historians Ghana used to be a prosperous empire in the North of Africa dating its origins to times B.C. Its original name, Akana, was corrupted by Arabs to become Ghana. During the reign of King Obeng Kwame, Ghana was invaded by warlike Arabs who desired to impose Islam on its people. They resisted and eventually deserted their land. The Diaspora brought some of them to the Gold Coast. There was no trace of the Ghana Empire by the early part of the eleventh century A.D.
“The Bond of 1844 was executed on March 6, and Danquah settled on that date for independence. In a message addressed to the chiefs and people on March 6, 1948, following the Tragedy of the Crossroads and published in all the local papers under the title: ‘The hour of Liberation Has Struck’, he said this “That Treaty was made exactly 104 years ago, On March 6th, 1844. In effect we ask for a freely negotiated bond of 1948.” (Ayensu and Darkwa-the Evolution of Parliament in Ghana).
Newspapers like the Daily Graphic and the Sunday Mirror were also formed in the 1950s. Though these newspapers sometimes battered each other, they were all fighting for one course. They mostly criticised the British colonial administration and galvanised support for immediate self- rule. (Source: Richard Asah-Asante, Ghana at 50: government, politics and development; the media in Ghanaian politics, chapter nine).
The final thrust towards Self-Rule was quickened by the arrival of Dr Nkrumah from the United States towards Britain to become the General Secretary of the movement. He also saw the need to use newspapers that would help push the struggle into a more radical stance.
The direct result premised the establishment of ‘The Evening News’ to serve as the mouthpiece for the CPP.
The sad irony of the history of the press in Ghana was that Dr Nkrumah, who edited the Evening News as a private newspaper prior to independence turned his back on the notion of press freedom. He would not tolerate dissenting views from the press.
The paper carried out a relentless campaign of mudslinging against all those who ventured to criticise it or its publisher, Dr Nkrumah.
The Evening News, were all guns blazing at the opposition National Liberation Movement (NLM). The Ashanti Pioneer and the Liberator, the mouthpieces of the NLM were in return spitting fire at the CPP and its leaders. Claims and counter claims of who would win the elections of 1956 showed how partisan the media had become, even to date.
Although nationalist press houses were established to fight for National Independence, they however, degenerated into a poisonous Partisan Instrument of Division, with Dr Nkrumah chalking up victories in the 1954 and 1956 elections. He proceeded to attain independence for Ghana when he tabled his famous motion of destiny asking for ‘Self Government Now.’
We remember and salute all the gallant media men and women of past and for their efforts in attaining independence for us, Long Live the Media! Long Live Ghana. CREDIT: FRANK ASANTE/FAITH JUNKO OGAWA (ISD).