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10.05.2019 Feature Article

When The Media Is Under Threat

When The Media Is Under Threat
MAY 10, 2019 FEATURE ARTICLE

If we think we have freedom and exercise that freedom without regard for the interest of the people we are living with, then we are destroying the foundations of that freedom”, Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh.

Everywhere in the world, people hold high their freedoms; others before us have died so that generations after them would have their freedoms. It is sad though that sometimes those of us, who shout our voices hoarse about our freedoms to do one thing or another, give very little attention to the fact that the twin brother of freedom is responsibility. I remember my Government tutor used to tell us: “Your freedom ends where my nose begins”. He explained that by saying that everyone has the freedom to swing their arms anyhow and in any direction. But that act should not touch another person's nose because the other person also has the right to a nose that is not bruised by the exercise of freedoms by another person.

Modern societies have come to appreciate that in the governance process, there must be an arm which is not directly part of government in terms of decision-making and implementation on behalf of the people, but has the responsibility towards society to analyse those decisions and their implementations as best as possible with regard to the effect of those decisions and policies on the people for whom those decisions are being taken. And that is the Media.

In all societies, leaders at all levels have not been comfortable with the media for its watchdog role of bringing out for public scrutiny what otherwise would have been hidden even though it is supposed to be done in the public interest. Even in the most advanced democracies, leaders are not comfortable with the performance of journalists as long as they are critical of their actions.

The works of Julien Assange over the past few years which exposed many governments the world over about acts that are supposed to be done in the name of the citizenry but hidden from them, and the threat on the freedoms of Assange, who in recent times had to secure asylum in a foreign Mission in the UK, is a clear case of how uncomfortable people are when their clandestine activities are exposed.

Many journalists have died all over the world for doing their jobs; others find themselves in jail for doing their jobs. Ghana as a nation has come a long way since the Fourth Republican dispensation. The media space has been enlarged and it keeps on growing. The unipolar electronic medium that had existed through a greater part of our independence, gave way to multipolar media thus giving voices to the majority of the people who were made to just listen to what were being said without the opportunity to make their views also heard.

Excellent as it is, the pluralistic nature of the media has also come along with its abuses. The addition of the social media whose contributors are anonymous and the postings of what has also become the 'Fake News' syndrome occupying a huge media space, has diluted the credibility of the larger media in a way. While some journalists have held unto the professional ethics of the calling, it is also true that some mercenaries parading themselves as journalists and using blackmail to extort monies from 'wrongdoers' in the society, have become rife.

Wrong pronunciations of words and malapropism have become the norm rather than the exception on many electronic media in recent times. Stories are not properly verified and in the haste to have a scoop, they are put out there with the attendant consequences of tarnishing the images of some innocent people.

Very bad though the situation might be, the solution to it is not to engage in personal and violent attacks of journalists to the point that they feel insecure living in this country or sleeping in their homes. When within the week I heard from Prof. Kwame Karikari that Mr. Manasseh Azure of Multi Media news outlet, Joy News, in particular has been hounded out of this country by some goons threatening his life over a story he made a few months back, I thought it was a dream. I have no reason to disbelieve Prof. Karikari, a respected professor of Communication Studies who taught many of us formally and informally in journalism.

And again, the gentleman who had a phone chat with my very good friend and brother, Mr. Rockson Bukari, who until the playback of the interview was working in the Office of the President, is also under threat from some anonymous people for making public what was supposed to be a private conversation between the two people.

While I condemn the unethical behaviour of the journalist in this regard, I do not think that threat to his life is the answer. I condemn his behaviour because even in the laws of this country, one requires the permission of another to record any conversation going on between them. For him therefore to have recorded Mr. Bukari without his knowledge and goaded him on to say many of the things he said during the chat was wrong. The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) must also let its members know the limits to which public trusts in the media practitioners could be used to tarnish the reputation of individuals. I am sure if Mr. Bukari was aware that the gentleman was recording him, he would not say some of the things he said.

No matter how abhorring some of the works of some journalists might seem, the solution to those aberrations does not rest with threats on their lives. In fact, even in the heady days of the PNDC/NDC, the tools used against some of us 'too know journalists' was the obnoxious criminal libel law which was repealed by the erstwhile Kufuor administration and was championed by his Minister for Justice and Attorney General who is now the President of the Republic.

I was a victim who had free accommodation at the James Town Prisons for a number of days, but do not remember anytime I felt threatened with my life under the PNDC/NDC for my views as a journalist. Someone drew my attention last weekend to the fact that over the past three weeks, the NPP has not been appearing on the NewsFile current affairs programme and it is a protest by the party as regards some stories the media house has been churning out to the public.

If the absence of the NPP on this programme is indeed a protest, then the party should remind itself of what the NDC did to some media houses and what the outcome was subsequently. If journalists should feel threatened in this country, it should not be under the NPP administration led by Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. Journalists are human beings, and more so in this era of mass unemployment which has created fake professionals and media employers not really checking the backgrounds of people who want to work with them, these professional aberrations are likely to rear their ugly heads.

The question is: which profession has angels as its members – lawyers, teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers – you name it. Professional politicians are the worst, tearing this country apart and making lives uncomfortable for the majority. In spite of that, they still walk with their chests out. We have problems with the media today – yes it is true – but any nation which puts a padlock on the mouth of conscience, allows ideas to rot in vaults of silence. Ghana cannot go back to the culture of silence with threats on media practitioners.

Daavi, some three tots to check my how far.

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From Kwesi Biney

Kwesi Biney
Kwesi Biney, © 2019

This author has authored 83 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KwesiBiney

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