A few days ago, the Minister of Communication, Ursula Owusu Ekuful, said the government has thoughts of introducing a seventy percent local content policy which would have to be adhered to by media houses. She said there is a need to provide the opportunity to local producers in order to reduce the foreign content on Ghanaian television screens.
When public servants make utterances like this they are hailed by a lot of Ghanaians. Such policies sound appealing especially since they appear to be accompanied by direct benefits. In this case, local producers will have work to do. There are other reasons people cite as to why we need to have greater local content on our television screens; they vary from employment for creative people like actors and animators; to the idea that foreign content introduces cultures that are alien to us and that increasing local content preserves our culture. The apparent benefits can at most only be marginal; because sometimes one man’s profit is another man’s loss. If employment is so important a reason for such government control to be implemented, doesn’t the government also have the duty to safeguard the jobs of individuals who act as deal brokers between television stations and foreign production firms? Some movies in Ghana, especially telenovelas, are translated into local languages; these are done by Ghanaians; won’t Ghanaians who hold these jobs lose them when this local content policy is introduced?
There are other points to counter the reasons why some people may feel the government’s policy to increase local content is right, but they are beside the point. Whenever we are faced with issues like this the best way to go about them is to have a framework which can protect our interests and at the same time preserve the interest of people we may disagree with. One that says, live and let’s live. A framework that is objective and does not buckle under the whim of the moment. When we are faced with an issue like government increasing local content, we have to elevate the discussion. Instead of just asking ourselves whether it is a good thing for television stations to run programmes that are produced by Ghanaians, we should ask if the government has the right to make businesses conform to the government’s taste. By what right does a government compel businesses to fulfil its whim, especially when the business has not initiated force? A government directive like this is a compulsion. To appreciate this, ask yourself what happens when a television station decides to disregard the government’s directive when it is implemented. Will the government not revoke the license of such a station? If this is not an act of force then what is it?
The government’s plan shows that those who advocate for increased local content have failed to persuade businesses to show Ghanaian content; that is the reason they are relying on government force. Instead of local content advocates compelling businesses to do what they want, they should see what they consider to be a problem as a business opportunity. UTV is doing this quite well, and it is a private television station. They predominantly speak Twi, a local language. UTV goes great lengths to show traditional practices that other media houses neglect. Recently, it showed the entire funeral of the past Queen of the Asante Kingdom. It has carved a market niche for itself. Although it is one of the youngest television stations in Ghana, I won’t be surprised if it is the most viewed.
There are people who are interested in local content. Instead of politicians forcing businesses to fulfil their whim, they should rather be ready to get their hands dirty as UTV has done. Instead of giving directives they should enter the economic space and work hard for their interests. Their method of social engineering has grave consequences. What happens when another government comes into power and tells us that hence we are not to eat cows? There are such laws in some provinces in India. Or another comes to tell us we cannot practice religion or that we will be punished for unbelief? (Most communist states have an unofficial policy to eliminate religion; they restrict religious freedom. In Nigerian states which practice Sharia, apostasy is a crime punishable by death.) Or another government comes to tell us that no one really has to live above forty because the old have to go for the youth to get jobs? Think about it.
Social engineering in itself can be amoral. But it requires that those who want to influence others be willing to pay the price. Freedom fighters know they fight for freedom at their lives peril, that’s their price. Businesses know that they will make losses when they make a mistake, that’s their price. When politicians spell out directives, they pay no price. Rather they push the burden of their actions on businesses which most of the time translates into losses.
The government does not appear to consider certain fundamental questions in pursuing this policy. Perhaps their whims are more important than the interest of Ghanaians and Ghanaian businesses. What if foreign movies are what Ghanaians really want? Should businesses go against their self-interest of making profits to do what some politicians want, and should they do this when politicians have equal rights to pursue their interests?
It is possible to imagine that people rather like what media houses give them. That TV stations can do what the government wants and still keep their audience- they will continue to be profitable. Perhaps they will make more money. But we hit a brick wall when we ask ourselves who is better placed to determine what is good for a business than the business itself. Besides, people have the right to be foolish with their money. This right is divine.
WRITER: Kwaku Gyamfi