Ghana: need for diversity in local language radio

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Dec 11 13:49:20 UTC 2006

We need diversity in local language radio

Yesterday, The Statesman carried a special report on the effect of local
language radio on our children's educational development; and
particularly, the increasing wedge it appears to be driving between
children from rural and poorer urban areas, where functionally illiterate
parents tend to listen to Ghanaian language channels, and those children
from middle class families with good-English-speaking parents, who listen
to the English radio stations.

In "Increased domestication of the airwaves: are disadvantaged children
being shortchanged? (The Statesman, 7 December 2006) William Boakye Akoto
argued that the broadcast environments in which children find themselves
can significantly affect their learning experience. As school children are
taught in English, those who regularly hear English at home not only have
better English skills but are also better able to understand concepts
taught in English - therefore consistently outperforming their classmates
in Junior Secondary School and Senior Secondary School examinations.

Local language radio, may be compromising the education of disadvantaged
children by intensifying the discontinuity between the language of the
home and English language, he wrote.

The situation is not a straightforward one; and indeed, the article was
not a straightforward denunciation of local language radio stations.
African language radio stations are of undeniable value to a new but
burgeoning democracy, to a people not all of whom are conversant with the
'official" language even, for a Government and Establishment in need of
disseminating information and education in such a way that everyone can

The fact that functionally or semi illiterate Ghanaians, incapable of
reading English, can tune in to news review programmes every morning to
hear English-language newspapers translated and critiqued in a tongue they
understand, is an essential means by which we will continue to build a
notion of our nation. The ability of local language radio stations to
disseminate important information  examples in the last year would include
education about the dangers of the solar eclipse before it began; about
bird flu, to avoid unnecessary panic and prepare farmers for its arrival;
about health issues such as HIV/Aids  is something which we should
nurture. There is no valid argument for a cessation of local language
radio, and indeed, Mr Boakye Akoto was not trying to put forward this

The issue is a complex one, and today The Statesman would like to offer
some further thoughts about the state of our radio scene, and some further
suggestions and improvements.

Firstly, the Akan-isation of our radio scene should be seen as a source
for some concern. The overwhelming dominance of Twi on our airwaves
mirrors the creeping influence of Akan languages across all spheres  with
Akan becoming the default national language, spoken by the majority of
Ghanaians, at least in the south and middle of the country, regardless of
their own natural tongue.

Although the World Fact Book lists 79 languages in Ghana, many of these
are confined to small areas or small groups; and as Akan replaces these,
the danger of losing our other languages may become a reality.

Radio broadcasting may be seen as a valuable way of helping our children
indeed, the population as a whole  to improve their English. Regular
English language programming even on local language radio stations, as Mr
Boakye Akoto suggests  is a measure which must certainly be put in place
to aid this. But radio broadcasting is also a way of improving, sustaining
and even re-invigorating our knowledge of our own languages; and through
that, our history, our culture.

The explosion of local radio stations using Twi as their main language has
gone a long way towards enhancing the language itself. Local languages are
often pigeon-holed as traditional  we are taught in English and we
discourse in English; our intellectual debates, our argumentative
literature, politics, economics, even our business deals and board
meetings  all developed and debated in a language that is not our own. It
is almost as if the concepts themselves are too foreign to conceptualise
in our traditional tongue.

Akan radio stations have made Twi a modern language, however; evolving and
growing as people are forced to learn the Akan words for newspaper, for
Minister. People used to using Twi as a language in the home have expanded
their vocabulary and learnt to embrace concepts of democracy and debate in
their Ghanaian languages. Local language radio has sought to spread and
consolidate democracy by presenting information to a wide audience in an
accessible form, and by widening a sense of inclusion in the events in
this country  by encouraging audience phone-ins and reading SMS messages
from listeners, for example. It has also served to enhance democracy by
taking what was initially a Western-import and translating it into local
forms  and Akan language radio must take the credit for this. Whilst Mr
Boakye Akoto sees discontinuity between an English-dominated education
system and a local-language-dominated media scene, we welcome the
continual expansion of local language radio, as a way of bridging the gap
between ancient and modern, and harmonising concepts of development and
progress with our traditional society.

But Akan is not the local language of many Ghanaians  and we believe the
National Communications Authority has not done enough to encourage other
local language radio stations to develop with similar enthusiasm. In
Accra, we have Radio Ghana,  Peace FM, Hot FM, Happy FM, Adom FM, Radio
Gold, Top Radio, all transmitting in Twi. For an area where at least a
third of its people are Ga-speaking, there is only one Ga-speaking
station, Obonu FM.

Why the NCA has not recognised the need for a more diverse range of radio
stations; why it has not made any requirements of Twi-speaking stations to
allocate time to other language groups, Ga or Hausa for example, is
something which ought to be asked  and addressed. Hot FM deserves
commendation for introducing a Hausa segment to it morning show, but that
is still not enough.

Just as Ghanaians need greater access to English radio, for the
development of their education, for the enhancement of job prospects, for
a better understanding of the world; so they also need better access to
spoken word in their own languages.

Teaching of local languages in schools is sometimes poor, and this is
something which must be looked at as part of Governments educational
reforms. Provision of local language media is another means by which
Ghanaians can gain a better understanding of their people and their
country; and this is something which we must begin to prioritise.


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