Ghana press freedom: Public lecture by Nana Oppong
Honourable Chairman, distinguished guests; and ladies and gentlemen of the Press! I am grateful for the opportunity to share my humble thoughts with you on this sad and solemn occasion. Undoubtedly, life is the most precious thing on earth. We mourn the death of Ahmed Suale. Let us pray that the most merciful God would forgive him and grant him paradise. Amen! Yet, although we are gathered here today because of the tragic death of Ahmed Suale, we are not here to cry. We are here to reflect, to ask honest questions and to provide practical answers that would prevent such tragedies from re-occurring in Ghana. Ladies and gentlemen, we have the opportunity on this occasion to flip the tragedy of Ahmed’s death into opportunity. We have the opportunity to let Ahmed’s death move us to reasoned and effective actions that would protect journalists in Ghana. It is true that Ahmed’s death was personal to him and that he was the victim of murder. Yet, the murder was possible because of a number of significant legal, professional and cultural failures that made him vulnerable, exposed and defenseless. The failures that made Ahmed a victim continue till date. In my view, they are getting worse time after time. This makes all serious journalists in Ghana vulnerable to violence, to attacks and to intimidation. Unless we take care, what happened to Ahmed can happen to another journalist in Ghana. But God forbid! So, in mourning his passing and calling on the authorities to find the perpetrators of Ahmed’s murder, we must resolve to let this occasion serve as a catalyst for permanent and sustainable reforms in journalism in Ghana. We must resolve to make the changes that would protect the lives of journalists and of the health of journalism itself in Ghana. Ahmed’s death can and must inspire us to commit to a new way of thinking about journalism in Ghana.
Ladies and gentlemen, journalists in Ghana are particularly vulnerable to attacks for the following reasons. Journalists move around a lot and this necessarily exposes them to all kinds of risks. Most journalists in Ghana do not make enough money to own their own private vehicles. Using public transport further exposes them to bad actors. Furthermore, the very nature of their work requiring meetings and interactions with people, makes it possible for bad actors and pretenders to get closer to journalists. In addition, most journalist live hard economic lives as they are often underpaid or unpaid. A hungry journalist is a biased journalists. They often are compelled to chase, to create or to follow stories in a manner dictated by desperation and financial pressures that do injustice to one side or aspect of the story. Many journalists who work for private media houses or elsewhere often are powerless and they have no say when they are instructed by their bosses to do a story in a particular manner -whether same be distinctly partisan, slanted or unfair.
Ladies and gentlemen, the death of Ahmed is a part of a growing trend of people attacking journalists for no reason other than the fact that the journalists is working on an investigation or on a report that the other person does not approve of or does not like to be published for financial, personal or political reasons. Let me be clear. When journalists are attacked, it is simply because of the work they do. Journalists who engage in entertainment or in politically or financially non-consequential investigations or reports do not get attacked. It is the serious journalists; it is the journalists whose works are considered good, professional, solid; t is the journalists who have followers and whose works are exposed to a larger audience; it is the journalists whose works have political or financial consequences in the nation, who become especially vulnerable to attacks. Thus the fact that Ahmed was killed establishes that he was on to something important and that he was a good journalist. Paradoxically that means that the safe journalists are the sleepy ones and that good journalism is a dangerous business.
Why is good journalism becoming more and more dangerous? The answer is simple. Truth and Justice are the core functions of journalism. The consequences of these are competence, objectivity, fairness, food faith and avoidance of destructive, partisan or dark journalism. A good journalist delivers an excellent report on truth and justice. Wherever truths are exposed, bad actors get into trouble. Wherever justice is given the light, unjust actors get into trouble. Thus good journalism is necessarily a fight of truth against lies and of good against evil. Needless to say, the fight of good against evil has two sides. On one side stand democracy, rule of law and the great moral imperative. On the other side stand impunity, greed, the devil and his countless legions. Yet, let me be clear. Every journalist should advise himself. Not all assignments are created equal. All journalists are not created equal. Some are better suited for certain assignments than others. Finance, team work, experience and qualifications matter in reducing risks on projects. We admire the great investigative works or Anas over the years.
Yet, we must be honest. Not everybody can or should be an Anas Armeyaw Anas.
Our callings are different. This is simply because some have been called to certain types of journalism and others have not been called: let alone be chosen. I would advise every journalist to be careful and to think thrice before he embarks on any risky project.
Let me summarize the reforms that I propose moving forward. We need to follow up on another day.
- There must be an amendment of the 1992 constitution of Ghana and of the laws of Ghana in order to recognize and to protect professional journalism as an essential national service for democracy similar to the way we treat the judiciary. Journalists are already under the control of the State. Let us not pretend that there is such a thing as unlimited press in any part of the world.
- We must pass a law to be described as Defenders of Public Interest Act (DOPIA) in order to provide special security, targeted training, compensation and financial support to professional journalists and their families and to other persons engaged in sensitive assignments, investigations and projects of national importance.
- The pre-crime investigative capacity (PCIC) of the police and of the security services must be overhauled and significantly improved so as to make prevention of crimes against journalists easier. Protection and prevention is better than post mortems and prosecutions. At the same time, the postcrime investigative capacity of the police (PCIC) and of the security services must be improved so as to make PCIC equal to PCIC.
- We must make a distinction between journalism as a human right of the citizen and journalism as a profession. Journalism must be recognized at law as a professional body in much the way was lawyers, accountants, doctors and similar bodies. This would mean there must be minimum competences, minimum conditions, minimum wages for all professional journalists. This would increase the technical, financial and political powers of journalists and reduce their vulnerabilities. Every profession or trade moves forward and gains strength and powers when the substantial or significant number of its members are skilled and passionate about the profession and see their long term best interests as linked to an organized society, association or chamber for change.
- Journalists must learn to be strategic and highly organized using all available legal and peaceful tools to advance their interests. They must avoid a pattern of sporadic but unorganized complaints and be prepared to use peaceful protests, marches, district, regional and national strikes etc., to help themselves. Politicians help those who loudly and consistently ask for help. They must file lawsuits at the high courts and at the Supreme Court whenever it is strategic to do so as to get judgments and rulings that favor them from time to time.
- The bitter partisanship of many media houses that forces poor journalists to be branded and to be chained to one incomplete and often unfair narrative against another, must be stopped. This increases the anger and the hatred against journalists. Media Houses must stop the hypocrisy of asking for press freedoms and yet always sitting on the rights of journalists in their work. There must be safe, interesting and learned spaces in media houses that are strictly professional where journalists can be just journalists without having to be forced to report for and be chained to a particular political party and thus incapable of impartiality, objectivity or fairness ab initio or from the very beginning
- Every journalism, every politician, every religious leader and every teacher must preach a culture of tolerance and of the brotherhood of man. We must do everything within our power to stop the demonization of journalists. Everyone must come to appreciate the fact that journalism as critical to information, to education and to holding power accountable for the good of all. It is a very good profession that help us to keep and to maintain our young democracy and well-being. Without journalists, we can all be oppressed easily and lose our freedoms. Journalists are our brothers in freedom. They should not be attacked but supported and loved.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming and thank you for your patience in listening to me. I would like to thank God, tigereye, the GJA and the Media Foundation for West Africa for creating the opportunity for us to initiate steps towards reform of journalism in Ghana. We can and we must commit to reform our minds, our hearts and how we treat journalism and journalists in Ghana. We must make all necessary and sufficient changes in law, in culture, in our finances and in the very essence of journalism in order to make Ghana a safe and better place for journalists. Let Ahmed be the hero whose death shines the light unto the dark webs of media violence and sets Ghanaian journalists free from fear, free from violence and intimidation. Somebody say ‘Amen’! And to Ahmed Suale, brother may God keep you. Peace!!!