The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), a press freedom advocacy organisation, is seriously dismayed by the decision of the management of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) to interdict the Director of Ghana Television (GTV) and four journalists over a news item concerning the obviously moribund state-owned Ghana Airways.
The MFWA is particularly concerned that this curiously highhanded decision tends to undermine the spirit and constitutional stipulation of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana for the freedom and editorial independence of the (state-owned) media to express divergent views and ventilate dissenting opinions. And, coming barely three months to presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana, it must also raise worrying and legitimate concerns that this action would tend to compel journalists working for the state media to acquiesce to direct as well as implicit political manipulation in order to preserve their tenure.
On Thursday, August 26, 2004, the GTV 7:00 pm news bulletin carried a story originally published on the internet and attributed to the Pan African News Agency to the effect that negotiations between the national carrier, Ghana Airways, and Ghana International Airlines, a US investor, had been suspended. The following day, the business desk of GTV retracted the story because the report as published was purported to be doubtful. Nevertheless, on Monday, August 30, the management of GBC served the five persons - namely Kofi Buckner, Director of Television, Emmanuel Vorgbe, editior-in-chief, Francis Sosu, assistant chief editor, Nana Yaw Duodu, assistant editor, and Solomon Ayiah, contract journalist - with letters of interdiction. The letters, dated Friday August 27, claimed that the said news item had "caused great embarrassment to the Corporation and the Government of Ghana".
The MFWA believes that the process of the interdiction of the five persons is arbitrary; that the sanction for the alleged offence is vindictive, and that the consequence of this act bodes negatively for the exercise of the fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed rights to media freedom and freedom of expression in Ghana.
Even granting that the five affected persons erred, we insist that the matter about which they have been interdicted is not so material as to attract imputations of criminal conduct or even libel. Under the circumstances, we believe that the retraction and apology, which was duly rendered at the very earliest opportunity, was professionally responsible and should, normally, vitiate any presumed transgression or "great embarrassment".
In any case, we are hard put to wonder: did the Government of Ghana complain that the story embarrassed them, or did the management of GBC merely anticipate and respond to a presumed embarrassment? Does the interdiction represent the legitimate best interest of the GBC, or are the management more interested in attenuating the image of Ghana Airways, or the foreign investor, or the government?
The Constitution presumes the (state-owned) media to hold the government and other public officials accountable to the people of Ghana, and the management of GBC must not be seen to be obsequiously particular about projecting a positive public image of government, or any other interest group for that matter.
The provisions of the Ghana Constitution lay the basis for the editorial and management independence of the state media. Indeed, the Constitution provides the basis for a genuinely independent public service GBC. Developments over the years, chequered and difficult though they may have been, had pointed to a progressive development of GBC asserting an independent character and functioning. The management's action tends to undermine this progress.
We urge the management and Board of Directors of GBC to urgently reinstate the four interdicted journalists and the Director of Television. The management must also take steps to assuage any impressions that GBC is beholden to any political or corporate forces, national or foreign, "strategic" or "ordinary".