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23.05.2007 General News

Reflections On World Press Freedom Day

On Wednesday, May 2, 2007 it was reported in an Accra daily that some senior journalists in the Northern Regional capital, Tamale, in their desire to exercise their professional duties, were allegedly maltreated and intimidated by some bodyguards of President John Agyekum Kufuor on Saturday, April 28, 2007, at the regional minister's residence.

According to the report, “The victimised media personnel, including eight state and 11 private newspaper journalists, after the embarrassment, had no other choice than to boycott the request for coverage of the President.

“The entire media personnel, who could not tolerate the unprofessional behaviour (of the bodyguards), packed their gadgets and boycotted the coverage. It took the Regional Minister, Alhaji Mustapha Ali Idris, to calm tempers down, but the journalists insisted on boycotting the President . . .” (Excerpts from The Chronicle, Wednesday, May 2, 2007, Page 14).

It is not the intention of this writer to comment on the fine details of the incident referred to above, since there are likely to be various versions, or even denials, of what actually took place at the Tamale residency.

What is of concern to me is that while we in Ghana appear to have moved light years away from the days when some media houses were “shit-bombed” and some journalists jailed on account of their dissenting views with the government of the day, media practitioners to this day continue to suffer harassment and intimidation at the hands of the very society they seek to serve.

The alleged beating up of some TV3 crew at the NDC Headquarters, alleged detention of TV Africa crew at HIPC Junction, the heckling of journalists covering Dr Anane's case at CHRAJ, and other similar events all lead one to pose the question: What can the matter be? What has gone wrong?

There have in recent times been several calls on media practitioners to exercise circumspection and restraint in the performance of their duties. The emphasis clearly has been on the need for the display of a higher sense of professionalism, responsibility and respect for the GJA Code of Ethics.

To some extent, it may be argued that these appeals are not altogether new. However, it is the frequency at which they are being issued and the sources they are coming from that should give cause for public concern.

We are all at risk, and the nation faces the danger of destroying our fragile democracy if the media industry is bastardised and allowed to be destroyed through the reckless actions of a few.

The President of the Republic and his Vice, the Speaker of Parliament and his first Deputy, the late Chief Justice, religious leaders, traditional rulers, the security agencies, Electoral Commission, civil society groups, some individual opinion leaders, and, indeed, the President of the Ghana Journalists Association have all had occasion of late to make some unfavourable remarks or comments on the perceived declining level of performance of the media and offered various pieces of advice to practitioners of the trade to put their act together.

Some members of the public have even charged that the media are promoting a culture of impunity, indiscipline and media tyranny.

Even if some of the observations are far-fetched, the unfolding trend is a reflection of the high level of public awareness and great expectations of what the media ought to be doing to fulfil their rightful role as the Fourth Estate of the Realm.

This is a plus for multi-party democracy, though the occasional physical attacks on journalists by some disgruntled elements in society must be condemned.

No one can deny that the Ghanaian media, whether print or electronic, have done a lot since the coming into force of the 1992 Constitution which restored multi-party democratic governance in the country.

They have raised for public discussion issues of perceived corruption, the alarming spate of road accidents, ethnic and religious conflicts, the serial killing of women, HIV AIDS, and, more recently, the rising incidence of narcotic drug abuse and trafficking, and the menace they pose to society.

However, there is a lot more room for improvement. The wake-up call is sounding loud and clear, and the reasons are obvious.

The frequent recourse by some sections of the media, some political activists and impostors styling themselves as social commentators to sensationalism, undue politicisation of issues, unwarranted personal attacks, insinuations and innuendos in newspaper articles, radio and television programmes have all tended to undermine the genuine efforts of the entire media industry.

The culprits, in pursuit of their personal agenda, succeed in trivialising issues, diverting attention from the core issues and rather shifting the focus to tangential matters of parochial interest based on rumours and unproven allegations.

They intentionally muddy the waters to make it difficult for people to distinguish between good and evil, or what is right and what is wrong.

The late former Vice-President of America, Spiro Agnew, once described such people as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Unfortunately, some talk-show host reporters, columnists, cartoonists, and editors, appear to have fallen victim to this unproductive discourse.

The repeal of the obnoxious Criminal Libel Law, I believe, was not a mistake by the Kufuor government and it is time journalists stopped giving people the excuse to blame the government for taking that enlightened step which was meant to create a conducive environment for the benefit of all.

Can we get other bad media laws which have been repealed given our present attitude?

Reversing the current trend and bringing about some sanity and improvement in the media landscape requires continuous training and capacity building for media practitioners at all levels.

It was, perhaps, in anticipation of potential human errors and possible media excesses that the framers of the 1992 Constitution did not consider Media Rights and Freedoms in isolation.

Indeed, Articles 21 and 164 of the Constitution make it categorically clear that media rights and freedoms are subject to other laws that are reasonably required in the interest of national security, public order, public morality, and for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons.

The present calls for media circumspection and greater respect for the ethics of the profession are in the right direction because even the Good Book says that “all things are lawful, but not all things are expedient; all things are permissible, but not all things are morally right.” — 1 Cor. 6:12.

Article by Kafui Ameh