I asked an ISD Assistant Information Officer what the relevancy of cinema vans was today when there are so many other forms of communication in Ghana like radio, television, cell phones and the Internet. He answered without hesitation, listing the four reasons in succession. Making a number one with his index finger, he dictated, “One: the vans still have credibility. Because of the long history of the vans people recognize that the news that comes from them is official, the ultimate news source. They believe anything that comes from the van as true.” Surprised I asked “Anything?” He said, “Well you know what I mean, it’s the news of the government.” I let him go on with his list. “Two: the cinema vans can still get to places that television and radio can’t reach. The vans get to the people even those in remote areas. Three: because there are information offices that cater to every district in Ghana, the van commentators speak the local dialects and can explain the announcement so that the people fully understand. Four: because there are cinema van operators at each screening, if the audience has questions or comments about the program the operator can bring the peoples concerns back to the Ministry. Also, unlike television and radio ads, the cinema van commentators can respond to the audience’s questions at the screening making sure everyone understands.”
During colonialism the stated relevancy of the cinema vans was similar to the points mentioned by the ISD Assistant Information Officer, however, the media environment has changed significantly since cinema vans were first introduced in the Gold Coast. Obviously the credibility of the vans is something that has been built up since the British first implemented mobile cinema vans in the Gold Coast over 70 years ago. Like today the ability of the van to move and travel to remote areas, the role of the interpreter to prepare film commentary in local languages, and the focus on interactivity between cinema staff and the audience through question and answers were all very important aspects of the British mobile cinema van programs. But unlike today’s focus on reaching people without access to television or radio, the British saw the mobile cinema vans as an opportunity to reach illiterate populations. In 1944, Public Relations Officer, John Wilson writes, “It’s a remarkable thing that, given the radio and the cinema, we can talk to audiences who are illiterate. Indeed, the cinema and the radio may be inventions which will contribute as much to the advancement of West Africa as the invention of the printing press contributed to the advancement of the people of Europe.” (Wilson, John. Gold Coast Information. African Affairs, Vol. 43, No. 172 (July 1944) pp. 111-115)
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