By Frederick Kaayeng
Children in urban communities in Ghana have certainly missed the days of the gong gong beater or town crier who caught the attention of the community through his or her sound in order to pass vital information from the authorities to the Community members.
As crude as this media was, the fact that it still performed the information dissemination role of the media today is undoubtedly undeniable. One of the indigenous sources of information dissemination that still stood the competition in the growing media technologies is the Community Information Centre.
The Community information centres are known for their indelible role in communicating vital information on different areas of interest to the community members. They are most listened to as credible sources of information because the owners are part and parcel of the community life. In modern times and societies, the access to diverse information sources such as social media, mainstream media, the internet and many have raised questions as to the relevance of Community Information Centers in an already information overload society. Moreover, the growing polarization, misinformation and most at times, the unwholesome loud sound caused by these community information centers is adding to the cry against their existence in society.
Some even argue that the operations of these information centers have the potential of causing future political, religious and ethnic tensions. But come to think of it, are there merits that command the need for their existence? Will society lose an incredible source of information as a result of their nonexistence? Are there possible measures that can be taken to prevent any anticipated religious, political and social consequences? Answers to these questions may be simply ‘NO’ by the critics because the critics may not have a neutral assessment of the vacuum these information centres are occupying and contributing to society. On the other hand, the proponents may respond to these questions by simply asserting ‘Yes’ without also giving an ear to the complaints of the critics concerning the side effects of the operations of Information Centers in society today. The aggression of the critics has heightened such that some have resorted to the courts for redress. To consider such a situation a light matter, will be like pitching oneself and expecting to laugh.
The desire to create a conducive environment for the operations of community information centres in a peaceful and rewarding manner is an urgent call, and the Information Services Department (ISD) as the mouth-piece of government must wake up from the slump and take the facilitating lead. It is said in democratic practices where freedom and independence of media is granted, that freedom without responsibility is tyranny.
To take it further, responsibility without regulation and accountability will be an abuse. As a Municipal Information Officer and an internal communicator for the Tarkwa-Nsuaem Municipality in the Western region, my humble consideration of this emerging social upheaval based on assessment of reported cases and knowledge of communication approaches is the need for a regulatory framework that will guide the operations of these community information centers.
The 1992 Constitutions did a great job by ensuring that the freedom and independence of the media which is the fourth estate of the realm is guaranteed, protected and regulated in article 12 through a National Media Commission.
The National Media Commission as a statutory body in regulating the media practice in Ghana ensures professionalism as well as responsible and accountable media practice.
The National Communication Authority is added to regulate the technicalities involved in advanced media practice. As captured in the National Media Policy developed by the National Media Commission, all media regulation, ethics and guidelines are communicated in that single document to ensure compliance and sanity in media practice.
But probably as the western definition of media does not consider the gong gong beater or town crier, the Ghanaian National Media Policy excluded Information Centers as cogent media channels that are to be regulated.
The need to explore possible regulation options for Community information centers is more pressing today than before.