In the run up to the crucial 2001 elections, then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Dr. Obed Asamoah said loudly on the floor of parliament that the NDC government would never dream of tabling the repeal of aspects of the Criminal Libel Law before parliament, let alone repealing them.
His counterpart, the shadow Attorney General at the time, Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo however, promised that the NPP would repeal the law when voted to power. NPP owed a debt to the press. During his campaign, candidate Kufuor seduced Ghana's media with promises no self-respecting journalist could ignore: greater freedom of expression, repeal of criminal libel laws, and even a Freedom of Information Act based on the American model; even though at the time he left office, the Kufuor-administration reneged on its promise to pass the Freedom of Information Act. Did I hear the Information Minister designate, Zita Okaikoi promise that her government (NDC) will pass the Act into law? That would be the beginning of good things to happen to the media under NDC.
It is on record that at the time the NDC handed over power in 2001, government ministers and other party officials had swathes of legal cases ongoing at the courts against journalists. Even to the last day when the NDC handed over power some journalists, notably Kabral Blay Amihere, a former president of the Ghana Journalists Association and publisher of the Independent had been arrested and placed under military arrest. It took a lot of lobbying to have him released.
I had said on several platforms that the best thing that could ever happen to Ghana's democracy would be for the NDC to struggle from opposition back to power and who know perhaps, they would begin to respect public opinion and create a conducive environment for the media to thrive. The media is no doubt an incredible tool that can be used to influence public opinion, but the extent of its control can destroy good journalistic instincts.
Unfortunately, the signals we are getting aren't too pleasant. In its February 3rd edition, The Statesman reported that Ghana Television had decided to drop Mr. Egbert Faibille Jnr. as host of its Talking Point Programme, a popular current affairs programme on Sunday. The Statesman quoted its reliable sources as saying that Mr. Faibille had been officially told the programme was being redesigned and that his services were no longer needed. If management indeed took that decision it is sad because the programme will lose its credibility if it is reduced to a platform where divergent views cannot be aired. GTV needs no reminder that there are other equally good alternative programmes on other TV channels, which viewers hungry for unbiased information will simply tune to. It is not known as at now whether the directive came from the NDC government, if that was the case, it would send clear signals that we are back to the days when the government had a firm grip over the GBC that it killed ingenuity and morale. There is nothing more frustrating than when you know what to do professionally, but fail to do it for the fear of losing your job. If it is proved that as at now the government has no hand in the decision to oust Faibille, then the management of GTV could be self-censoring themselves, even before they are told what to do.
When President John Evans Atta Mills directed all boards of public corporations to vacate their posts, my instincts told me that some of my senior colleagues in the state media whose appointments can be interpreted as political could be asked to vacate their posts in due course. It was however, a bold step to hear the Chairman of the National Media Commission, Mr. Paul Adu- Gyamfi counter that the presidential directive to boards of public institutions did not affect media institutions under the NMC. He advised all the state media boards to remain at post until new boards are appointed; since the NMC draws its powers from the 1992 Constitution.
I and in fact other media analysts are watching how this imminent clash pans out. As a government that has returned to power and is bent on having a firm grip on state institutions, especially the media, which can be used as agents of propaganda, I have my doubts if the NMC will be allowed to have its way in accordance with the constitution. If all stakeholders want to see the media develop to international standards, the NMC which sets ethical guidelines and broadcast standards must be given room to operate.
It is better to have the NMC play its role of overseeing the media than having politicians breathing down on journalists in the state media. I can foresee us entering an era of 'soft control' as Prof. Jo Ellen Fair of the University of Wisconsin-Madison noted recently. Soft Control of the Ghanaian press, she writes, rests on more than cash payment. "Up and down the government-corporate media nexus, the careers of individual journalists can be made or broken with a phone call.
By Amos Safo, Public Agenda (Accra)
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