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16.07.2019 Article

Akufo-Addo Gov't Isn’t Press-Friendly, Seriously?

By Bernard Asubonteng
Akufo-Addo Gov't Isn’t Press-Friendly, Seriously?

The Freedom House—US-based independent nonprofit watchdog NGO devoted to the strong promotion of free speech and human rights ideals around the globe—posted on its website or included some disturbing quotations in its Freedom In The World Report 2017. The quotations below were taken from some of the world leaders; and, before providing their names, let anyone try first to guess which presidents/prime ministers made these mean-spirited comments about their respective countries’ media.

  1. “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human
    beings on earth.”

  2. “I’ve argued with [the media] that they were never elected, we were elected and we
    can claim that we represent the people.”

  3. “Know your place… shameless militant woman disguised under the name of a

  4. “Some of you [journalists] are dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes.”

Regarding the first quote above, if your response is President Donald Trump of the United States of all democratic countries, then you’re 100% correct. The current US president can’t stand the media, especially the ones that do not stoke his superego nor show loyalty to his self-centeredness. The number two quotation is made by the former South African president Jacob Zuma; while the third and fourth comments come from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia, respectively.

Most likely, some readers may question the relevance of the inclusion of the four preceding quotes in this conversation. But, let’s try to think together here: Imagine the Ghanaian media, as well as the ideas-challenged main opposition party National Democratic Congress (NDC), wake up to the news that President Akufo-Addo has advised the nation’s media operatives to strive to treasure free speech while in the same breath warned journalists/reporters to always try not to present national issues based on “fake news” and irresponsible media practice under the pretext of free press? What will be Ghanaians’ response to this hypothetical scenario or in case Nana Addo had said even less than one-millionth of a fraction of what President Trump, Erdoğan, or Zuma, said above?

Certainly, the media’s reactions, and specifically that of the NDC’s insults-laced propaganda communication team will be swift and cynical in its habitual familiarity. Needless to say, the Mahama-bankrolled main opposition party’s lackeys will vent their spleens out with stage-managed shock and anger, coupled with disorganized press conferences and victory laps to boot, telling those gullible Ghanaians how the current NDC leadership has been “vindicated” loud and clear that Nana Akufo-Addo is not true advocate of human rights and press freedom as he claims to be.

No doubt, if the metrics—regarding how productive or viable an opposition party is—are determined along the lines of horrid propaganda, lies, fear-mongering, I-told-you-so mentality, and obstructionist sensibilities, Ghana’s main opposition NDC party is peerless in all the foregoing infamous categories in the nation’s body politic in recent memory. The obvious frustration is that although the cold facts sharply contradict the seemingly latter-days common refrain in some sections of the country that press freedom is under attack, still many Ghanaians allow themselves to be misled by NDC’s scripted melodramas, in addition to the whimpering cries from some media practitioners who may not want to understand the contemporary definition of free press.

Those of us who value and know the global reputation/integrity of the Freedom House, including the civil rights/liberties ideals they staunchly promote around the world since early 1940s, the reports that come from this human rights organization are held in high esteem not only by democracy advocates but also in the political science community as well.

In its annual report of 2017, the Freedom House had the following to say as regards the Mahama-led NDC government’s handling of an incident involving a Ghanaian journalist(s). It reads: “Despite a statement from [then President] Mahama aide that the [then] president would look into the actions of presidential staffer Stan Dogbe, who allegedly attacked a journalist in 2015, there seemed to be no investigation in 2016. Dogbe continued to serve in his position during the year” (Freedom Report, 2017).

Evidently, individuals who do not see the worth of raw data or just believe that one can make sense of any reality by applying “alternative facts” are perhaps the ones accusing Nana Akufo-Addo and his ruling NPP regime of intolerance of press freedom. In fact, the data/facts on the grounds as compiled by the Freedom House for the past three years (remember, they’ve been doing this for nearly 70 years!) seriously undermine the rumors or suggestions among some people in the country that Ghanaian press is somehow experiencing incremental media suppression. Are we Serious? Where does this come from?

Of course, no one is saying everything in the country is flowering roses under the current administration. Indeed, there are items on this president and his government’s To Do List; and, they’re aware of this fact. But, to keep saying that Ghana under President Akufo-Addo is undergoing “media oppression” is one sure way of engaging in hyperbolic overkill, to say the least.

Again, some comparative analyses or global rankings of countries by the Freedom House in terms of political and civil liberties—which include press freedom—for the years 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, show Ghana scoring higher than many, many nation-states in Africa and around the world. For instance, in 2017 while the U.S. aggregate score was 89, Ghana stood at 83; South Africa was 78; Nigeria was 50; UAE (Dubai) was 20, and China 15. In 2018, too, US scored 86; Ghana 83; South Africa 78; Nigeria 50; Dubai 17; and China 14. The year 2019 has U.S. at 86; Ghana still at 83; South Africa 79; Nigeria 50; Dubai 17; and China at 11 out of 100 points.

Bear in mind before Nana Addo assumed office in 2017, Ghana was still pegged at 83 in 2016 out of the highest aggregate score of 100! Based on this well-researched statistics, how can any fair-minded person claim Ghana under the current regime isn’t media friendly because press freedom is deteriorating in Ghana? Free press also means free flow of ideas and information from both ends of the sociopolitical spectrums. In other words, the media/journalists must be allowed to disseminate information to the public without needless interference much the same way the consuming public or the government also has the right to challenge some information it deems unfair or inaccurate.

If the press is the “Fourth Estate” of the government (which I agree), then it’s fair to make a case that the principle of checks and balances must equally apply to the media activities. None of us will find a country today that practices genuine democracy in which its written/unwritten constitution allows the citizens or the press has unfiltered access to every information or put out news to the public without any sense of responsibility or consideration of national security and ethical constraints. Let’s understand that every constitution, by its very nature, is an enabling as well as restraining instrument, in that it lists the Dos and Don’ts within the society. Pointing out the Don’ts or some of the excesses of the media is not against the concept of press freedom.

Bernard Asubonteng is a US-based writer and Ph.D. candidate for public policy with specialization in foreign policy. Email: [email protected]

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