Freedom of the press has been explained by various sources but I find suitability in the one provided by Wikipedia. It reads “freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the principle that communication and expression through various media, including printed and electronic media especially published material, should be considered a right to be exercised freely. Such freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state; its preservation may be sought by constitutional or other legal protections.”
The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “ Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expressions; this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.
In Ghana, the freedom and independence of the media is guaranteed in article 162 of the 1992 constitution of Ghana. Article 162(3) specifically and explicitly stipulates “there shall be no impediments to the establishment of a private press or media: and in particular, there shall be no law requiring any person to obtain a licence as a prerequisite to the establishment or operation of a newspaper, journal or other media for mass communication or information”
The wisdom of the framers of the constitution anticipated that government one day may want to use power excessively to curtail the media from executing its role of keeping government responsible and accountable to the citizenry. I also opine that freedom of the media is an extension of the fundamental human rights of citizens as enshrined in the constitution, particularly, article 21(1) which states that “All persons shall have the right to: (1) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media��. Any attempt by any individual, group or government to suppress media freedom is an absolute infringement of the fundamental human rights of the citizens and must be resisted.
Media freedom and the existence of fundamental human rights are the fundamental pillars of every democratic dispensation. The two pillars are therefore sine qua non to democracy. It is for this reason that the media is largely described as the fourth state of the Realm.
The role of media in democratic governance is very critical and virtually immeasurable. Any country that wants to make progress must have much respect for media freedom. Indeed, the president of Ghana, H.E Nana Akufo Addo is one of the most respectable human right activists in Ghana. He earned this accolade predating his political escapades, especially when he was still an active legal practitioner. Even in his days of opposition, he remained consistent when it came to issues of human rights. Frankly speaking, his human rights activism in the past is not in doubt.
Conversely, after the human right lawyer gained political power, his actions and inactions and the turn of affairs under his governance question his past glory and credentials. The niche he hitherto occupied is being withered by his own posturing just like the leaves of the savanna tree whose leaves wither within the shortest possible time of seasonal change. Why do I say that?
Our president promised us of using the “Anas principle” as an approach to fighting corruption. I was excited because that approach would have been very effective considering the many explosives exposes brought out by Anas and his team. The name Anas alone scares so many public office holders from engaging in this act of “mass murder” through which millions of state resources are diverted into individual pockets. I had no doubt at the time because the president rode on the back of corruption for political power. He consistently described the erstwhile John Dramani Mahama led administration as a corrupt government whilst touting himself as incorruptible. Even though I always insist that corruption is a complex phenomenon and does not take individual credentials to defeat, the alacrity and consistency in the words of the president in his days of opposition, gave me unbridled confident in him. Unfortunately time has soon exposed the commitment of the president in the fight against this social canker. Perhaps, I may have to believe the words of Abraham Lincoln that “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Now let me help my readers recall some chronology of events so that we can all make our own judgment.
In June 2018, the entire nation was scandalized and in absolute profound depression after watching an investigative documentary done and premiered by the veteran investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas. In that investigative piece dubbed “Anas number 12” the then Ghana Football Association president was caught on camera scheming and subsequently accepting bribes using the name of GFA and his position against the interest of Ghana. The most surprising aspect was when our president Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo Addo was dragged into this scandalous act. The pronouncement made in the video by Mr. Kwasi Nyantakyi, without prejudice made the president of the republic of Ghana complicit.
Ordinarily, the office of the president was put into disrepute and international ridicule. The opprobrium that started greeting the face of the president made him to act in a rather unprecedented manner by making a complaint against Nantakyi. We were made to believe that the president would use the law court to prove his innocence and also, possibly, prosecute Nyantakyi. To the surprise of all, Nyantakyi was arrested and granted bail and the matter ended there. For the first time that we had a president becoming a complainant in such a scary corrupt explosive scandal, many social commentators and political pundits anticipated that Nyantakyi could not escape from the web of charges that would emanate from the tables of the Attorney General. Lo and behold, the anticipated legal banter ended at the point Nyantakyi was granted bail. Government claimed that it had no enough evidence to prosecute him. Isn’t this U-turn questionable?
Now, all of a sudden government communicators started attacking Anas Aremeyaw. An NPP member of parliament promised to expose Anas through a counter documentary which he actually advertised. Some of us who watched it after it was premiered saw it as a total waste of precious time. The “who watches the watchman” short video did not make any sense to many Ghanaians. Clearly, it was an attempted equalization strategy by government championed by the loud mouth, Kennedy Agyapong. After this video could not achieve its intended purpose, Kennedy and other surrogates of government started throwing so many allegations on Anas. The insults, particularly, from Kennedy Agyapong through his own network, NET2Tv, were very consistent. In all these, our president, a hitherto renowned human right activist was silent.
These vitriolic attacks got to a crescendo when Kennedy Agyapong displayed pictures of Ahmed Hussein Suale, an associate of Anas Aremeyaw. He urged others to beat him should they see him. The president was mute and never condemned or called for the arrest of Hon Kennedy Agyapong.
Eventually, on 16th January, 2019, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Ahmed Suale. Many Ghanaians and international communities expected that Kennedy Agyapong would be arrested immediately for interrogation but to the dismay of all, the said Member of Parliament was still ranting and booming around. After all, his party is in power and nobody can touch him. How can such happen in a democratic dispensation?
You would recall that some media groups came together known as “Media Coalition Against Galamsey” (MCAG) to start an agenda against the activities of illegal mining after enough evidence was shown in the media that the destruction caused on the environment especially water bodies had reached a point where lives were significantly endangered. The government later decided to take the fight up and as a result, through a special force called Operation Vanguard, illegal miners were arrested, others shot and killed. There were media reports that some foreigners who were still engaging in this illegal mining were having the tacit endorsement of politicians. Indeed, when Mr. Adeti, Starr FM reporter tried exposing the under dealings of a Chinese mining company, Shaanxi Mining Company Limited and a senior Judge Justice Jacob B. Boon, a minister of state at the presidency, Rockson Ayine Bukari who is also the former minister of the Upper East Region stepped in to cover up for the Chinese Company. Bukari doled out some monies and goodies as bribes to Adeti. Unfortunately on the part of Bukari, Adeti reneged to compromise his journalistic standards. The ensuing matters after that expose was yet another test case for the president’s commitment to media freedom. Sadly, Adeti’s house was attacked and vandalized by unknown people. In all of these, the president was mute. Even though Bukari resigned, the manner in which the journalist was treated without any firm and bold condemnation from the president left many of us in doubt of this government commitment to media freedom. It is too obvious that this government under the watch of a human right activist is institutionalizing a culture of silence. This has really made many journalists either mute or praise singing the government at the time corruption has become an operative golden stick for the president himself. How comes ministers of state in the presidency are engaging in these shameful acts without prosecution? Those that rather expose them are rather the target for persecution.
Another incident of government’s shameful attack on media freedom is the persecution of Manasseh Awuni Azuure who also through another investigative documentary exposed how government was condoning the training of militia groups hiding under the name of a private security company called the De-Eye. After this expose, party people perhaps some of the NPP party hoodlums rained death threats on Azure for exposing the training of a militia group at the time the major discourse was how to curb the dreadful canker of political vigilantism in the country. Indeed, Manasseh had to take refuge in another country. The president was comfortably silent. What a democracy!!
Recently, the government through National Communication Authority closed down some media houses that are known in constantly criticizing the ills of government. They hide under the guise of regulation to target those stations. The timing of the closure of radio XYZ and Radio Gold exposed the motive of a government that appears visionless and resort to go after people who want to be citizens and not spectators- a call by the president. Government communicators have since been justifying the illegal closure and the attempt to gag everybody, civil society groups, the moral society and the media into absolute silence and allow the more than 112 ministers to act out their comedy of lies, corruption, profligacy, arrogance and extravagance.
I am not surprised that Ghana performed poorly in the 2019 Press Freedom Index report prepared by Reporters Without Borders. Ghana was ranked 27 as against 23 in 2018. The Ghana that was known to be a beacon of hope for African democracy is fast retrogressing and fast losing that accolade under the watch of President Akufo Addo.
There is potential danger when we suppress press freedom especially at the same time that we have a very wobbly security situation where murder, armed robbery and kidnapping become the order of the day. The situation must be salvaged now or we all perish together.
Ghanaians must speak out because we used so many years to build an enviable democracy and must not sit down and watch desperate politicians who think tyranny has a place in contemporary democracies. Martin Luther King Jr. opined that “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that, by the good people”.
It is no longer easy to criticize and expose the ills of government because of the vindictiveness of the NPP government but we must be courageous to protect our rights as enshrined in the 1992 constitutions. The convenience of not saying anything to avoid being the target of attacks, false accusations and slander is an indication of being complicit to a system that can eventually cause a greater pain to the majority of the citizenry.
Media freedom is a fundamental pillar to democracy and anybody that stands against it is a threat to democracy and must be resisted forcefully.
May the Almighty God and the gods of ancestor intercede for our beloved country.
I shall soon return on issues of responsible citizenship in the fight against terrorist attacks.
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