BEDROCKS OF DEMOCRACY: FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION, HOW IS FAIR IS GHANA FAIRING TODAY?

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression, are the very core of any thriving democracy in any part of the world. Democracy watchers over the world, have had to take the pain to measure the extent to which in every practicing democracy from across the world, the freedoms and liberties of citizens in the expression of their thoughts and dissent, are allowed in a state. Ghana, a nation that has come to accept democracy and had returned to constitutional rule since 1993, has made a commitment to uphold the tenets of democracy and had affirmed its commitment to upholding the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

 

Over the years, efforts have been made to ensure that we improve on the freedoms citizens are expected to enjoy. The press, has been given the space to operate. This resulted in the proliferation of media houses – print and electronic, producing information for the masses. Deservedly, the media has been unofficially named the 4th estate of the real, playing a role significant after the three arms of government – Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary in that order to ensure that the principles of accountability does not get compromised where any or all of the arms of government decide to collaborate to deprive the state of its resources.

 

Ghana has made significant progress on the freedom the media had been guaranteed to operate without interference in its work. We consistently made progress and eventually became the first in Africa to have guaranteed the most freedom to the media. Unfortunately, in the 2018 Press Freedom Index ranking, Ghana slipped 4 points to 27 down from 23 in 2018 following what is regarded as attack on media men. This slip also dropped Ghana from its enviable 1st spot to 4th in Africa. In a report published by Reporters Without Boards in 2019 it states, “Ghana has lost its status as Africa’s best-ranked country in the World Press Freedom Index. A group of investigative journalists had to spend part of 2018 in hiding after producing a documentary about Ghanaian soccer corruption. A ruling party parliamentarian who had been named in the documentary publicly threatened one of the journalists without ever being sanctioned. The journalist was shot dead in the street a few months later” (follow link to read full publication https://rsf.org/en/ghana).

 

Since assumption of power in 2017 by the current government, there have been activities of government and its party officials that have consistently brought about fear in the discharge of duties of journalists whose work were considered detrimental to the regime. It must be emphasized, that, democracy does not connote a system of government in which the ruler must be pleased with pleasant speeches. It is a room for dissent, an avenue for individuals to participate freely and easily in voicing their contrary opinions to those in power. It includes the revelations of ills in society, which requires the attention of those who have the power to make the needed change.

 

Since the airing of #12, an investigative piece by Anas Aremeyaw Anas and his Tiger Eye PI group, there have been many efforts at bastardizing their work. There have been many attempts to clamp down on their activities because their documentary sought to uncover corruption that took them close to the seat of government. Since that expose, government officials, some of whom stood behind the said Tiger Eye in the past over their investigative pieces, have called into question, the credibility of the team. These individuals have soon forgotten that corruption uncovered using same means in the past, have had their full endorsements.

 

This resulted to a Member of Parliament, and a leading member of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr. Kennedy Agyarpong, unveiling on live television, the identity of an undercover journalist with the Tiger Eye PI group, Ahmed Sualey, and encouraged the public to beat him. This young man was subsequently beaten and killed by men we are yet to prosecute to serve justice to the family of the late Ahmed. Whether the gruesome murder is related to the conduct of the Member of Parliament or not, his actions preceded the killing. A reckless and unguarded conduct of revealing the identity of a journalist whose work posed very high risk to his life, led to his eventual identity and murder. The nation is yet to witness an invitation to the said Member of Parliament in this regard.

 

Men were sent after the lead journalist in this whole business, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. For him, he escapes perhaps because his real identity has not been bandied about as done with his colleague. Readers would recall that some images were released into the public with a similar attempt to uncover his real identity, except that it failed because the actors were completely not aware who is and who is not Anas. His story would also have been different had efforts to uncover him succeeded.

 

Again, since the publication and broadcasting of a documentary exposing government’s use of state facilities to train party militia groups at the Osu Castle, Mr. Manasseh Azure, another investigative journalist, has been on the run for his life. Indeed, on the platform that assessed the performance of Ghana on the Press Freedom Index, Professor Kwame Karikari revealed how resources have had to be mobilized to whisk Mr. Azure out of the country over attempts to kill him. Mr. Azure, before his rescue, had, on numerous occasions, reported threats to his personal life since airing that documentary that exposed government’s complacency in the fight against vigilantism and the actual release of a state security facility like the Osu Castle for the training of party militia groups whose leaders were enthused about the president’s applaud to their work.

 

It must also be established, that, Mr. Azure has been an avowed critic of the erstwhile John Mahama administration. Indeed, Mr. Manasseh Azure was the one who reported a supposed bribe claimed to have been received by the then president John Dramani Mahama. That supposed bribe is a vehicle that remains part of the fleet of the current government headed by Mr. Akufo-Addo. In the heat of this, Mr. Azure launched a book and invited President Mahama who honoured the invitation and bought the book for Ghc13,000.00 (equivalent of $3,400.00 then) in the midst of vile allegations against him by the same Azure.

 

Further, recently, there was an audio leak of a Minister of State at the Presidency, Mr. Rockson Bukari in which he was allegedly heard negotiating with a journalist with Starr FM, Edward Adeti to cover up a story he obtained bothering on activities of galamsey which the minister is said to have been deeply involved in. Since releasing that audio recording and the subsequent resignation of Mr. Bukari, Mr. Adeti has been on the run over threats against his life. He was merely discharging his duty by safeguarding the good of the state against miscreants who use state power for their personal gains.

 

In the past few weeks, the media has come under state attack in the name of enforcing a supposed law. Let’s even grant that even though against concerns raised by Hon. Okudzeto Ablakwah who actually reviewed the ruling of the Electronic Communications Tribunal (ECT) on Pan African TV to the effect that the National Communications Authority (NCA) lost the case and quashed all fines imposed on the media houses that were involved in the case, let’s grant that the law and was being enforced.

 

Before the closure of the two radio stations, Radio Gold and Radio XYZ on the same day, 9th May, 2019, there was an application letter for renewal of license before the NCA. Per the NCAs own correspondence, on item number 19 (attached to this publication), it indicated that on 12 January 2018, following previous declines, Radio Gold submitted a fresh application to NCA for renewal of its license and paid the fees required. According to the NCA, because of a case pending before the ECT, it was unable to process the request for renewal.      

 

One may ask, since the ruling quashed all outstanding obligations of Radio Gold, was it not prudent that the NCA proceeded to process the application for renewal of authorization with it and conclude on whether or not they are granting the application before acting in the manner they did? Must the regulator not be seen to be ensuring that it helps build and sustain as many outlets as possible instead of being in a hurry to collapse media outlets it oversees?

 

Again, the question that remain unanswered is that, why shut down two opposition media houses simultaneously only at a time they were both broadcasting live, paid for press conference by the Council of Elders of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) on the matter of ‘harassment’ of its party Chairman, Samuel Ofosu Ampofo? Was the right thing not to have been evidence of letter issued to the effect for the said radio station to meet its obligation failure of which we would have seen what we saw?

 

There have been several efforts, needless as they appear, to insulate the government from this conduct that projects Ghana in a bad light when issues of press freedom is discussed. Who heads the National Communications Authority? Is he not an appointee of the president? In this very case, is he not a member of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP)? And, does not the decisions of NCA start and stop with him?

 

In all of these, it would be appropriate to evaluate the freedom the press is expected to enjoy since 2017. Observing the decline this year, it simply tells us that we are not doing something right as a people. Having in place a president who was said to have been involved in the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, we would have expected that the media would have a more free space to operate without hindrances. Unfortunately, the reality is different from expectations.

 

Investigative journalists are assets to any state that is interested in the fight against corruption. Corruption does not happen in the open. It always takes place in the dark. Nations that are concerned and committed to the fight against corruption, would applaud any individual(s) who go undercover to shine light on dark activities of people in positions of responsibility. Unfortunately, it appears this government is rather after such individuals, and where it doesn’t want to be seen to be after them, is quiet and watching individual agents and assigns of government, going after these people. The state must show commitment, and here, the president must be at the center of this discussion. Fighting corruption is not a matter of rhetoric. The words must be backed by actions.

 

A president, with the ‘goodwill’ he enjoyed based on his past acclaimed credentials towards press freedom, would be mindful of the effects actions of government officials would have on his image in this regard. But it appears our president doesn’t care. Was it not possible, looking at the implications it would have on him by closing opposition radio stations simultaneously at a time they were carrying press conference by its Council of Elders, to halt their activities? Was it even out of his command to order their operations and to direct that a more amicable means is found in resolving these? Would it not have given him a better name and image?

 

From the happenings in our media space today, Ghana may perform even worse in its next index. We have brought objective and fair-minded journalists and especially investigative journalists into fear. A democratic state cannot keep on like this. The president must take responsibility and ensure that sanity is restored. He must do more to assure journalists of their freedoms. He must call to order, his party supporters who feel attacking the media and its freedom, is protecting his interest as president. We cannot develop this state without the assurances the media needs. More so when the nation is under the governance of an ascribed human rights lawyer under whose reign human rights are being abused with impunity.

To the extent that just yesterday the president assented the Right To Information Act (RTI Act) into law committing the government and state to making accessible information to the public, the media shall remain a vital element in this process. Information dissemination remains a cardinal duty of the media. To the extent that these media houses that have been closed down also have a specific reach and communicate to a certain aspect of society who have equal rights as others, the president must be seen to be committed fully and not partly to making information available to the general public who require to know of what their taxes are being used for and how people in positions of responsibility are discharging their duties in their general interest. The right to information so granted by law, is meaningless unless the state provides the freedom required by all media houses irrespective of their leaning, to operate without intimidation in all its forms.

 

ASK

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s