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05.05.2006 Editorial

Excruciating damages - A threat to press freedom

By Ghanaian Chronicle

Last Wednesday was yet another World Press Freedom Day. For a land with a motto as 'Freedom and Justice', one would have expected that a lot of freedom, including that of the press, would prevail.

Yes, there is some level of relative freedom. This becomes manifest when we compare our present with our past and also with many of our neighbouring countries. Unfortunately however, those standards that we use in these comparisons are too low to serve as benchmarks for praising ourselves too quickly.

No meaningful press freedom can be achieved without an environment in which accessing public information is not hampered by red-tapeism.

Government has received a lot of adulation over the last number of years for expressing intentions of introducing two laws to facilitate easy access to official information; freedom of information and whistleblowers' laws, to facilitate easy access to official information.

All these intentions have without doubt scored for government many points. However, the intents have been on the backburner for far too long there is the need to show real commitment to these.

Even though today it is common for people of all categories of life to lambaste media practitioners for what is seen by some as recklessness in their trade, most of these concerns have also been carried by the same media.

There is no doubt that some persons who fall under the direct microscope of the media would feel some level of discomfort. However, some have taken advantage of this focus to address concerns and respond to the public thirst and hunger for responses.

But even as a section of the media tries to hold public officials accountable for their stewardship, another section, on the platform of praise-singing, persistently drown the voices of conscience.

Of course The Chronicle believes that human as they are, media practitioners would not always get it right. But sadly enough, in relation to public officials, usually politicians whose recklessness lead to a lot of taxpayers' money going waste and denying poor people of schools and hospitals, a sledge hammer is let loose on media practitioners, whose 'infractions' may arise and in attempting to rescue the state, get some things wrong.

'Irresponsible' is how the media has been described under these circumstances, which then brings up the question: What is responsible journalism? There is never a clear-cut answer to this, for the answer, more often than not, has depended on whether or not the respondent is occupying public office and has come under the scope of the media, and if so, how he/she was treated.

The recent excruciatingly high levels of damages awarded some politicians against some media houses by the courts of the land, without doubt had one purpose - to snuff them!

After all, a question that has not been answered - and the answer to which would determine whether politicians are deserving of these outrageous damages awarded against media houses - is whether politicians have reputations at all.

Interestingly, damages awarded in recent times raise the question of whether the levels are determined by the fact of whether the beneficiary is a politician belonging to a ruling party or not.

The Chronicle believes there is still a lot that media practitioners themselves can do, to lift the image of their profession, for increasingly they are being seen as instruments of politicians, which is not the best.

Ironically, our continent is loaded with politicians who would want to swim, and yet do not want to get wet.

After riding on the backs of the media to power, they think they have arrived and look down on practitioners with scorn.

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