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Recently, a very popular radio station in Accra interviewed a Portuguese-speaking

social intervention strategist on their morning show. The foreign national is reputed to

be an authority in her field, and has reportedly initiated and implemented some

important poverty reduction programmes in her country. She had been invited by the

Ghanaian government to share her success story and also show us how she did it.

The expert does not speak English. Well, maybe she could not speak English, so she

brought along an interpreter to the studios to translate her thoughts into the English

language for our benefit. The professional interpreter did a great job conveying the

different strands of meanings and lessons from Portuguese to English. The strategist

was comfortable and very much at home with her native Portuguese throughout the

interview. The only English sentence she managed to construct was �Thank You� after

the interview was over. It was a well-coordinated piece of excellent journalistic work.

The week before the expert was hosted on the breakfast show, a popular Ghanaian

personality was the guest of the programme. Unlike the Portuguese visitor who was

allowed to speak in a language she found most comfortable, the respected Ghanaian

national was �forced� to speak the Queen�s English like a British. There were very long

pauses when the answers were not forthcoming, and when the guest managed to

dignify the interview questions with some good answers, they were often too long for

those simple enquiries. Like many of us, the guest would have done a much better job

if he had been allowed to speak a local Ghanaian language.

If the contents of news and other broadcasting material produced in Ghana are meant

for the consumption of Ghanaians in Ghana and around the world, then they should be

communicated in a language familiar to Ghanaians everywhere. And what is that

language, anyway? News these days travel very far through various channels and

media, so it must be conveyed in a language that also travels far and wide for bigger

impact. How far do Twi or Ga go? Hausa may go farther than these two.

Beyond allocating radio and TV channels to �Twi only� or �mostly Twi� stations for

balance, what provisions and allowances can we make for local people who do not

speak English? If the Portuguese had surprisingly opted to speak Twi or another

Ghanaian language on the morning show, most of us would have loved and cherished

the experience. Our DJs and talk show hosts would have rushed to use her voice for a

radio jingle or even for a piece of advertisement. Like ventriloquists, we like to hear

ourselves in another voice to feel good about ourselves. What would have happened if

the Ghanaian guest on the morning show had decided to answer his questions in Twi or

Ga without any prior arrangement with the producers?

The other day, a listener called into a radio talk show programme to contribute to a

panel discussion on living standards in Ghana. Before he would make his submission,

however, he apologised to the host for introducing something undesirable and

inappropriate into the discussion. With some humility, he expressed disappointment

and also slighted himself for not meeting the �high standards� the station had

established. Well, the inappropriate thing he was introducing was Twi, a local Ghanaian

language. The host granted him permission before he could express his thoughts in his

mother tongue in his own country. He thanked him profusely for the favour.

Thanks to Tarzan and other trailblazers (and of course to the constitution that set it all

up), we have a very open media climate which is anchored on various freedoms and

evidenced by several hundreds of radio and television stations. In the midst of wide

choices, Ghanaians have the freedom to flip our remote controls at random, for current

news and information. You are sure you would find your favourite radio or TV station

playing a good song or showing your best TV commercial. Nothing should limit

anybody�s desire to express himself through any medium; certainly not language.

When His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama wrote to Tarzan in the Daily

Graphic of 19th November, 2014, to celebrate Radio Eye, he asked whether Dr. Wereko-

Brobby envisaged the pluralistic media climate we have today when he blazed the trail

on 19th November, 1996 with the test transmission of Radio Eye from his Ridge

residence. Well, it�s been a while since Radio Eye was closed down and its equipment

confiscated, but in its place has grown our unfettered freedoms�amplified through

hundreds of radio and TV outlets. Now, that is pluralism.

The President (a very good writer and a professional communicator) has asked a very

instructive question about the state of our media today, and whether there are other

things missing in the wide range of freedoms we are all enjoying. Well, we have a lot to

thank God for, and a lot more to cry about. When journalism experts met last week to

celebrate a National Broadcasting Day, they discussed practices such as radio

presenters mixing news presentation with advertisements. Professor Audrey Gadzepko

of the School of Communication Studies was emphatic �It is never done: You are either

presenting news or you are doing commercials. It is wrong.�

Is it also wrong for a regular news and information consumer to disrupt the

�broadcasting protocols� of an �English only� radio station and ask to express his

thoughts in a local Ghanaian language? Can we be so English that our own families

would have to beg to speak to us in a language naturally intelligible to all of us? The

Portuguese, we know, are not the best speakers of the English language. When they

attempt to speak English, they do not pretend to be English-speaking Portuguese; they

are Portuguese trying to speak English�as Portuguese. If we can allow Portuguese on

our �English only� radios, then Opanyin Kofi wants to say a few words�in Twi, though.

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin

[email protected]
Source: Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin

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