I saw a post by a friend on Facebook about how dishonest some media houses in Ghana can be. His comment was followed by someone sending me private a message urging me to share my story (will I say it’s a story? Maybe or maybe not.) This post is not meant to attack any media house but to say things as it is.
During the second semester of my first year as law student at University of Cape Coast Faculty of Law, together with a friend Obuobi Onesiphorus we started a program dubbed "MMRA" on Coastal Television (A community TV station based in Cape Coast). Prior to the commencement of the programme, it took me about six(6) months to critically monitor the programme content of major television and radio stations in Ghana (Thanks to the availability of local digital television decoders – I won't mention any brand name).
The following among other things were the common denominators: Breakfast Shows dubbed with different names but same content, political shows (not to forget that was the time that young people were using radio and television stations to disrespect, insult and impugn the essence of cultural upbringing in Ghana – forgive me for being emotional, it was annoying to listen to radio that time), music programs and beauty pageants.
It took about four months to develop the idea and thankfully the program started airing on Coastal Television. With the help of young talents such as Augustino Nedo we formed a team that had to introduce and sustain a television show that could help ordinary Ghanaian ( Disclaimer: by ordinary I mean anyone who did not have knowledge of the law – my producer was an ordinary man in that regard..lol).
How were we going to get lawyers to be on the program for free? “MMRA” did not have sponsors and production was by the sacrificial work of the team. Should any lawyer at all appear on the program (Since we intended to brand the program in a particular way) we had challenges getting lawyers who could purely speak in Fante or Twi without using big grammar to confuse the audience? The team decided that for a start, I interpret virtually everything that was said in English by the lawyers to local language so the indigenous people could understand (I must admit it was difficult but the team again helped in this respect).
For several months as the host of MMRA, we (I mean the production team) did not receive a penny from anyone as motivation or salary or incentive or whatsoever because we did not have sponsors. However, we were not perturbed because the purpose of developing the program was to help the ordinary Ghanaian who did not know about his/her rights and responsibilities. I remember my good friends Francisca Baaba Eghan, Godwin Namboh and Naana Antwi-Larbi consistently encouraging me to keep on doing things that could help people.
We kept on and thankfully a program on a community television station was able to attract 'heavyweight’ lawyers and International legal practitioners. The likes of Frank Panford QC, Dr. Bolanle Erinosho, the Late Rev. Dr. Isidore Bonabom, Mrs. Julia Selman-Ayetey esq., Lawyer Kwame Owusu-Agyeman (Vice Dean UCC Law) and Daniel Arthur Esq appeared on the program as a way of giving back to the society. Overtime, it attracted more audience not only fishermen, market women and farmers but also lecturers, bankers, Judges and even Lawyers (I leave you to guess the reason).
Enough of the overview!!! MMRA has a Facebook page and most of the things we did were online. It attracted some online bloggers and even one major online source of information published things about MMRA. It did not take long then our production team saw several media houses duplicating the MMRA concept and again giving it different names. I don’t have any problem with people buying into the idea of a good concept which will help the generality of this country.
Was it a mere coincidence that over several years (someone can study the program content of the major television station from 2008 to 2013 and see whether there was a specific program designated to educate the people of Ghana about law)? No program like that existed but after MMRA became available online others also took the concept. It may be that someone somewhere had that idea but will it be a problem if media houses begin to give credit to each other for something others developed? (I doubt it because most are dishonest. They packaged the idea as if it was theirs for sponsorship purposes). Was the idea registered? No!!! The whole purpose of this article is to point out how sub-standard and dishonest most media houses in Ghana are.
Anyways, the “copy copy-cat” did not discourage but rather encouraged me to bring out another idea which was parallel to the MMRA television show but in a form of a community outreach – MMRA Community Outreach Project. This project was meant to take the law to the "street" by teaching people about their rights and responsibilities (a fellow law student, Mr. Nana Yamoah Ponko said to me "Mr. Coleman we will help you embark on Legal Evangelism"). MMRA on Coastal television therefore collaborated with the Law Students’ Union (UCC) to embark on this agenda. Thankfully, this idea has not been “stolen” yet. But for real, its this particular idea that I want the media houses to copy (don’t forget to give me credit).
My main reason is that if media houses ‘steal’ the Community outreach project idea, to a large extent it can help create that consciousness or awareness on the various rights and responsibilities people have in Ghana. Why has this idea not been 'stolen' yet probably they have not thought of it or because most programs are not developed with the intention of helping Ghanaians but an avenue to get huge sponsorship deals (emphasis is mine).
To make a long story short, I must say that I may be one of the few "victims" who have been robbed of an idea, but trust me, there are a lot of young Ghanaians whose incredible ideas have sunk into oblivion merely because they don’t have the means to effectuate those ideas. The Reasons may be a lot but to mention few: poor laws on intellectual property, lack of expertise (I mean legal scholars not lawyers) to develop the laws on intellectual property, and dishonest media.
The originators of social media and other powerful ideas in other countries were successful to do it at a younger age because they had a legal regime that could protect their ideas. Until we get serious as a country to protect genuine ideas of our citizens, many dreams will be killed before it becomes a reality.
The writer, Edwin Coleman is pursuing his Master of Laws(LL.M) in South Africa. He was part of the pioneer batch of UCC Law graduates.