Ghana has had a long tradition of state ownership - and control - of the media, dating back to pre-independence times. From the introduction of radio in the Gold Coast in 1935 and television in 1965 till the airwaves were liberalized in 1996, radio and television were controlled by the colonial and then the post-colonial State. Private print media was almost absent from the Ghanaian media landscape until 1992, when the current constitution was enforced.
State-owned media from colonialism
The cornerstones of the media landscape as we know it today were laid during colonial times. The first newspaper was published by a governor of the British Gold Coast settlements in the 19th century. Radio was introduced by colonial authorities on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of King George V, the head of the British Empire, and was used to transmit BBC programs to colonial residents and privileged native elites. During the struggle for independence, newspapers were used to shape and stir up the people to fight to liberate the country from colonialism. British radio served as a means of countering those anti-colonial campaigns of the nationalist press.
No privatization after colonialism
The approach of avoiding the privatization that characterized colonial governments was also observable for the postcolonial state. The first regime under Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah followed a socialist and neo-communist thinking that supported state-ownership to ensure that capitalist influences connected to private ownership would not creep into the media. Nkrumah managed to eradicate all private newspapers and, together with them, disapproval of his administration through direct censorship and repressive laws: The Preventive Detention Act (PDA) allowed to lockup or detain anybody without trial for up to five years while the Newspaper Licensing Act made it impossible for anyone outside the government to operate a newspaper. From about ten mostly privately-owned newspapers at the time of independence, by 1966 – when Nkrumah was overthrown - the government or the party owned and controlled all of them. At the same time, Nkrumah laid out today’s media infrastructure: he established the Ghana News Agency (GNA), the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) – the first institution for training journalists in Africa; inaugurated the television service Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) as a non-commercial public service station; and expanded radio.
Media-Government relations over time
Governments since the first regime under Nkrumah and especially during military regimes of General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong (1972-1979) and Flt-Lt Rawlings (1981-1992), have asserted control on the media, using them as mouthpieces for their political agenda. General I. K. Acheampong's National Redemption Council (NRC) replaced the top staff of the state media. Rawling’s Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) banned, confiscated, nationalized or forced out of business many private newspapers and coerced journalists to toe the official line in diverse ways – also by attacking obdurate journalists – which led to a high level of self-censorship. Only a few private newspapers were in circulation before the introduction of the newspaper licensing law in 1989.
Under the National Liberation Council (NLC, 1966-1970) regime, which overthrew Nkrumah, as well as under the civilian administrations of Dr Busia (1970-1972), Dr Limann (1979-1981), and Mr Kufuor, media-government relations were more tranquil. The NLC reintroduced newspapers and also lifted the ban on several foreign correspondents and individuals, as well as censorship on news reports sent overseas from Ghana. The Busia government repealed the Newspaper Licensing Act, a move that resulted in an expansion of the newspaper industry. The Peoples' National Party (PNP) government of Dr Hilla Limann established an independent press council in accordance with Ghana's 1979 Constitution, which provided for the establishment of a Press Commission.
Fourth Republican Constitution – The Media after Deregulation
Under the Fourth Republic, Rawlings repealed many of his own prohibitive decrees and stressed the need for an objective and responsible press. As part of the political liberalization, state and private newspapers began to enjoy unprecedented freedom. The hitherto quiescent media atmosphere dominated by two state-owned newspaper corporations (Graphic and New Times), suddenly became vibrant with private participation. Ghana's private press got a reputation as the "opposition" press due to its role in holding government and the near-one party parliament in check between 1993 and 1996.
The spirit of the Fourth Republican Constitution also made state monopoly over the airwaves unsustainable, and breaking up the monopoly of the state-owned radio/television organization Ghana Broadcasting Corporation became a pressing task. Despite the overwhelming public support for the privatization of broadcasting, the PNDC was reluctant to loosen its grip on the electronic media until May 1994, when unauthorized Radio Eye FM began broadcasting. Radio Eye was raided and shutdown soon, but the station’s rebellious action forced the government to address the question of broadcast deregulation.
It was not until July 1995 that Joy FM, was licensed to operate in Accra. Since that time, especially private commercial radio stations spread and provided a voice for the people who had been muzzled for over a decade. The introduction of private radio and TV stations in Ghana has brought mixed blessings for newspapers, as much as the rise of the internet has complicated the viability of the printed word.