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11.01.2003 Feature Article

Government intimidates its critics

By Press
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THE GOVERNMENT, ITS CRITICS AND THE CRIMINAL LIBEL LAW- A NEW YEAR RESOLUTION NEEDED The repeal of the criminal libel law was a sham. There were many of us who believed, that the law was a necessary one that was good in our statutory books. There was no doubt that it was misused. However to many of us that was not enough justification to remove it. What should have been done was to make the law such the leeway for its being misused was unavailable. However, it was repealed not because the NPP loved press freedom and free expression. But rather it was removed because the NPP was trapped when it came to power by a promise it had made to a belligerent press that had virtually removed the NDC from power and put the NPP there. Indeed, the NPP is not interested in a free press where everybody is free to speak his mind to the extent of given big criticism to the government. The invitation by the government through the BNI to the editor of the Ghanaian Voice falls in line with a long list of other intimidating tactics that the NPP government has used on political opponents ostensibly to shut them up. Below are just a few. 1. Alban Bagbin- Dealings as board member of Ghapoha with respect to soliciting for his constituency exposed in the press and investigations started against him when he started probing government. 2. Asiedu Nketiah- attacked at a radio station. Other intimidating tactics employed as well. 3. John Mahama- investigations instituted in his constituency when he begun to criticized government. 4. Victor Gbeho- Chased by BNI operatives for his paid for car after being on air at Joy FM to discuss government lapses. 5. Mohammed Mumuni- chased by BNI for his car after talking against government on radio program. 6. Dan Lartey- Invited by the government security chief after advocating for early elections 7. Ahwoi- Immediate leakage to press of legitimate business dealing of Hearts of Oak football club of which he was board chairman when he joined NDC colleagues to expose true happenings at Quality Grain site. Subsequently invited to the BNI but proceedings mysteriously dropped for lack of evidence. 8. Kofi Wayo (Fire brand politician, member of ruling party and fierce government critic- Leakage to the press of his business dealings which eventually did not end anywhere. It was begun after he begun to criticize government policies. 9. The Palaver- IRS selectively set on it after it intensified watchdog role on government. 10. Kwesi Pratt and Jojo Bruce Quansah- Physical attack at Joy FM by government spokesmen after these men and others discussed government policy on Radio station. 11. Kwesi Pratt- Verbal attacks by several government ministers. Wild allegations leveled against him not just by pro-government press but by members of government. Allegations found to be false. 12. Victor Selormey- Immediate criminal investigations leading to prosecution begun after he exposed government lies that the past government has stolen ¢900 billion cedis 13. Victor Smith- All sorts of allegations and bogus plots leveled against him. Case mysteriously sent to court but midway between the case, judge mysteriously transferred leading to halt in the case. 14. JJ Rawlings- All sorts of verbal attacks on him when he speaks against government policy. Government threatens to curtail his benefits that had been constitutionally guaranteed and threatens to place him under house arrest, cars seized, and meetings with international figures curtailed. Government advocates that he is invited to the BNI for investigation. BNI gives a clean bill of health to his speech. Government claims that as a statesman, he must not criticize government but forgets that in other democracies like ours Margaret Thatcher is worse critic of British Tony Blair, Netanyahu criticizes Ariel Sharon, Nelson Mandela criticizes Thabo Mbeki, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter criticize George W. Bush. 15. Profs Mills and Kwesi Botchwey- immediate materialization of mysterious PNDC dealings to be sent to fast track court after the two gentlemen criticized government’s scandalous handling of IFC loan. 16. Mr. E.T. Mensah- Arrested and placed under detention in total disregard to his parliamentary privileges just because he was hailed at a hospital. Government allegations that he was seen whispering to someone were found to be false. The list is endless. Of course government has to investigate malpractice by office holders but it is certainly strange when these are instituted only and only if individuals try to put government on its toes. It is as if government is telling potential critics, ‘if you want to be free, don’t criticize us. Where lies the government’s claim to love free speech. Has the government even received a hundredth of the criticism that the NDC was able to put up with? It is of great concern that the government should be demeaning the security services and the judiciary by using them as pawns in its own political battles. The government’s accusation of Mr. Ansah is strange to say the least. To what extent is revealing that government gave heed to the speech of the ex president a security breach? It was certainly of public interest because it exposed the lies of this government that Rawlings was inciting a military revolt and diffused the tension created by this government in the antagonistic way it handled Mr. Rawlings’ speech. Another strange aspect of the government’s accusations against Mr. Ansah is that certain people leak information to the press to embarrass the government. Government complained against leaking information to the press. Who is most guilty in this country of leaking information to pressmen? Day in day out, journalists with links to this government, parade the airwaves with documents that have the national coat of arms on it. How many times hasn’t the Statesman, a pro government newspaper, printed information with government letterhead to discredit opponents of this government? In the forensic audit against Mr. Tsatsu Tsikata, how many times didn’t consultants complain that members of government were leaking half-investigated leads to the press? Didn’t the leakage stop upon the complaints. Who leaked to the press that the ex president has bought four wheel drive vehicles? Who leaked information to the press about the phone bill incurred by the past ‘Office of the President’? Who leaked information about the ex President’s medical issues to the press? Who has leaked information about past ministers, DCEs, Chief executives, etc. to the press. If we can say that the pressmen got the information by investigative journalism, for what reason can’t we assume that the anti government information gets out by the same investigative journalism. The government must get serious and realize that it was elected to run a country, not play politics. They must also begin to act as the ruling government and stop acting as if it is still in opposition and fighting to remove a ruling government. The government cannot expect to be allowed to hit political opponents below the belt but refuse to take punches. When we talk about press freedom, we are looking for ways to express ourselves without causing havoc. We are looking for ways to express ourselves without looking over our shoulders. Under the NPP’s brand of press freedom, the press is heavily divided with the pro government press facing the anti government press. Unfortunately, the kind of language that some radio stations allow particular journalists to use on their medium is revolting, if ordinary citizens so much as raise their voices, they are cut off. Press freedom is becoming too one-sided. The issue of press freedom, is the intent to allow the press to flourish. Not a wishy-washy politically motivated repeal of a law while at the same time we go looking for obnoxious and outdated laws to intimidate political opponents. The fact that it took the BNI over two months to say that the Voice had breached a law meant that it was out there searching for a law to deal with political opponents of the government. It could even have been possible that the BNI did not take on the case by itself but was forced to do so. If the government chooses to treat political opponents this way, why does it get surprised that it sends gifts to political opponents and gets the gifts rejected. Indeed, the Government does not appear to know who its enemies are. Are those that necessarily sing the praises of the government doing the best for the government. An the aftermath of the IFC loan fiasco, who will have better served the interest of the government, those that praised it or those that warned the government. If the government had listened to the warnings of the ex president about the Yaa Naa in would it not have helped the government? Our country is at the crossroads. Tension is rising. The onus lies on the NPP as the ruling government to stop creating tension. Our sub-region is already loaded. It is my wish that the NPP government will make a proper New Year resolution that will help us move together as a nation. Anything short of that, our thumbs are waiting… Because of possible intimidation, I will use my pseudonym: Yaro Saro Wiwa [email protected]

Sent by Kwesi Yankson without permission of author Yaro Saro Wiwa

Press
Press, © 2003

The author has 117 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: Press

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