Ex-GBA prez appeals and critiques press
THE MEDIA AS the fourth estate of the realm to relentlessly crusade against tyranny and injustice in society, expose corruption and inefficiency in government and above all to ensure transparency and accountability in government, yesterday was taken to the cleaners for not living up to expectation.
Various speakers at the Press Freedom Day did not mince words as they unleashed scurrilous attack on the press for the abuse of the repeal of the obnoxious criminal libel law.
As a word of cautioning, speakers prevailed upon the media to play its watchdog role instead of turning into what was described as, "furious attack dogs biting, tearing and even destroying the very persons and institutions they are charged with guarding."
Delivering key note address to mark the World Press Freedom Day, under the theme, "The Challenges of post-criminal libel law regime," the immediate past president of Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Mr. Paul Adu-Gyamfi, challenged the press to continue to strive hard for excellence, to seek for the truth at all times and ensure to find the factors which militate against nation building rather than yielding to pressures of the powerful in society.
According to him, it was unfortunate that members of the fourth estate have over politicized important issues that affect the nation, citing the debate of the National Health Insurance Scheme and the murder of Ya-Na as examples.
Mr. Adu-Gyamfi who condemned extreme sensation, mentioned 'wicked and unsubstantiated lies levelled against opponents on air-waves, deliberately planting injurious stories and falsehood in papers, fanning and encouragement of tribalism on our body politics' among others as issues that have characterized the media of late.
"The practice whereby some journalists deliberately plant injurious stories and falsehood in their papers to tarnish the hard-earned reputation of others is not only unprofessional but dishonourable and should therefore be stopped."
He pointed out that the greatest challenge facing Journalists in today's contemporary profession was "Journalistic self-abnegation," adding that the press must discipline itself by ensuring that it operates within the confines of its code of conduct and ethics.
Throwing more light on the Article 162 (5) of the constitution, the legal luminary observed that the primary aim of the constitution is to ensure national integration through good governance.
To this end, he said, "I call upon the government for a temporary freeze on overseas medical care for certain categories of persons in Ghana would not be misplaced," saying will enable the government to pay attention to existing facilities at our hospitals and clinics. He was of the hope that huge sums savings that the nation could make in a year would provide the seed money for the NHIS.
The former GBA President after taking the press to the cleaners noted that, in spite of the lapses and deficiencies complained of the press in Ghana, it has come a long way in its ardent search for free speech and transparency in government. "In the face of intimidation, harassment and imprisonment, you fought relentlessly with other civil societies for the repeal of Criminal Libel laws from our statute books.
The challenges facing the press and the media houses at this stage of our national development are enormous but not insurmountable."
The Minister of Information, Mr. Dan Kweku Botwe on his part, said the media's alertness to agenda is facilitated in an environment of media freedom. He said the government is committed to principles of democracy, freedom of the press and information, adding that to this end the government is giving a priority to the passage into law of the Right to Information Bill. "I can confirm that cabinet has given approval for the whistle blowers bill to be laid in parliament.
According to the Minister, it was unfortunate that the outcome of the repeal of the obnoxious criminal libel law has been the resultant exercise of a freedom enjoy by some media practitioners in a manner which would appear as if they have a license to throw important journalist principle away.
He noted that the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law in 2001 was a clear manifestation of the government's commitment to create an environment which would allow the media to play adequately as it plays its watchdog role on government. He stressed that Mr. Botwe stated that whilst the government will stay unwavering in respecting the freedom and independence of the media as a constitutional requirement, said it will not mince words in constantly reminding the Press that the media must live up to the demands placed on it by the same constitution.
He said journalists have the crucial role of protecting the fundamental human rights and freedoms of individuals as enshrined in our constitution, adding that press freedom will be meaningless if it displays mediocrity.
The Minister urged the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) to redouble its efforts in creating a sustainable sensitization programme for its members so that they will abide by the ethics of the profession and strive at all times for a balanced reporting. "I must stress that no one should ever feel that he knows enough or too much in his profession to learn or update what he knows. I also think that self regulation and peer pressure would help us improve sustain high standards and thereby render press freedom useful."
Ms Ajoa Yeboah, the president of GJA bemoaned the level of accusations of lack of professionalism on the art of sections of the media houses, adding that the abolition of the obnoxious criminal libel law has made things worse.
According to her repealing of the law encourages the practitioners to work with a sense of responsibility and professionalism. "We should not need legal penalties to obey our professional code."
She was of the view that in spite of the pitfalls of the sections of the press, the GJA executives will assist members and other practitioners to the best of their ability especially when a problem has been brought to their attention by the party or arties concerned.
The GJA lamented various libel suits filed against sections of the media due to the abuse of the abolition of the law.