Is Media Freedom Threatened?
Accra, Feb. 23, GNA - Summing up a debate on the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law in Parliament, the then Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said the New Patriotic Party (NPP) had lived up to its electoral promise by repealing the law and that the freedom the Media needed to enhance the practice of democracy had been given to them.
He said if the press or journalists themselves did not defend the freedom and they allowed it to be taken or whittled away from them then they had themselves to blame.
Could it be said that unfolding events on the media scene justified the "prophetic" words of Nana Akufo-Addo? Freedom is given to Ghanaians and especially the Media not only to defend the Constitution but to be watchdogs of society. The Media are enjoined to be the watchdogs of society and furthermore hold the Government accountable to the people. Chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution refers.
This means a lot. Not even Parliament has that much power to hold the Executive accountable, since Members of Parliament (MPs) are sometimes whipped to toe the line of the Executive. The Executive arm of Government with its party machinery and its control of the coercive agents of State - Police, Military and Intelligence Service - can be overbearing and it is the Media that can bring out the excesses of the Executive if it decided to be reckless in the exercise of its powers.
With the coming into force of the Constitution, which allows political party pluralism with its attendant duties, obligations, responsibilities charged on the citizenry to enjoy their God-given rights, it would be wrong for an individual, a group of people or an organisation to constitute itself to overtly or covertly deprive any citizens of his or her rights.
For the Media to allow their rights to be taken or whittled away from them in the words of Nana Akufo-Addo would depend on the journalists themselves.
Herein lies the responsibility of the Media to allow charity to begin at home and that should be the norm. It is for every citizen to learn, tolerate, educate and to consciously contribute to the deepening of democratic practice that all yearned for and were enamoured about. It must be started from the home, offices, community level and to the national level. For anyone to become a tin god in his or her domain to censor free speech in any circumstances wherever constitutes the killing of democracy and the nascent of dictatorship.
The ideals of Ghana as a nation are not captured only in the Constitution but also in the Coat of Arms, National Pledge and National Anthem. For example, the National Anthem states: "To resist oppressors' rule with all our might' while the Coat of Arms has "Freedom and Justice".
Ghanaians' love of freedom has been demonstrated over the years since the Colonialists set foot on the shores of Ghana, through the shameful period of the slave trade and Colonialism to the post-Independence era.
To resist oppression one needs to know the factors either overt or covert that lead to tyranny. Over adulation, hero worship, sacrificing the truth for political expediency, over enthusiasm to please the powers that be could be dangerous. The Media should not be seen as propaganda machineries of the politician.
The Media would be destroying themselves from within if they turned on each other to fight the cause of politicians. Article 41(f) of the Constitution on the Directive Principles of State enjoins all Ghanaians to protect and preserve public property and to expose and combat misuse and waste of public funds and property. Exposition, is not defined, combat is not defined. But does one need a definition of all that? If that were done would it not be too restrictive? Is it not, therefore, advisable to allow conventions, usages and mores to develop since they are more enduring?
To be able to play their role the Media need to forge alliances, especially with the judiciary, instead of antagonising itself against other organisations as well but not worship them. The Media must be analytically critical. But when the courts extract "their pound of flesh" it is then and there that the Media should begin to remember that some of the richest people in Britain were said to be those, who have won libel or seditious suits. Yet the Media freedom flourishes there as it is said that although there are lions in the forest, the antelope survives.
By all means the Media should survive but when it shall do it will not chose as instrument those that destroyed it. Invariably, it is necessary for the Media to remember that it is not the praise singers, who are the heroes; it is the gallant that are welcomed back from the battlefield!
So everyone should understand that there is the need to forge compromises when it comes to statecraft.
Commissioning a new International Press Centre of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) in 2003, President John Agyekum Kufuor said there was a growing sense of unease among the citizenry that the freedom of the Media was being abused within certain sections and it was causing most responsible citizens to feel that the situation was tending to be more like the tyranny of the Media and that some were saying that the Media wanted to set the agenda for the governance of the State. In that address the President pointed out many aspects of the Media that were of concern and said: "Even those in public office deserve some consideration from being constantly pilloried unnecessarily as is now becoming the order of the day."
Taken within a context Ghana is mirrored through the Media. While Ghanaians would easily forgive other professionals with the excuse that: "It is the one that goes to the riverside to fetch water that breaks the pot," they are not that charitable when it comes to mistakes in the Media.
In the case of the Media if a mistake is made and a pot is broken, so much noise is made.
Dr Kwabena Adjei, Chairman of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), was very acrid about a section of the Media when he addressed his maiden press conference on January 12, 2006, in Accra.
He accused a section of the Media of blowing out of proportion the violence that took place during the NDC's congress in Koforidua as compared to the various acts of violence that were visited on some members of New Patriotic Party (NPP) during its constituency and national conference. Dr Adjei drew attention of all Ghanaians to what Henry Kissinger once said: "Issues ignored are crises ensued."
President Kufuor said at the inauguration of the Press Centre: "Doubtless, there is a learning process for all sectors of society as we try to nurture our democracy. The Media cannot be set apart as the only section that is all knowing. Any suggestion of omniscience leads to pretentiousness, which then tends to all sorts of breaches and abuses of other people's rights and social values." One would, however, add that by the nature of their profession the Media are better placed to have their ears on the ground. It is those that are down the ladder that need the Media to fight for them.
If the Media should decide to compromise their role as watchdogs of the rights of the down trodden, the weak, the ignorant and the deprived, because of monetary or political considerations, then the death knell of "Freedom and Justice" would have been sounded. The prophetic words of Former Prime Minister, Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia, who incidentally is one of the founders to the political tradition that is currently ruling the country, should re-echo in the ears of the present Executive: "Power is red; it is sweet and intoxicating."