Ghana: Media freedom not a license

Caleb Kudah, a Citi FM journalist ventures into the grounds of the offices of Ghana’s National Security and starts taking shots of the premises against the notices and the norms and practices pertaining to such places. He is caught and detained and later released for the day, only for him to report the following day that he had been physically manhandled. Not long after, the news media, civil society organizations, politicians and a myriad of people, particularly critics of the government emerge condemning the action of the security personnel who did a job on the young man. Arguments begin to rage over the government’s poor media credentials and the National Security’s handling of the issue.

Freedom of the press as enshrined in Ghana’s 1992 constitution is an entrenched provision. And further to that provision is the repeal of the criminal libel law by the Kufuor administration of the New Patriotic Party.

Media watcher, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), a constant critic of the ruling government states that press freedom violations in Ghana are near alarming proportions. The organization listed 31 violations affecting 40 victims in the 18 months leading to July 2019. It must be mentioned that relations between the media and the current administration have not been rosy in spite of the stated commitment of the government to free press and democracy.

Caleb Kudah, the unsolved death of investigative journalist Ahmed Suale appears to depart from the president’s declared preference for a free press as against a sycophantic one and the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law in 2005. There have been a few media run-ins with the government that seem to run against the grain. Consequent to the challenges is gradually emerging an adversarial press, something the political opposition appears to welcome to its advantage.

There is a history of adversarial media in Ghana that dates back since independence. Some opposition newspapers, among which is The Ashanti Pioneer were subjected to constant harassment by state agents. Some not-so-lucky ones were jailed without trial under the then Preventive Detention Act of 1959.

Kudah’s incidence is not an uncommon occurrence. Amandla does not endorse the application of physical or corporal punishment in such cases as it was in his case. But the confrontational nature of the incidence questions the motive of the journalist. Was politics in the details? Who pulled the strings and why? These and many more inquiries could be raised. Each incidence of violence against journalists in Ghana is different. In some cases it is the delay in seeking justice as in the case of Ahmed Suale. Sometimes the lack of interest in the incidence becomes an issue with the press. There are a myriad of situations.

The trending #Fixthenation campaign by some youths became a welcome proposition for the adversarial media to increase its pressure on government. It shows their determination to put unnecessary pressure on government. Opposition political parties ride on the backs of pressure groups and civil society organizations that are also antagonistic to government causes and policies.

Ever since the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, challenges to free press have become endemic. Ghanaians have grown more cynical of government owing mostly to press reports. Most often freedom of speech has been misconstrued to be insults and innuendoes against politicians. Lies and half-truths, as well as misrepresentations by the media put authorities on the defensive for no reason. In the circumstances of the diarrhea of criticisms and counter suggestions to most of everything the government does and says, it is strange for someone looking on from the outside to conclude that Ghana is engulfed by the culture of silence. Social media has become a menacing stream of public discourse that is highly unpredictable. It has become a vehicle for good and the bad and it is fluid and unstoppable. Information flow and expression have become so fluid in our times that it is difficult to discern truth from falsehood.

The challenges of free press notwithstanding, Ghana continues to maintain a relatively liberal media environment. No one is asking the media to agree with government all the time, but Amandla is asking for a compromise where the media must recognize the borders not to cross, especially where national security is concerned. An adversarial media does not necessarily connote unpatriotic behavior. The line must be drawn between disagreement and hatred. And political differences do not discount love of country.

As the saying goes, “country broke or country no broke we all dey inside.”

Posted by on May 30 2021. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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