On Monday I had the pleasure and privilege of listening to Dr. Audrey Gadzekpo speak about the history of media in Ghana and the current media climate. Gadzekpo is currently a senior professor in the department of communication studies at the University of Ghana. She earned a doctorate degree in African Studies at the University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, a Master of Arts in Communications from Brigham Young University in the United States, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Ghana. These qualifications have contributed to Gadzekpo’s expertise as a journalist and activist.
Aside from her more than 20 years of teaching experience, she also belongs to the board of directors for Ghana’s Center of Democratic Development. I’ve been exposed to much of Gadzekpo’s work as an African Studies minor, so having the opportunity to put a face to a name was particularly exciting for me. Gadzekpo opened with the statement: “media is shaped by the environment it exists in” to demonstrate how a constrictive and highly regulatory government can’t be detrimental to the distribution of news. Ghana, now ranked one of the countries with the highest level of press freedom, has a postcolonial history that involves rigid press laws and conflict between state-owned and independently owned newspapers.
By 1950 Kwame Nkrumah (who would later be the first president of Ghana) had four newspapers including the Daily Graphic, which he bought out from British imperialists. Despite the increasing availability of news produced by Ghanaians, much of the content reflected coercive messages of solidarity with the government. Nkrumah’s relationship with media allowed for an expansion of the media landscape in the country, but it wasn’t until the introduction of Ghana’s current constitution in 1992 that laws were put in place to protect journalists’ freedom of speech and thus the ability to lawfully critique their government. This re-democratization allowed independently owned media to express opposition to the newly elected president, Jerry John Rawlings, who had been the military head-of-state until he was elected as a civilian in 1992. The Daily Guide was one of the first newspapers to openly criticize Rawlings and remains one of the most prominent independent media sources in Ghana today. In addition to newspapers, the introduction of radio and television programs in local languages made news more accessible to a larger audience of Ghanaians. Gadzekpo explained how a sudden “flood of information” within communities that were previously without access to mainstream media occurred as the result of non-print forms of media.
Overall, Dr. Gadzekpo’s lecture provided a thorough overview of Ghana’s turbulent media history and the current-day implications related to the liberation of media. It was an honor to meet Gadzekpo, and listen to her speak on a topic she has dedicated so much time and energy toward. As she explains in one of her writings on media’s role in human rights, journalists play a pivotal role in preserving Ghana’s media landscape by being “facilitators of the process of truth.”