CONGRATULATIONS, GRAPHIC @70

There are very few organisations which can truthfully claim that had they not existed, the history of the country in which they operate would have been different.

The Daily Graphic is one such organisation. Established a few years after the people of the Gold Coast had launched a full-scale onslaught against British colonialism, its reporting of internal political events in the country was largely impartial, and thus enabled the people to obtain the basic facts upon which to base their political choices. 

In political struggles, of course, divisions of opinion are axiomatic. And so, it was that when the Daily Graphic came into existence on 2 October 1950, the incredible unity that had ushered the Gold Coast into the 1948 disturbances and strikes, had only just been broken, with political tension in the country heightened to a knife’s edge. 

Who was to rule the country if and when the British left? Would it be the remaining members of the “Big Six” (J B Danquah, Edward Akufo-Addo, Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ebenezer Ako Adjei and William Ofori Atta) or would it be the “newcomer” to Gold Coast politics, their former employee who had split from them, Kwame Nkrumah? 

Kwame Nkrumah had returned from the United Kingdom in 1947 to become the Secretary and principal organiser of the United Gold Coast Convention. But he had pre-planned to gain control over the organisation (!) especially its youth wing, and outflank the “bigwigs” who had invited him to become its Secretary. He accomplished his objective within two years, and launched his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in June 1949. 

Nkrumah then did a very clever thing: he established his own newspaper, the Evening News. Now,hitherto, newspapers in the Gold Coast had been established by well-to-do businessmen with a mixed agenda – partly political and partly business-orientedWith the Evening News, however, Kwame Nkrumah changed all that. He devoted his entire paper to politics. As politics had gained immense ground in the country, following the 1948 upheaval, the paper became asine qua non for the politically-awak urban educated classes.

Someone in the British Colonial Office in London must have been an excellent reader of the anti-colonial mood overseas, for somehow, the Daily Mirror Group of London was “persuaded” to go after profits in West Africa by extending its operations from Nigeria, where it had bought the Daily Times in 1947 from the Nigerian concern that then owned it. (The paper had been established in Lagos in 1925).

The head of the London Daily Mirror Group at the time was Cecil Harmsworth King, a nebulous character in British politics who was apparently connected to sections of British intelligence that insidiously conspired to remove Harold Wilson from power as British Prime Minister in 1967, to replace him with Lord Mountbatten, uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh! What was his brief in West Africa in the 1950s? 

Whatever the political motivation of the Mirror Group was, the business idea was unassailable. The people of the Gold Coast had developed a taste for political news, yes. But they needed facts upon which to base their choices. The Ghanaian newspapers of the time all had political or semi-political owners. A newspaper that was “neutral” in so far as Gold Coast politics were concerned, would, if it played its cards right, be a hands-down winner.

That is exactly what the Daily Graphic was able to achieve. It sought out, employed AND TRAINED young men and women who had an ambition to become excellent journalists. Many of those employed were sent on attachment courses to London with the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Pictorial.

The major achievement of these Ghanaian journalists was to

absorb the art of journalism as practised by the then largest newspaper group in the world (the Daily Mirror alone sold more than 5 million copies per day!) They learnt first-class newspaper layout from the best practitioners of the tabloid display of news and features of the day, introducing picture-stories as a main dish on the daily menu.

Above all, the Daily Graphic awarded big by-lines to its writers and other key figures. I remember from memory, such operatives as Francis Awuku, Oscar Tsedze, Daniel Badu, Anthony Mensah, Nicholas Alando, S N Addo, Ben Dorkenoo, E W Adjaye, Ben Sackey, I K Nkrumah, Edith Wuver, Eddie Agyemang, Des Bordes Acquah, George Aidoo, Isaac Eshun and Sarpong-Manu [and many others who must forgive me – especially the female writers – for inadvertently failing to remember their names in the time available to me!]

And, of course, the Graphic discovered and nurtured the talents of some of the all-time giants of Ghanaian journalism: Bankole Timothy, Henry Ofori, Moses Danquah and Kofi Badu. Key among the people who brought these people to prominence was the first editor, Martin Therson-Cofie, who was ably supported by a strong staff of Ghanaians and Britons. 

There have been times in the story of the Graphic during which the paper has been obliged to follow the mediocre rule in Ghanaian affairs, by which everything becomes bland – when people hide their talents for fear that if they are singled out, they would be fished out and slaughtered! Alas, that type of feeling cannot be easily wiped out, for as the late Prof. L.H. Ofosu-Appiah once remarked, “there are some people who are afraid of freedom!”

But it’s worth pointing out that those now practising journalism in Ghana who are not afraid of freedom, must remember that freedom is not granted, but always fought for and wrested from those who seek to deny it to us. Fortunately, some of the yellowing pages of the “ancient” copies of the Daily Graphic do exist to inspire those who can be inspired, to do everything in their power always to tell their fellow countrymen and women what is really going on in their country. 

That is what the reader who puts his hand into his pocket to fish out money to buy a newspaper really wants. 

Journalists ignore that wish at their peril. For when newspapers become the mere bulletins of political and commercial interests, or the instruments of loudmouths who cannot stitch an argument together without insulting others or yelling at them, readers desert the newspapers.

And once trust in the good faith of a newspaper is lost, it can hardly ever be restored – at least, not under the same leadership as existed when the trust was first lost.

By CAMERON DUODU

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