THE CHANGING FACE OF MEDIA OWNERSHIP IN GHANA – PART TWO

In part one of this story, published, I brought to the fore the changing dynamics of the Ghanaian media landscape and unveiled the names behind some of the media houses in the country. I also brought to light the fact that some of these media owners also own other businesses, pointing out the interplay between the media and these businesses, and the attendant undercurrents of public opinion formation. Part two takes the discussion further: it is enlightening, instructive and in some respects mind-boggling.

STARR – The Station to Watch

STARR FM is the station to watch. Managed by Kwabena Anokye Adisi, a.k.a. Bola Ray, formerly of JOY FM, STARR mimics Joy FM, both in terms of content and style – and it does it quite well. STARR is owned by former Finance Minister, Dr Kwabena Duffour, who has recently acquired Choice FM from its previous owner, Fred Oware, and re-christened it ‘KASAPA FM’, and intends to turn it into an Akan language station.

Prior to his appointment as a Finance Minister of Ghana in February 2009, under the Mills administration, Dr Kwabena Duffour served as the Governor of the Bank of Ghana from July 1997 to 2001.

Dr Duffuor worked briefly with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as an Economist in the African Department. He has interest in over fifteen (15) businesses cutting through insurance, banking, media, real estate and farms. The notable ones are Star Assurance and Unibank.

It is not exactly clear what has been the motivation for Dr Kwabena Duffour’s investment interests in the media. Starting with ‘Heritage’ in the early years of the millennium, the man has proceeded to acquire live FM, STARR FM, and is in the process of setting up a television station.

One can however draw a link between Dr Duffour’s investments in the services sector and his fast growing media empire. Adverts from the entities that make up the Duffour business empire are carried almost exclusively on his media networks, recycling in the process part of his investments within his own.

The Local Language Market

It is almost uncontestable that the local language segment of the Ghanaian media market is dominated by Akan, and that Peace FM holds the controlling share of that market. Hot in pursuit are Okay FM, Adom FM, Asempa and Oman FM.
Atinka FM, one of the newest entrant in the market, has however caused a stir since its advent on the media scene.

Peace FM which controls the lower middle income and the working class market segment, exemplifies the ‘Multi-media’ business model. Its owner, Osei Kwame Despite, has created a media empire that boasts of big names like Peace, Okay, Neat, Hello FMs, and UTV. Peace is credited to be the trail-blazer in Akan broadcasting. This claim however, does not suggest that before Peace FM there was absolutely no radio broadcast in Akan or the other local languages. Indeed, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) has since independence broadcasted in the local languages. But Peace FM took Akan broadcast to new levels of appeal.

Like Kwasi Twum, Kwame Despite is not known to have any active partisan affiliation, but has other business interests which have benefited from his dominance of the media landscape. Almost all the commercials on his music, food and beverage industries are carried exclusively on his media network, a fact that underscores the consumerism motive of his investments in the Ghanaian media.

Atinka FM has made the boldest incursion into the Akan language segment of the market in recent times. Atinka, formerly Sena FM, announced its presence on the Ghanaian media scene with a BIG Bang. By bringing down Kwame Adinkra, a popular Kumasi-based radio presenter to anchor its morning show, Atinka promises to give Peace, Okay, Adom, and Asempa a run for their money.

Atinka is owned by Mr Samuel Amo Tobbin, the proprietor of Tobinco Pharmaceuticals Limited (TPL), currently one of the leading pharmaceutical marketing and distribution Companies in Ghana.

Samuel Tobin is also the man behind Abii National, a savings and loans company, and Priority Insurance.

Mr Tobbin’s brush with the industry regulator, the Food and Drugs Board, in 2013, following allegations that some of the drugs imported by his company were fake and dangerous, made him realize the power of the media. There is no doubt that the Ghanaian media played an instrumental role in his release from custody, and in the resolution of the dispute over the efficacy of his imported drugs.

Clearly, Tobinco sees the protection that ownership of a media outlet affords.
The convergence of Business, Politics and Media

Businessman and politician, Dr Papa Kwesi Ndoum, is among those who have demonstrated substantial investment appetite for the media. Himself a writer, who has contributed articles to the Ghanaian Chronicle, and edited an online publication (www.233times.com), Dr Ndoum’s first major investment in the Ghanaian media was the Today newspaper. In recent times he has moved to acquire or set up a string of electronic media outlets, most of which are located in the Central and Western Regions. Among them: Ahomka, Enyidado, Agoro, Golden Pod, Adepa, Kasapa FMs, Amansan TV (ATV), Business Television Africa (BTA), First Digital T.V., Ocean 1 T.V. (Elmina), Light FM (Aflao) and others.

Dr Ndoum was the Member of Parliament for the Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abirem constituency during the Kuffour administration and served as minister of state under various portfolios between 2001 and 2007. In 2008, Dr Paa Kwesi Ndoum was the Convention People’s Party’s (CPP) Presidential candidate. After his unsuccessful bid for the presidency, he left the CPP to form his own party, the Progressive Peoples’ Party (PPP) which he currently leads.

Like Osei Kwame Despite, Dr Ndoum uses his network of media outlets to promote his businesses which includes Coconut Grove hotels, GN Bank, GN Quarry and Concrete Products, Yorke Properties, Gold Coast securities, Pentrust (Pensions), and a football team, Elmina Sharks. His advertising budget is exclusively spent on his own media outlets.

Though his media empire controls only a marginal share of the audiences and readership Ndoum spares no opportunity to have his views on national affairs heard through his own networks. Though he professes to be a left wing politician, his views on economic governance resonates more with the social democratic philosophy, which perhaps is the reason many find his association with the NPP government between 2001 and 2007 as a complete betrayal of his political ideology.

There is no doubt that Ndoum is on the move to becoming Ghana’s Berlusconi, in the sense of using whatever control he is able to leverage with his media empire in future, to advance his political ambitions.

The Kenpong Conundrum

Hon. Kennedy Agyapong is another businessman and a politician, who has shown a lot of interest in the media in recent times. He is the NPP Member of Parliament for Assin North Constituency.

Mr Agyapong owns 14 businesses and a media empire “KenCity” which manages Net2 TV, Oman FM, Spice FM, Ash FM, National Agenda newspaper (which suffered a still birth), and Gold Coin Communications.

Some say Mr Agyapong was provoked to set up his string of media companies because he could not have his way in media discussions hosted by other radio stations where he was a panelist. The truth in this assertion is perhaps borne out by the fact that on his own media networks, nobody stops him from having his say on an issue.

Though Mr Agyapong also uses his media network to promote his business interests, it appears his prime motivation for setting up his media companies is to advance the political fortunes of the New Patriotic Party than his personal political ambitions. Analysts say, as a businessman, it is his way of positioning himself for lucrative contracts should his party return to power.

Roland Enters with a Baggages
Roland Agambire is arguably the most controversial business figure in Ghana today, and his entry into the media industry is bound to raise suspicions. The CEO of Agams Holdings, Chairman and CEO of the ICT company Rlg Communications, and hosts of other business ventures has been linked to several financial scandals, which makes him a candidate for future investigations and possible prosecutions should Ghana experience a regime change.

Agambire established Roagam Links in March 2001, then as a mobile phone repair outlet transforming later to become the pioneer indigenous ICT manufacturing, assembling and training firm in Ghana. The Rlg Group currently has presence in China, Dubai, UAE, Angola, Nigeria, Kenya and the Gambia, South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda and still expanding.
It is not difficult to guess that, Roland’s interest in the media industry is actuated by a felt need for protection under the media, should he come under any political harassment in the event of a regime change in Ghana.

The man currently owns the General Telegraph Newspaper and Radio 360 which is currently streaming online but would soon commence commercial broadcasting on the frequency 90.1 in Takoradi, in the Western Region.

For the trail-blazers, particularly Joy FM and Peace FM it is apparent that their media investments have been driven by just their interest in the media, as a business. Recent entrants however appear to see the media as an instrument for advancing either their business interests in other sectors of the economy or their political ambitions. This particular development could erode the public thrust that the media enjoys today, especially, if the media owners do not distance themselves from the management and day-to-day operations of their media. We have been there before, and Ghanaians have not forgotten how government’s control of the public broadcast media turned many listerners into fans of the B.

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