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25.07.2005 Press Review

EDITORIAL: For a Free Press, the Siege Mentality Must Stop


News of the arrest of some media personnel from TV Africa, an Accra-based private television station, by presidential security guards stationed at the residence of the President, must be worrying to all who believe in the freedom of the media, and for that matter in upholding the Constitution.

The crew was arrested for filming the hotel building, the purchase of which has become a matter of national controversy, and a preliminary investigations by the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), is underway.

But more ominous, is the subsequent detention of the journalists involved, in the residence of the President.

This incident, coming also in the wake of incessant criticism of the critical press by the President and other leading government officials, makes it more grievous.

The Constitution, in Chapter five, under the 'Fundamental Human Rights And Freedoms,' guarantees that all persons shall be entitled to their personal liberties and 'no person shall be deprived of his personal liberty,' except under circumstances, clearly stipulated and which conforms to law.

Not long ago, under the National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration, Ghanaians were appalled at the news that some persons, arrested on some questionable allegations were detained in 'dungeons' at the Castle, which is the seat of government.

The public abhorrence of that act was expressed in a nation-wide condemnation, and the current President, had in recent times, cited that such low points in governance, were some of the regrettable incidents of the past, and promised they would not happen under his rule.

It was therefore shocking to hear that not only did presidential security men stationed in the office of the President arrest journalists carrying out their normal public duty without any justification, but they detained them in the president's private residence!

The reasons for the arrest, whether it was in enforcing the security of the president or of filming the property without permission, raises more questions on the circumstances of the acquisition of the hotel building by the eldest son of the President, John Addo Kufuor.

In the first place, assertions by some people that the original hotel owner might have been coerced in the negotiation for the purchase, by the use of security concerns was rebutted, with the argument that at no time was the place classified a security zone.

It would therefore be strange, if that rebuttal is to be believed, that state security personnel detailed to the president's residence would arrest journalists, based on security considerations.

In the first place, there has been a strong denial of the President's interest in the property, and therefore one wanders why his security would be deployed to protect that property.

Again, the argument of the television crew, seeking permission to film the property does not arise, because the property, as a hotel building, is going to be public anyway.

As was argued elsewhere, suggesting that it was an offence not to have sought permission before filming the property implies people cannot film anything without permission except their own selves, family members and properties. It would mean even in covering public functions one ought to be careful not to capture any none state properties without permission.

The Chronicle has recently cautioned against the threats to the press through fines by the courts, that from all indications cannot be enforced even through seizure of every asset of such press houses. They can only silence them.

The Chronicle would like to point out that the tagging of certain persons or professions as being anti to the status quo, especially by leaders, often sends signals to some of state agents with coercive force, to clamp down on the tagged.

After all, the signal is that the government, and for that matter, the Presidency is under siege! It must stop.

Finally, it is the hope of The Chronicle that we would not erode some of our achievements chalked and highlighted in the peer review mechanism report.