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Apr
24

“HELLO! CAN YOU HEAR ME?”

 

HELLO! CAN YOU HEAR ME?

By CAMERON DUODU

Ei, we have come far oh! The other day I got a call in London from my uncle who lives at Nsutem, in the Eastern Region of Ghana. I could imagine him using the phone at Nsutem market – I noticed the phone kiosk there when I last visited him.
Or he might have asked someone to call me for him on his/her mobile phone. Whatever it was that he used, the signal was steady and strong. I heard everything he had to say and he too heard me.
It made the 1980s feel like 200 years ago. In those days, when you dialled Accra from London, the phone would ring and ring, and ring, but you’d get no reply. In your innocence, you’d think the phone line had conked out.
But no, it hadn’t. Only it wasn’t sending the signal to the instrument you were calling. There was a secret black hole between the External Telecommunications Department of the Ghana Posts and Telecommunications Corporation and your number. This dark hole was used for catching, crushing and burying calls! Especially, international calls!

No-one knew of the hole’s existence, except those of us who foolishly believed that we could phone Ghana from abroad because everyone did so everywhere else, whilst, in fact, Ghana was not in the 20th Century at all, but clearly stuck in the 17th.

Yet if one was stubborn enough and tried and tried and tried again, the mass grave that enclosed the dead calls would occasionally open slightly and one would hear a beloved voice saying “Hello” at the other end.
Wild with excitement, one would respond with “Hello! Can you hear me?”
The other end would also respond: “Hello? Can you hear me?”
Hello?”
Hello?” (Higher pitched voice. Not to be tried in a packed office!)
Can you hear me?”
Hello?” (Yell at the top of the voice. Not to be tried in a block of flats!)

It’s me – can you hear me?”  (Urgent tone filled with anxiety that the important call is being lost).

Next?
Silence!
The line would have gone dead. And one would try to dial again. But by this time, the call grave would have opened its mouth again, and the phone would go Krrrrrrr!…… Krrrrr!……Krrrrrrrrr! …….
“Smash the instrument on the ground!!” one’s innermost being would urge one. But on e’s mind would cautiously guide one’s hand to hang up. Then, in sheer frustration, the  foul curses would rain from the lips — on Ghana P&T, British Telecom, and everyone concerned. But one’s curses would be nothing compared to the anger one would feeel about what was on the way. For when one’s telephone bill arrived a few weeks later, one would notice that one’s useless but incessant “Hallo Can you hear me?” yelling had cost ten pounds sterling or even more. What? It could feed ten people for a day at home —  in one’s village!
Yeah. What to do? Complain to BT? How could one prove that one hadn’t been able to yell anything other than “Can you hear me?” a dozen times during the entire call?
In that atmosphere, if ever one got through properly, one would get so excited that one would rattle off all the many essential things one had to say, and invariably forget to tell one’s loved ones that one still loved them; or that one missed them; or that one wished they were right by you, sitting close to one on the sofa. Cuddling. Kissing.
And as for the kids, apart from a cursory ‘how are they’? tossed to the beloved one at the other end, they never had a look in at all. Call them to speak? Exchange “voices” with them? Forget it! Suppose the line went off whilst you were thinking of the important information you hasdn’t yet imparted to the dearly beloved??
If one dared fate, the line WOULD go off – as if the phone line was hovering around the conversation, waiting for an opportune moment to cut off the conversation by the neck and hurl it into the black hole of buried calls.
Nowadays, nothing of that sort can be experienced. Why, I was even able to watch the Supreme Court in session in Accra, adjudicating on the presidential election petition, in real time! Thanks to streaming on the Internet by Joyonline, which is able to do what, apparently, GTV cannot do. I say “apparently” because I don’t know what the real situation is. I am guessing that Joy is taking a feed from GTV and streaming it to the world. Which brings up the question: why can’t GTV also do its own streaming?
As a former GBC news editor, I am really troubled by the way GBC has allowed itself to be upstaged by the privately-owned stations. During the election of 7-8 December, for instance, I never tuned to GBC once. It was always one or the other of the commercial stations. 
“This is the Ghana Broadcasting System/Corporation. The general election. Here are the latest results read by: (John Hammond, Kame Amamoo, Appeah Kubi…..” (A mere echo from the past. In my head. Sounds dead for ever.)
Yet the commercial stations, no matter how hard they try no to show it, must have their own agenda.
The kindest construction one can put on their agenda is that it must include the need for their broadcasts to generate as much controversy as possible, in order that people would talk about the station’s output, so that more people would tune to the station, and thereby make it more attractive to advertisers.
A national institution like GBC is given enough public subvention to render it unnecessary for it to depend so much on advertising revenue. Of course, it never receives enough subvention to enable it to carry out all its projects. But that’s where good management comes in. An efficient management will ensure that NATIONAL ASSIGNMENTS like the unexpected boon of being allowed to telecast the Supreme Court sittings,  are budgeted for, and that some not so necessary projects are ditched to provide money for that budget. By being unable to stream the sittings – or streaming them on a link that no-one seems able to find! – GTV has handed its leadership to its “parasites” — Joyonline and the others able to stream the feed.
I am among the people who were disappointed with Joy’s approach to this all-important event. Immediately after the Supreme Court had risen, there was Joy handing a microphone to the “spokesmen” of the legal teams of the parties contesting the case, and asking THEM to give viewers their opinion of how their teams had performed in court. WHAT?

Are the Joy people crazy or something? Are they so ignorant that they know nothing about legal etiquette?  Don’t they realise that a legal team goes to court to advance its arguments there  and that’s where the arguments must stay? The legal teams don’t come out of court to canvass their arguments anew to bamboozle laymen in the public arena! It is not done even in “ordinary” cases; how much more in this, the most politically-explosive case Ghana has ever faced? Even if the radio stations don’t know it, didn’t they read recently that the Chief Justice had had the occasion to advise lawyers not to fight their court cases on the radio ?

I fervently admire what the commercial radio stations have done, generally speaking,  to open up politics for debate in Ghana. But they must now use some of their income to employ people with a sound editorial judgement, not to say native gumption, to help them make the correct decisions on sensitive issues.
I mean, when a largely anodyne organisation – politically-speaking – like the Ghana Journalists Association, is forced to issue a statement warning radio stations not to allow politicians to use them to make comments on a  case that is actively sub judice, then you know a line has been crossed.
It is not the fault of “Sir John” (Afriyie of the NPP) or Asiedu Nketia (“General Mosquito” of the NDC) that they should wish to make comments on how the case for and against them is going in the Supreme Court. They are paid to peddle propaganda on behalf of their parties! But it is certainly the fault of the media organisations that GO TO THEM and ask for their opinions.
To begin with, the opinions  of such people are irrelevant because they are so predictable!
Does JoyFM or Radio Gold expect “Sir John” to say that Tony Lithur of the NDC made mincemeat of Bawumia because Bawumia had not been briefed to warn the Court in advance that his pink sheets might appear duplicated but that this was nothing strange because some pink sheets make an appearance in more than one category? If Sir John admitted that, then  that would be news! But if he defended Bawumia, that was only to be expected. So – “dog bites man”, no news!
Similarly, did JoyFM expect say, Ato Dadzie of the NDC legal team to tell viewers that Tony Lithur had over-exploited the pink sheet codification issue and that he might risk getting the judges to becomes impatient and thereby force them to lay down the modus for cross-examination – as eventually happened?
Again, that would be news, but of course, it couldn’t happen because Ato Dadzie would have been lynched by the NDC if he had said anything of the kind! So what was the use of his comment reaffirming that Lithur & Co. had done a splendid job?
Our telephone lines are working marvellously now, thank God, and streaming is sometimes easy, even though it can turn  irritatingly sporadic.  But please don’t let the new communications facility we’ve got  intoxicate us. The streaming is to enable all citizens of Ghana who are interested – no matter where they happen to be – to be fully aware of what is going on in their beloved country. But if care is not exercised, faulty editorial judgements that allow partisan commenters to have a field day over a case that is sub judice, may offend the judiciary to such an extent that they may bolt the doors in our faces once again. Mind you, the judges are of tough enough mettle not to be diverted by anything that goes on outside their courts. But if you dare them, they can have you pulled up for contempt of court and you haven’t seen anything until you have appeared before a judge determined to make you respect his or her “dignity”.
Every job demands discretion at a certain point and it is up to the so-called journalists who operate the radio and TV stations to advise themselves about the ethics of both the legal and journalistic professions and conclude that paying attention to correct practice and procedures does not mean a suppression of freedom but a recognition of the fact that every freedom has its limits.
Meanwhile, congratulations to the entire judiciary for the marvellous way they have handled this issue of access to the courts by the electronic media. Long may their enlightenment continue.

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