Insults, hate speech and the abuse of freedom of expression have become predominant in politics in Ghana because perpetrators receive reward from their parties.
“These days a person is considered good within a political party if he can insult an opponent and the opponent would not have a good reply,” Dr Emmanuel Debrah, the Dean of the Political Science Department of the University of Ghana has observed.
He said behaviour of the politicians tend to suggest that if they don’t insult people, nobody will listen to them, adding that “they know if they go with issues, they won’t have anything for their campaigns.
Dr Debra was speaking at a public forum organised by the St Paul’s Catholic Seminary at Sowutuom in Accra.
The two-day lecture forms part of the school’s Student Representative Council/Philosophy week and was on the theme “Philosophy and Good Political Order in Ghana.”
The students used the platform provided to examine issues of national importance and this year being an election year, they decided to interrogate issues at the heart of politics in Ghana which included freedom of speech and its abuse.
With the December elections some seven months away, concerns have been raised about the utterances and behaviour of the country’s politicians.
First was the confusion and violence that characterised the registration process in some parts of the country including Tain in the Brong Ahafo, Tafo Pankrono in the Ashanti Region and Odododiodio in the Greater Accra Region.
But one that heightened the country’s political temperature was comments made by Mr Kennedy Agyapong after which he was invited by the Criminal Investigations Department over comments he made on his station Oman FM, in which he declared war and urged Akans to attack Ewes and Gas in retaliation to alleged violence perpetrated by supporters of the NDC.
The Political Science lecturer noted that the extent to which the trend could be reversed and the politicians influenced to stick to issues was dependent on the extent to which civil society held them accountable for their actions.
Dr Debra, who spoke on the topic “Free Speech and Politics in Ghana,” said even though politicians were usually carried away on campaign platform, everybody was responsible for his or her utterances.
“The first thing to note in any sensible discussion of freedom of speech is that it will have to be limited. Even core liberals, today, find it very difficult to defend speech once it can be demonstrated that its practice invades the rights of others. Hence, in all civilised societies, the state finds it useful to place some limits on the exercise of speech.
He bemoaned the failure of the Kufuor and Atta Mills Administration for their inability to pass the Freedom of Information Bill.
According to him, the difficulty in accessing information does not encourage well informed public discourse.
Dr Debra, therefore, rallied civil society to continue mounting pressure on the government to pass the bill which has at its heart transparency and accountability.
He observed that the only times successive governments had pushed through bills and agreements had been when such initiatives served their political interest.
He cited the passage of the Representation of the People’s Amendment Law (ROPAL) and the endorsement of the STX Housing agreement as typical examples.
Dr Debra also expressed worry over what he called, the inefficiency of state institutions charged with the responsibility to educate the populace on issues of governance.
“Regulatory agencies like the National Communication Authority, the National Media Commission and the National Commission on Civic Education are failures. They do not require huge budgets to condemn the irresponsibility of political functionaries or organise programmes to educate people.”
Many have blamed the increasing use of insults on the airwaves on politicians who own media houses but Dr Debra discredited the assertion and stated that there was nothing wrong if such stations were for commercial purposes.
He added that an efficient way to deal with the matter was for the regulatory agencies to be up to the task and even withdraw licences of stations that violate the law.
A Senior Lecturer of the University of Ghana Political Science Department, Dr Kwesi Jonah, who chaired the function, noted that if Ghanaians did not manage freedom of speech well, it could lead the country to the path of other violence-plagued countries in Africa.
He said self censorship was very necessary if Ghana was to grow its democratic credentials.
The Rector of the Seminary, Rev Father Francis Arthur, expressed disappointment with the way some of the country’s politicians handle issues of national importance.
He said as Ghana girds it loins for the December elections, it was necessary that politicians discussed issues devoid of insults and vulgar language.
“What we need is for our politicians to learn and understand the problems at hand, consult experts and use the solutions during their campaign. We want a campaign full of construction and not destruction,” he said.