The evening of last Friday, October 14, 2005 saw The Chronicle office inundated with calls from persons who wanted to find out if the editor and his assistant were safe or in the grips of the police.
It was sparked by a police public affairs directorate news release of that day circulated to media houses that: 'two editors of the paper, Kojo Omaboe and his assistant, Jonathan Ato Kobbie were interviewed at the CID Headquarters to assist the Police identify the writer, William Antwi, alias Bafo Oyoo Busanga, who is alleged to be domiciled in the USA,' in connection with a feature article published by the paper the previous day.
The Editor of the paper was indeed at the Police Headquarters last Friday, in response to an invitation from the Director of CID the previous day, where his statement was taken. The assistant editor was also there.
The release further sought to set the records straight on the 'per diem allowance paid to public servants including the President, on official trips abroad' with figures sourced to the Auditor-General indicating a range of $70 to $478.80.
In the first place The Chronicle is happy that through the publication of the feature under reference, titled, THE PRESIDENT AND HIS PER DIEM ALLOWANCE = 'LEGALISED STEALING', Ghanaians have been provided with some figures on officials' per diem that they can work with.
It is regrettable, however, that the publication may have embarrassed the President, which was in no way what the reproduction of it by The Chronicle was intended to achieve.
We believe, however, that these official figures on per diem allowances, are information that could have been provided the public, without the involvement of national security.
The release stated also that 'The Editor and his deputy are so far co-operating in the investigations and are also conducting their own investigations as to how the story, posted on the Ghanaweb, was published in their paper.'
It was unfortunate for the police to suggest, by this statement, that the editors did not know how the article in contention was published in the paper, when the editor had clearly stated that in his statement to them.
In the IPI 2004 World Press Freedom Review's commentary on Africa under the title, 'Striking Your Own Shadow,' appears the following:
'One of the most common complaints from the governments on the continent is that the independent media makes mistakes. But, these comments are said without thought being given to the government's own role in this process. While ministers sit on the sidelines criticizing journalists for their reporting, they forget that they preside over ministries and sit in governments that have no interest in providing information to journalists.'
This observation is apt, for on the morning of the publication, the minister of information had in a radio interview denied knowledge of what the level of government officials' per diem was – because he had not travelled!
The president's press secretary, once confronted on radio by a member of the opposition who had alleged that government officials were receiving $1,000 as per diem, challenged the figure, and yet refused to state what it was when requested to do so. To the analytical mind it could either be more than the figure mentioned or less.
These situations certainly lead to an information vacuum that is filled elsewhere. The IPI commentary has it that: 'In reality, the independent media in Africa, as elsewhere, are the shadows of government. The media exists to examine and review its work, to investigate the claims of politicians and to write stories on corruption and intrigue. That is the standard of fair of journalism the world over.'
Any attempts at striking journalists are akin to striking at one's own shadow.
'The damage caused is really to the government's own credibility and reputation,' the IPI commentary had concluded.
In conclusion, the police statement sought to remind 'the public that it is an offence under Section 208 of Act 29/60 to 'publish or reproduce any information, statement, or rumour which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public knowing or having reason to believe that the statement, rumour which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public knowing or having reason to believe that the statement, rumour, report is false.'
As regards this Section of the criminal code that the release referred to, indeed, it was our knowledge of that provision, that in our editorial of Tuesday September 27, 2005 titled 'Scare-mongering and Internal Security,' we had reminded the security agencies of the responsibility on them to investigate publications of assassination plots or coup plots!
As to how the publication of 'rumours' of fantastic per diem allowance is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public, we leave that to the state security.
The Chronicle would want to assure its numerous readers that there is no cause for alarm, as we are neither intimidated nor are we in any way cowed by this development.
We shall continue, however, to offer the platform for all, in our quest to expand the frontiers of free expression.