Media Freedom- our Democracy and our PeaceJonilar
Every May 3 is World Press Freedom day as instituted by United Nations and Ghana, our motherland is never left out when the world celebrates media or press freedom. According to World Press Freedom Index based in Paris, Ghana chalked 22nd in its latest rankings as at March 2015. Among 180 countries that were covered, Ghana was ranked ahead of USA and UK. This means that on the international fronts our country Ghana is doing well as far as media or press freedom is concerned and it must be commended. It speaks volumes of our democracy and deepens our democratic credentials as a country and people. It places our country in good shape as a beacon of democracy in Africa. The ranking is believed to be the highest in the history of Ghana. This is largely due to none interference of media freedom by the government and other stakeholders coupled with influx of television and radio stations without resistance as stipulated by the constitution.
By the third quarter of 2015, there were 62 registered television stations and by December 2015, there were also 412 radio stations registered by National Communication Authority in Ghana. Greater Accra Region alone has about 41 radio stations. Ashanti and Western Regions follow with 30 concentration of radio stations each. The region with least radio stations has about 8. We have not mentioned newspapers, websites and other media outlets that are involved mass communications. The most recent is the social media that has made information dissemination very fast and with the speed of light. Media presence in our country has really increased. Due to social media, almost everybody is now practicing some form of journalism whether trained or not. This practice is a coin of two sides, the good and the bad. We need to put the two sides on the scale and make sure that the bad aspects of social media and mass communications do not outweigh the good aspects.
Our constitution guarantees media or press freedom and independence according to article 162 (1). According to the constitution, there shall not be impediment to establishment of private press or media. In fact clause 4 of article 162 says that editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of mass media shall not be subjected to control or interference by even the government. In practicing democracy as a form of governance, there is the need for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions and for that matter the independence of media or the press and its freedom is very critical in our democratic dispensation. Clause 5 of article 162 gives the media the mandate to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people of Ghana. The main reasons why some media outlets have been very critical about the government in their publications lately. The media thus become the watchdogs of our democracy. The contribution of the Media to the development of every country cannot be quantified and invaluable. They exist to ensure checks and balances in good governance and enhancements of democracy. That is the reason why media or press freedom and its independence is guaranteed by the constitution.
To ensure that press freedom is not abused, article 166 establishes National Media Commission. Among some of its roles are to promote and ensure freedom and independence of the media, take appropriate measures to ensure establishment and maintenance of the highest journalistic standards in the mass media. The question many, however, have been asking is that, is our media independent? Are journalistic standards high as expected? Haven’t the media abused the press freedom? Is the media not being controlled? As a result of these and many more questions, the National Media Commission on October 29, 2015 drafted L.I 2224 and submitted to parliament for approval. It was approved and came into force on December 9, 2015. According L.I 2224, popularly known as Content Standards Regulations 2015, all media contents meant for publications should be sent to the National Media Commission for perusal and approval before publishing. Failure to do so will attract a fine or a term of imprisonment between 2 and 5years. This has resulted in a legal battle between National Media Commission and Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association at the Supreme Court. Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association among other reliefs is asking the highest court of the land to expunge regulations 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 22 of the Content Standards Regulations 2015. Ghana Broadcasters Association is arguing that the above mentioned regulations are in contravention of the 1992 Constitution which guarantees media or press freedom. The court is yet to determine the case. The question then still remains that, what level of freedom and independence does the constitution guarantees? Should the press be given a limitless freedom? I hope and pray that this legal battle between the National Media Commission and Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association settles some of the dusts on these questions. The results should be positive for our democracy.
Democracy thrives well where there is media or press freedom and its independence and for that matter journalists and media practitioners should be commended for good job done. In all over the world journalists have contributed their quotas the fight against corruption, abuse of human rights, injustices and other forms of violence against humanity. In many cases they have become the voice for voiceless and the vulnerable. As a result of this many governments especially in Africa have suppressed media or press freedom. Some journalist and other media practitioners have suffered some form martyrdom and others imprisoned unlawfully. There is a slur on countries where media or press freedom is suppressed and journalists and other media practitioners are being killed or imprisoned unlawfully. However, in situations that the media becomes bias, tilted and politically motivated to achieve individual interest instead of national interest, it needs to be checked. Of late in Ghana, we have had situations where politicians and some individuals used some media platforms for very inflammatory comments that have the tendencies to wreck our nation. Most media houses and newspapers with the exception of few are setting political agendas to satisfy political parties. We are seeing increased number of politicians venturing into establishment of radio and television stations so that they will have the platform to incense their followers for their irresponsible and inflammatory comments. We have seen situations where politicians used their own radio stations and called on their party supporters to lynch members of their opponents. These developments are certainly not healthy for our democracy and must be put to stop by all. They are signs that our media is being controlled by some evil hands. Individuals should not be allowed to hijack the media and manipulate it to their personal benefits and interests. If it is allowed, then our media will no longer become independent as the constitution guarantees it. In that case media or press freedom then becomes an infringement on the constitution which is the bedrock of our democracy.
Among trained journalists and media practitioners, we are seeing untruthfulness instead of truthfulness, we are seeing inaccuracies in their publications and information dissemination instead of accuracies. Information’s are not verified before they are put into public domain. Last time I was watching some morning show on one of reputable television stations in Ghana. In the course of the show, the host received a message via WhatsApp about some ministerial appointments made by the president. Quickly the host broke the news to Ghanaians without checking whether the news is coming from an accurate source. Quickly the presidency made a press release that that information must discarded. The television station had no choice than to keep on apologizing to the public. How much of these should be allowed to go on? We are seeing instead of objectivities in news reporting, we are seeing more of “concocted opinions and cooked stories. Instead of impartiality, we are seeing much more partial reporting of news and information dissemination because of people’s personal interests and we are seeing more of media practitioners and journalists who are accountable to their “pay masters” instead of being accountable to people Ghana as mandated by the constitution which guarantees media or press freedom. Journalism standards and code of ethics have been thrown into the gutters. We are seeing more political journalism and rented press than professional standard form of journalism and media. That is a sickening in our media or press freedom and its independence.
There should be a limitation to media or press freedom to curtail abuse of freedom as stipulated by article 64 of the constitution and section 208 Act 29 of 1960. In fact it is a crime to publish or reproduce any statement or whatsoever which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the peace of the public especially when you do not verify the accuracy of the statement, rumor the report. Press or media freedom is only guaranteed within the confines of the law and not above the law. If the press or media freedom is abused and becomes a threat to national security, public order, and public morality or fails to protect the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons, then it is lawlessness and should be checked. It should be curtailed to ensure that our democracy, its development and growth is sustained.
As election 2016 approaches very fast, almost every media outlet will be filled by political messages and comments which are likely to be inflammatory. We must not allow our country to plunge into crisis like the case of Rwanda when somebody used the media to openly declare the killings of their fellow county men and women whom they referred to as “cockroaches”. The end results is the 1994 Rwandan genocide which has left the country on the path of recovery and emotional scars on those who were affected. Many Rwandans have been displaced till date as a result of somebody’s irresponsible comments through the media. Some have refused to return to their home country just because the media was allowed to go beyond control. The loss people suffered are irreparable and Ghana must not be allowed to go to that far in the name of media or press freedom. We cannot afford it.
As the elections draw nearer, we must ensure that as individuals, we use the social media to propagate the peace that Ghana needs. It is on record that the Arab Spring that swept across some part of Arab countries especially in Africa, is a result of social media. We must not allow ourselves to become agents of doom by passing messages of doom to others. We must not allow ourselves irrespective of your political background to be used to destroy Ghana by some evil minded politicians. Make sure that all messages of doom end with you and deleted as soon as you receive them. Do not abuse the media freedom in the name of political party. When we destroy Ghana, there will no political parties.
We must not under estimate the destructive powers of the media by taking a clue from countries that allowed their media to wreck them but rather take proactive steps to ensure that our media contents are clean and sane for public consumption. We must ensure that, in as much as we need media freedom and its independence for the development of our democracy, we must hear and read what is healthy for the sustainability of the peace we are enjoying.
Ghana first because if there is no Ghana, there would not be any media or press freedom. In Ghana, the media or the press have freedom but lacks independence. It is being screwed by both the seen and unseen hands of political machinations and it is a threat to our security.