THE Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, has asked the media to actively participate in the electoral process by setting the political agenda, instead of leaving it entirely to politicians to do so.
'The political debate prior to the elections is likely to be reduced to which of the presidential candidates is short, sick or tall or what tribe or religion each of the candidates belong to if politicians are allowed to set the political agenda,' he said, giving a public lecture in Accra on Wednesday organised by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) in connection with World Press Freedom Day, which falls tomorrow.
This year’s theme is ‘Freedom of the press, empowerment and participation of the people’.
Dr Afari-Gyan said once a proper agenda is set, institutions other than the press could be helpful in empowering the electorate on their responsibility to fully participate in the elections.
Besides, the electorate would also be educated to make informed decisions in the elections of their leaders.
He said the most important thing to occupy the minds of citizens is who is capable of managing the affairs of the country to entrench democracy and ensure its economic development.
Speaking on the topic 'Press freedom, empowerment and participation of the people in the electoral process', Dr Afari-Gyan said a free press is a great asset to democracy; generally as a source of uncensored information, education and entertainment, but particularly by serving as the watchdog of the people’s rights and freedoms from the abuse of people in authority.
'This is the reason why there has always been concern in this country about the need for press freedom in our various attempts at constitution making,' adding 'the freedom the country’s press is enjoying has not been achieved on a silver platter'.
He said press freedom demands that conditions exist for journalists to practise their profession freely to such an extent that, within the law, every media establishment is free to determine the contents of what it prints, broadcasts or telecasts.
Dr Afari-Gyan said press freedom on the one hand, imposes certain obligations on the media establishment as well as individual journalists to uphold the highest professional and ethical standards to disseminate accurate information about matters of public importance, and refrain from inciting violence or setting one party or candidate, or religion or group, or region against the other.
He said, the media as public educator or a guardian of democracy assume even greater importance in the run-up to elections.
The EC chairman, said the most cheered freedoms such as the freedom of expression, essential for political discussion and dissemination of political messages, movement which underpins campaigning and access to the electorate, assembly which makes it possible for political meeting and the freedom of choice, which is essential to an election, are put to test during the election period.
Consequently Dr Afari-Gyan urged the media to educate citizens on their electoral rights and what politics and elections are all about.
'The media should monitor the extent to which the generality of the people enjoy their rights by exposing, condemning and shaming acts of violence, intimidation, and any act that will interfere with the people to make free choices,' he stated.
He further encouraged the media to educate citizens on the voter registration exercise and constantly urge all qualified persons to seize the opportunity to register, stressing that voter registration was a precondition for exercising one’s franchise.
On the voter registration, Dr Afari-Gyan stressed that it is not a wholesale registration but meant for people who have lost their Voter ID cards or people who have attained the age of 18 after the last registration exercise and are therefore eligible now to vote.
The EC has estimated to register about one million qualified new voters.
Earlier in a welcome address, Ransford Tetteh, President of the GJA, said the World Press Freedom Day was instituted in 1993 by the United Nations in recognition of the role the press play in promoting democracy.
The day, he said, is used to reflect on the journalism profession and to make amends where practitioners fell short.
Accra Brewery is a sponsor of the celebration.